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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Haile Gebrselassie

Part of the reason to watch the NY Marathon today was to see Haile Gebrselassie, the greatest distance runner of all time. Gebrselassie has set 26 world records in his career, at distances ranging from 2000 meters to the marathon, which he holds the current record in at 2:03:58. He's won two Olympic gold medals at 10,000 meters, as well as four world championships at that distance.

Gebrselassie has always looked older than he is. At age 37, he now looks a bit grandfatherly. Maybe being that tough ages you prematurely. One of his most impressively tough performances came during the 2004 Olympics, when he was so badly injured that he couldn't even warm up for the 10,000, but still ran the race and finished fifth. Gebrselassie is Ethiopian, but at 5' 5" and with those heavy epicanthic folds and wrinkled forehead he looks a little like a San Bushman of the Kalahari.

Back in the first half of the twentieth century, the Boers, not a group known for their respect for the local indigenous population, reportedly held the Bushmen in very high regard. The Bushmen were legendary trackers, had extraordinary eyesight, and could go on forever, sometimes actually running down their prey. 

Gebrselassie can seemingly go on forever, too. He won his first world championship in 1993, and set his most recent world record, for 30K, in 2009. (His  two marathon records were set in 2007 and 2008.)

Towards the beginning of today's race one of the commentators solemnly intoned, in an effort to build up his hometown race, "If he [Gebrselassie] wins in New York City today, he'll be the greatest ever."

Proof, as if it's needed, that some sporting events are better watched with the mute button activated.

Gebrselassie dropped out of the race today with a bad knee at the sixteen mile mark. But, contrary to what that pompous announcer said, his status as greatest ever has long since been cemented.

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