In Reversal, Gebrselassie Says He Will Continue Racing
By JERÉ LONGMAN, NYT
Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, the distance-running star who stunningly announced his retirement after dropping out of the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7, said Monday that he had reconsidered and would continue racing.
“Running is in my blood and I decided to continue competing,” Gebrselassie wrote on his Twitter account. “My announcement in New York was my first reaction after a disappointing race.”
Jos Hermens, Gebrselassie’s agent, said from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, that Gebrselassie had reacted emotionally after leaving the New York course at 16 miles of the 26.2-mile race. He also felt guilty for having dropped out of a half-marathon in New York earlier this year.
“He wasn’t thinking when he said he wanted to stop,” Hermens said. “He was too emotional.”
Hermens also provided new details about the injury that caused Gebrselassie to drop out of the race, describing it as more of a muscular problem than a knee problem, as New York City Marathon officials had reported.
Hermens also suggested that Gebrselassie’s emotional decision to retire might have stemmed, in part, from political pressure he was feeling in Ethiopia. His phone has been tapped by government officials and he has faced some sort of blackmail attempt, Hermens said of his client.
“There is a lot of pressure on him in Ethiopia,” Hermens said of Gebrselassie. “I don’t know all the details.”
Gebrselassie could not be reached by phone Monday, and it was impossible to confirm independently the accusations about phone-tapping and blackmail.
Video: Haile Gebrselassie and his agent Jos Hermens response to this report
Ethiopia held national elections in May, and the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was accused by opposition figures of intimidation, harassment and vote rigging.
The Ethiopian Review, an opposition online journal based in Washington, reported this month that the prime minister’s wife and her associates were attempting to force partnerships with Gebrselassie on a new hotel that he had built and on other real estate ventures.
The mayor of Addis Ababa, an ally of the prime minister and his wife, had also recently ordered the confiscation of land that had been leased to Gebrselassie, the journal reported, citing sources in Addis Ababa.
Officials at the Ethiopian embassy in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.
In one of the world’s poorest countries, Gebrselassie, who has made a lucrative career from running, has become one of the most visible and popular figures. He employs more than 600 people in various businesses and has built two schools. He has also spoken about the possibility of running for political office once his running days are over.
Frustration over the injury and political tensions perhaps led Gebrselassie to overreact after dropping out of the New York marathon, Hermens said. “All this pressure came out; he was emptying his heart,” Hermens said.
Once Gebrselassie returned home, many of his countrymen urged him to continue running as an inspiration to Ethiopia’s youth, Hermens said. Having set 27 world records and won 2 Olympic gold medals at 10,000 meters, Gebrselassie is widely considered the greatest distance runner ever. He holds the world record for the marathon in 2 hours 3 minutes 59 seconds.
“In Ethiopia, there were discussions on radio and TV, and people were saying he had to continue, that he was an important role model,” Hermens said. “He just needs time to fuel his battery again.”
Gebrselassie next plans to run the Tokyo Marathon in February and wants to compete in the 2012 Olympic marathon in London. While his reputation is secure, he still has yet to show that he can win a marathon against a deep field of elite competitors. His fastest times have come with pacesetters on flat courses in races that were time trials more than competitions.
About a month before the New York City Marathon, Gebrselassie felt some pain in the quadriceps muscle near its attachment by tendon to the right kneecap, Hermens said. Massage seemed to cure the problem and Gebrselassie felt he was in tremendous condition for the race, Hermens said.
Six days before the marathon, though, Gebrselassie went for a final training run, apparently overexerted himself and again felt pain, Hermens said. “That’s the problem with athletes, they always want to push more, more, more,” he said.
The pain ebbed, but flared on a final run the day before the marathon, and Gebrselassie underwent a magnetic resonance imaging test and had fluid drained from the quadriceps muscle, Hermens said. New York officials described the injury as tendinitis after Gebrselassie dropped out.
With tears in his eyes, Gebrselassie announced that he was retiring, saying he was tired of complaining.
“He was so disappointed, he just broke down mentally,” Hermens said.