Haile Gebrselassie’s dream of crowning a glorious career with victory in the 2012 London Olympics vanished on the streets of New York on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Ethiopian, who enjoyed unparalleled success on both the track and the roads, announced his retirement after dropping out of his New York City marathon debut because of a knee injury.
Gebrselassie had a previous change of mind after calling time on his track career following the 2004 Athens Olympics when he finished out of the medals in the 10 000m.
He switched to the road with immediate success but said he would not run the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics because he feared air pollution would exacerbate his exercise-induced asthma, which had already affected him in London.
However, he did return to the track, finishing eighth in the 10 000m, before reducing his world marathon mark to 2:03,59 in Berlin.
The lure of London may still persuade Gebrselassie to carry on once his right knee heals and he recovers from the disappointment of dropping out on his New York City debut.
His tearful announcement to a stunned room of reporters on Sunday, though, was unequivocal.
“I never thought about retirement,” he said. “But for the first time, this is the day. Let me stop and do other work after this.
“Let me do another job. Let me give a chance to the youngsters. I did very hard work to win this race, it didn’t work.”
Lights up rooms
Gebrselassie is dubbed “The Emperor” in Addis Ababa, where he is revered for his commitment in investing his earnings in his home country.
He made his initial impact at the 1992 world junior championships where he won the 5 000m and 10 000m gold medals, a double he was never ever able to replicate as a senior.
Gebrselassie still won four consecutive 10 000m world titles and two Olympic 10km gold medals, in 1996 and again at the 2000 Sydney Games.
The latter race provided one of the most thrilling in Olympic history, as Gebrselassie just held off the challenge of his great Kenyan rival, Paul Tergat.
Tergat, unchallenged at his peak in the world cross-country championships where he won five consecutive titles, was the first to move to the marathon where he set a world record of 2:04,55 in Berlin.
He also had the satisfaction of finishing ahead of Gebrselassie on the latter’s marathon debut in the 2002 London event, although both finished behind world record-holder Khalid Khannouchi.
Gebrselassie, showing the same affinity for the roads as he had for the track, reduced Tergat’s world marathon record to 2:04,26 in 2007 on the flat Berlin course and the following year broke it again in the same city with a time of 2:03,59.
With his ever-present smile and dedication to both his sport and his country, Gebrselassie was one of the most popular athletes in world sport.
“What he did was to elevate the standard for everyone,” USA Track and Field spokesperson Jill Geer said on Sunday.
“What makes Haile really special is he’s not just fast, he’s really an ambassador for the sport, one of the most lovable people in the sport. He is a person who lights up rooms.” — Reuters