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Lesson Kenyan athletes can learn from Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie

Monday July 27 2020
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Ethiopia’s running legend Haile Gebrselassie (left) explains features of the Hyundai electric car to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after he presented the car to the leader in Addis Ababa on July 27, 2020. Gebrselassie owns Marathon Motors who assembled the car. PHOTO | ETHIOPIAN EMBASSY |

By ELIAS MAKORI

On Monday, distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie made another quantum leap in his entrepreneurial life by gifting Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali with the first electric car assembled in the country.

The Hyundai saloon car model is being produced by Addis Ababa’s Marathon Motors, owned by the multiple world record holder who also has interests in the real estate, sports, education, farming, mining and hospitality industries.

What’s practical about the Hyundai model handed over to the premier yesterday is the fact that it can be charged at home level (220 volts) and when on full, six-hour charge, it has the capacity to cover at least 300 kilometres.

But more significantly, the production of this line of vehicles will help reduce carbon emissions and contribute towards a greener Ethiopia.

Haile’s latest investment further cements his enviable position as the role model our athletes need to learn from to secure their post-running future.

With the world tackling monumental challenges visited by the coronavirus pandemic, businesses have downsized, thousands of jobs lost and livelihoods adversely affected.

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But Haile has kept his head above the water through prudent investments and good business acumen that has seen him launch the latest venture against the tide.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (right) tries out a Hyundai electric car after it was presented to him by Ethiopia’s athletics legend Haile Gebrselassie in Addis Ababa on July 27, 2020. Gebrselassie owns Marathon Motors who assembled the car. PHOTO | ETHIOPIAN EMBASSY |

In fact, in April, Haile donated 1.5 million Birr (about Sh4.5 million) to Ethiopia’s Covid-19 National Resource Mobilisation Committee to help fight the virus’ spread in the country.

In his prime, Haile selected his races carefully and shattered 27 world records (from 2,000 metres indoors to the marathon) in the process, winning four outdoor and five indoor world titles along with two Olympic gold medals.

And that’s why he was able to make a tidy sum while enjoying longevity in the sport. He now employs over 2,000 people in his various businesses.

A lot of credit must also go to his Dutch manager and mentor, Jos Hermens, who helped keep him on the straight and narrow and never took advantage of the legend, unlike what several unscrupulous managers do.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that Hermens and his management company, Nijmegen-based Global Sports Communication, also handle Kenya’s own legend Eliud Kipchoge along with multiple world cross country and half marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor and Olympic 1,500 metres champion Faith Chepng’etich Kipyegon, among a stellar cast.

“Haile is smart and wasn’t thinking of short-term money,” Hermens, who engaged Haile when the superstar was just 18, once said in an interview.

“If you perform well, the money will follow you, just like everything else, and he (Haile) understood this like no one else.”

It was such focus that saw Haile, now 47, visualise himself as an Olympic champion at the age of seven when he used to sneak out with his father’s radio and dash out to the farm in Assela to follow the exploits of Ethiopian legend, Miruts Yifter - gold medalist in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres - at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.

Haile went against his father’s wish and focused on athletics, and when he returned from the World Championships in 1993 with his first senior world title (in the 10,000m) and brand new Mercedes Benz car offered to race winners by the Stuttgart organisers, his father was speechless.

Growing up in a family that never dreamt of owning a car, Haile now owns a car production plant in Addis Ababa; growing up without having dined in restaurants, he now owns a five-star hotel in Hawassa; struggling on his father’s farm in Assela, he now runs a huge farming operation.

Also, well into his career, Haile couldn’t speak a word of English, but now, his mastery of the Queen’s language is impeccable.

More about that next time.

For now, I just hope our fledgling stars can embrace Haile’s vision, demeanour, focus, resilience and faultless work ethic to secure their life in retirement.

An amazing lesson on what sport can do for the world we line in.

******

Ben Jipcho’s performance at the 1968 Olympic Games was so dominant, specifically his well crafted run with race winner Kipchoge Keino in the 1,500 metres final, that twice since Jipcho’s death last Friday we have inadvertently referred to him as “silver medallist” in that Mexico City race.

Kindly accept our sincere apologies for the misrepresentation in last weekend’s Sunday Nation and Monday's Daily Nation.

It was at the 1968 Olympics that Jipcho’s star began to shine.

He and Keino carefully crafted the annihilation of then world record holder Jim Ryun, with Jipcho, playing the pacesetter’s role, the sacrificial lamb, with a 56-second opening lap.

Despite the punishing altitude of Mexico City, Keino won the race in an Olympic record time of three minutes 34.91 seconds with Ryun second and Jipcho a distant 10th.

At the 1972 Games in Munich, Jipcho did get onto the podium with a silver behind Keino, but this time in the steeplechase.

The two athletes at the time enjoyed great depth in running and excelled in distances from 400m to 10,000m. A hard act to follow.

Gold did come for Jipcho at the Commonwealth Games in 1974 (Christchurch, New Zealand), twice, when he won the 5,000m and steeplechase besides bagging silver in the 1,500m.

This was a year after striking gold in the 5,000m and steeplechase at the African Games in Lagos.

Jipcho, 77, will be buried at his Kissawai home in Trans Nzoia this Friday.

A true legend has taken his final bow. Rest in Peace, Mzee Jipcho.

Makori is the Editor (Sports) at Nation Media Group. [email protected]

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