The dream chance meeting with Emperor Haile Gebrselassie
The person who coined the proverb, every cloud has a silver lining must have this writer in mind.
Let me explain what I mean. Since arriving in Brazil to chronicle the Rio 2016 Olympics for the millions of Kenyans following the action, I have had the misfortune of getting into a taxi driven by a man who was not quite sure where he was taking us.
This particular fellow was supposed to take us to the Olympic Village but he dumped us almost six kilometres away because the road was blocked and shouted in Portuguese something to the effect of, “Pay me and start walking.”
In the distance, the Village glittered like an oasis in the desert but our phone GPS system told us that we needed to walk quite the distance to get. So we started off resigned to the fact that we would probably not make it in time to do a story and edit it in time for the 9pm prime time evening news on Citizen TV.
By this time I was quite frustrated and absent minded as I tried to calculate how much time I had before the drums rolled to the bulletin start that I almost missed a golden moment.
A short man passed by and like the famous philosopher Archimedes, a ‘Eureka!’ moment flashed in my head like a light bulb switched on in a dark tunnel.
I turned to my colleague, Radio Citizen’s Phillip Muchiri who was as bemused as a rabbit caught in headlights and I softly asked him if my eyes were playing tricks on me.
Low and behold, better than platinum and gold, the man was none other than two-time Olympics and quadruple world champion, Haile ‘The Emperor’ Gebrsellasie he replied in the affirmative.
Immediately, I started shouting as I ran towards him, fortunately enough he was walking, “Mr. Haile, Mr. Haile,” is that you?”
He turned back and his trademark broad smile made me realise I was in the presence of greatness.
It is not every day you chance on the holder of 27 career world record and a millionaire businessman strolling casually on a street with his ten year-old son Nathan Gebreselassie in tow as his only protection.
He was elated to see Kenyan journalists in Rio and congratulated us on our advanced media landscape.
In our star-struck state, the first thought that came to mind was to whip out our phones and take multiple selfies but sense prevailed and we instead conducted an interview with him.
Haile retired from competitive athletics last year after the Great Manchester run and is now working for Adidas.
That is what has brought him to Brazil where he will be representing the sports apparel giant besides working as an advisor to the Ethiopian athlete on how to go for gold.
The 46 year-old is a busy man and has interests in the hotel industry, farming and education. He also trains for fun and looks every bit as fit as any athlete here in Rio.
Now when you meet one of the world’s greatest athletes then you simply have no choice but to get his take on athletics at the Olympics and that is what we did.
We asked him about Kenya’s chances in the marathon and he surprisingly chose not to focus on Ethiopia’s marathon bound team but rather on another threat.
“Championship marathon is very hard because anyone can take it. Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes must watch out for our brothers and sisters who have changed citizenship. They can pull a surprise so we must be careful,” he sagely offered.
On the women 1500m will see a mouth-watering clash between 1500m World Champion Genzebe Dibaba and Commonwealth Champion Faith Chepn’getich, Haile had only one winner.
“Tactics will be the key determining factor here. Dibaba is more experienced in this race so she will probably use that to get the better of the younger Chepng’etich,” he offered in rooting for his compatriot.
He hopes that Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes will gang up and spoil Mo Farah’s party in the 5000 and 10,000 meters.
Haile has even been advising Ethiopian athletes on how to deal with the Somali born British athlete based on his previous experience.
“I have run against Mo Farah many times. He has his tactics, I have mine. I try and explain to them the best way I can. “
His son Nathan dreams of one day being a footballer. This fascinates him more than being an athlete.
The student at Sanford Primary School enjoys playing as a winger and hopes to one-day play for the Walya Antelopes, the Ethiopian national team.
He confessed that having a famous father does have its downsides.
“Every time people want to talk to me, it’s because they want to talk to my dad and get autographs so it is hard,” he added.
Nathan idolises Lionel Messi and his iconic dad uses his extensive sports knowledge to train his son in football and has even introduced him to a few Ethiopian footballers.
Haile shared a great rivalry with Kenya’s Paul Tergat on the track and forged a brotherly bond off it that extends to date.
I had a chance to meet both of them in Rio de Janeiro and you should see the way one legendary athlete smiles when I mention the name of the other.
I almost wish we could turn back the hands of time and pair the two up so that they run again on the streets of Rio.
Now that would be a race worth watching. That is how my wasted day turned out to be a very good one. I even got Haile’s number. You want it? It is +251…oh wait! You have to pay me a million dollars for that!
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