Q&A WITH … HAILE GEBRSELASSIE

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Country: Ethiopia

Profession: Athlete & Businessman

Career highlights:

  • 2000 Sydney Olympic Games – 10 000m champion
  • 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games – 10 000m champion
  • 4x World Champion in 10 000m
  • 4x World Indoor Champion – 3 000m & 1 500m

Haile Gebresilassie is a living legend. He is a four-time Olympian and two time Olympic 10 000m champion; four-time World Champion; and he also counts 27 World Records among his unparalleled successes in his 25-year glittering athletics career.

After retiring from his professional athletics career in 2015, Haile transfered his success into his new business journey. He owns a chain of more than 10 Haile Hotels and Resorts all over the country and is also a coffee farmer, exporting Sun Dried Ethiopian Haile Estate Coffee which is distributed by Starbucks Reserve. Haile also has investments in real estate, car assembly, education and cinemas.

He was also president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation between November 2016 and November 2018.

Of your 27 World Records, which one means the most to you and why?

Even though I have a special feeling for all of my records, I would choose two records that have a special meaning for me. The first one is my 5 000m World Record at Zurich 1995 and the other one is my 2008 Berlin Marathon World Record.

You have been quoted as saying ‘The marathon always starts at 30km’ – in your major marathon wins, what did you do differently to your competitors in those last 12km that helped you win?

Let me put it simply, it’s a matter of endurance. Most of my competitors including myself get tired after the 30km mark. But, who worked hardest in training, who gets the tactical run correct and has the endurance, is the one that wins it.

What was your favourite stadium or place to compete at, and why?

I have a lot of venues, which I prefer to compete. For example, I love Hengelo for its suitability for fast times, I love Zurich for its amazing atmosphere, I find Berlin and Birmingham very interesting to race outdoor and indoor races respectively. I always have a special place for Sydney 2000 Olympic venue for its electrifying atmosphere with its 100,000+ spectators. Generally, I prefer venues with good atmosphere.

You are one of the greatest runners in history – but who would you say has been your greatest competitor and why?

I have big respect for all the athletes who competed with me through my career. But, if you asked me to pick one, it is without a doubt, Paul Tergat. He was so consistent and my fiercest competitor. 

After retiring in 2015, what was the most challenging part of adjusting to ‘normal’ life?

It was living without competition, which was very hard to deal with. I missed the hard workouts for competitions, the hype around it and everything about it. 

What would you have done differently to prepare for your transition out of elite level running?

I wouldn’t do anything differently because I took the time to prepare for life after athletics while I was still competing – this is the important point. While running I was involved in businesses and so the transition from running to normal life was well planned and smooth.

You are a successful businessman and have brought many firsts to Ethiopia, what business are you most proud of and why?

I thank God that most of my businesses are successful. All of them have meanings for me. I tried to create a chain of Haile hotels, to assemble electric cars etc… all of them are going very well. However, I still say that my investment in education gives me more satisfaction, I just don’t consider it a business, as it is more than that for me.  

We have read that you choose to live in Ethiopia because you love the country and the people, and during covid-19 allowed your employees to use your farm to plant their own crops. Can you tell us what it means to you to be able to empower and uplift the people of your country?

First of all, I live in Ethiopia because I couldn’t find any better place in the world than my beloved country! About my employees, it is during these kinds of trying times, that we need cooperation. I didn’t do anything differently to what should be done my anyone in our situation.

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