There was a beeline to have one-on-one interviews with Ethiopia’s athletics legend Haile Gebrselassie. After all, he is one of the most versatile distance runners, having broken 27 world records.
By the time one got to the double Olympic champion, he was slightly sleepy. “The journey was tiring. Perhaps, it had something to do with the wrong flight that robbed me of some sleep,” said Gebrselassie.
First up for discussion was doping, and he shook his head in disbelief. On the Russian doping scandal that rocked the world last year, Gebrselassie remarked, “The Russian government needs to do a lot. When athletes from across the globe were sweating it out, some Russians were using unfair means to excel on the track. It’s criminal,” he said.
To check the menace, offenders should be punished. “There should be proper investigation and the government should send dope cheats to prison. That’s the best way to discourage athletes from taking banned substances to prop up performance in sports.”
Last year, Gebrselassie became president of the athletics body in Ethiopia, and got support from the government. Under the new policy, dope cheats, if found guilty, will spend time in prison. The government has now ruled that doping is a criminal offence.
Recently, Ethiopian marathon runner Girmay Birahun tested positive for meldonium, and was sent to jail for three years.
Gebrselassie, who is here as the brand ambassador of a global brand and is supporting the National Marathon this weekend, said, “Doping in sports is like someone taking away your belongings forcefully (read medal). There is zero tolerance in Ethiopia, others should follow and have a robust anti-doping policy.”
Gebrselassie also stays updated on the latest in distance running. “I know there is a three-member team trying to break the two-hour barrier. Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese and Rio Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya are training together to break the barrier.
Unsure whether they would be successful, Gebrselassie said, “I set a world record of 2:3:59 during the Berlin Marathon in 2008, but never thought of the two-hour barrier.”
The current world record is 2:02:57 set by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto in 2014 at Berlin.
Gebrselassie has been successful as an entrepreneur as well. He has a number of ventures ranging from real estate to schools and coffee plantations.
There is speculation he is in race for Ethiopia’s presidential elections in 2020. Asked, he laughed, “It’s like waiting for the next Olympics.”