(Exclusive to the London 2012 Olympic Games Bid News Service: +44 (0)20 70-935001or +44 (0)7867 504856)
On the eve of the IOC evaluation committee’s inspection of London’s proposed Olympic bid plans and venues, bid organisers have received a glowing endorsement from the man widely considered the greatest distance runner of all time.
Speaking from his home in Ethiopia¹s capital, Addis Ababa, Haile Gebrselassie praised the London bid for its athlete centred focus.
”What I like to say about London, to athletes around the world, first of all is that, in London, they are very well organised. They are excellent,” said the two time Olympic 10,000m gold medallist, known affectionately as ‘The Little Emperor’.
“The athletes will have no problem taking part in the Olympics in London. London is very good; everything is punctual – it¹s on time – which means it¹s the best for the 2012 Olympic Games.”
”That’s why London has more chance than other cities. Of course the others cities are not that bad but for me the best is London. London will put on a fantastic Olympics. Maybe I won’t be competing in 2012 but if I was it would be fantastic.”
In particular Gebreselassie likes the fact that the proposed London Olympic Athletes Village will be close to other key venues in the Olympic Park and is just seven minutes from central London and surrounding venues.
”Absolutely. Because when athletes compete they need to be very close to each other,” he declares. “Athletes, you know, they don¹t like to travel a lot. I don¹t go on long trips by car or by train. If it is very nearby it is fantastic. London is very well organised that means London organisers they know what is best for the athletes. They know what is best for the officials and others. That is why it will not be so hard for the IOC to determine which one is the best city.”
No stranger to the United Kingdom, Gebreselassie, now 31 years old, has been a popular figure on the track and on the roads. At the 2003 IAAF World Indoor Championships held at Birmingham’s NEC Arena – the site of one of his 18 world records – Gebreselassie won the 3,000m gold medal. This increased his unparalleled medal tally to four consecutive IAAF world 10,000m golds, and four IAAF World indoor golds (one 1,500m three 3,000m) in addition to his 1996 and 2000 Olympic titles.
It was at the 2002 Flora London Marathon that Gebreselassie made his debut over the classic distance ultimately finishing third behind Khalid Khannouchi¹s then world record of 2:05:38. Sandwiched between the Moroccan born American and Haile was current world record holder Paul Tergat of Kenya. Still, Gebreselassie¹s 2:06: 35 clocking was a national record in a country gone mad for the distance.
Beneath the affable personality and his trademark diplomacy, Gebreselassie is an astute sports scholar having gathered experience over a lengthy career at the top. His decision to become a London 2012 ambassador was not impulsive. Rather he did his homework. The climate, for instance, is certainly agreeable to distance runners.
It is clear that Gebreselassie has a soft spot for London as do many international athletes, including the inspirational Sydney 2000 Olympic champion Cathy Freeman, also a London 2012 supporter.
Despite an achilles tendon injury (which required surgery last September 9), Gebreselassie competed in the Athens Olympic 10,000m. Now he is focusing entirely on the marathon. He returns to the British capital on April 17th for the 2005 London Marathon. His return is not surprising.
Speaking from personal experience, Gebreselassie believes Britain’s diversity and passion for sport would embrace all teams attending the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London and make all athletes feel like winners.
”London is so special to me …as you know in London I have a fan club, the Haile Gebrselassie Fan Club and I am sure during the 2005 London marathon they will come out again and support me. When I ran the London marathon three years ago they were all around the course but especially around the 40km mark. There were many Ethiopians there.”
Gebreselassie has relatives in the United Kingdom and is also aware of the large multi cultural communities that live in the economically depressed area of East London where the Olympic Park will be built. London¹s plans to revitalise and regenerate the area through development of the Olympic Park for the Olympics is a winner, as far as he is concerned.
”I heard about this. This is also a very smart idea. I mean the Olympics take only one month. The question is, what they will do after one month?” Gebreselassie asks.
”After one month (of Olympic and Paralympic Games competition in 2012) everything will belong to these poor people and to the immigrants. When you talk about London how many immigrants are there? There are many, from different countries, and they will have a chance to get ahead and to have a developed area. This is really one of the best things and why I like London.”
For a man who has accomplished so much there are other aspirations yet to fulfil.
Gebreselassie believes that London’s vibrant culture will inspire athletes and provide a rich and unique experience for the Olympic Family – as well as for his own, one day.
”I have never been to Buckingham Palace,” he laughs. “I have been to the big museums in London. That is what I like the most because I like historical things. That is my favourite thing. Plus I love tradition. The whole history of England and the culture, wherever you go in London you can see a lot of things. But not now. Because at the moment I am just trying to concentrate on running. When I am old I will have a chance to see these places, I will try to take my children there one day.”
How fitting it will be for the legendary Haile Gebreselassie to bring his family to London on the occasion of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Exclusive to London 2012 Olympic Bid News Service.
For further information please contact Michael Pirrie on +44 (0)7867 504856