Haile Gebrselassie isn’t going to stop running, he’s just going to stop racing.
The 42-year-old Ethiopian great, a two-time Olympic champion at 10,000 metres and a multiple world-record holder at distances up to the marathon, announced his decision to retire on Sunday after competing in the Great Manchester Run. And to underline his desire to keep going, he ran the 10-kilometre course a second time with the amateur runners just for fun.
“I am retiring from competitive running, not from running,” Gebrselassie said in a statement after the race, where he finished 16th among the top men. “You cannot stop running. This is my life.”
Gebrselassie’s management team said he was ending his 23-year competitive career to focus on his array of businesses at home, but he will appear once more in 2015, at the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow in October as part of his “farewell tour.”
Gebrselassie won two Olympic gold medals and four world titles in the 10,000, but had a rare ability to excel at distances ranging from the 800 metres up to the marathon to earn a place as possibly the most versatile distance runner the sport has seen. He set 27 world records and more than 60 Ethiopian national marks, succeeding on indoor tracks, outdoor tracks, cross-country courses and in road races. He held world records in the 5,000, 10,000, the half marathon and the marathon.
“I have had 23 incredible years in athletics,” Gebrselassie said, stressing he still wanted to stay active in athletics as a “running ambassador.”
Gebrselassie has shown his reluctance to give up running before, announcing his retirement in 2010 only to go back on that decision and try and qualify for the 10,000 and the marathon at the 2012 Olympics in London. He missed out on both but still didn’t stop competing.
Emerging from a typically African running background — he jogged about 10 kilometres to school and back home again as a kid in the highlands of central Ethiopia — Gebrselassie won the 5,000 and 10,000 titles at the world junior championships in 1992.
A year later he claimed the first of four straight world titles in the 10,000, and he won Olympic gold at the same distance in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. He also won world indoor titles in the 3,000 metres in 1997 and 2003, and took the 1,500-3,000 double in 1999.
Gebrselassie transferred that ability to the road, and broke the world record in the marathon twice, in 2007 and again in 2008, when he was 35.
His “next big dream” is to promote development in his home country, he said in the retirement statement. Gebrselassie has real estate projects, hotels, a coffee plantation and a car distribution business in Ethiopia, and also once expressed a desire to go into politics.
And he’ll still put on the sneakers and vest whenever he can.
“I will never stop running,” Gebrselassie said.
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