Two things strike one immediately upon meeting the world’s greatest long distance runner.
The first is that this famous Ethiopian sportsman is so very slight. In the usually macho-steroid bursting/ power driven sports world it is surprising to find a famous athlete who is so slight that his tracksuit hangs on his skinny frame and flaps like a wind driven scarecrow wearing oversized old coats. Now I’m not known for being particularly beefy but alongside the greatest long distance runner of our time I feel like Kobus Wiese.
The second striking feature of Gebreselassie is that he hardly ever stops smiling. And his is a genuine smile; not a cheesy faked model pout but a warm genuine “wow -I’m- lucky- to- be- here- and- so- happy- to- meet- you “smile. The smile comes from a toothy gleaming set of upper teeth and it never stops.
Of course we would all run around with permanent smiles if we had won all the titles and medals that Gebrselassie has, to say nothing of the 27 world records he has held or still holds. In fact I’ve noticed that the smile is set even when he’s running flat out.
I’m delighted to say that running flat out with the great Ethiopian is not something I am keen to try. However when he runs, even at an easy loping pace around Johannesburg’s Zoo lake, he floats. The feet make no sound and he glides across the ground. At his peak it was said of the great Bill Rodgers that it was a rare thing to find a photograph of Rodger’s feet on the ground. I would venture to say there are no photos of Gebrselassie’s feet on the ground, ever, anywhere. He appears to be constantly airborne.
Gebrselassie is passionate about our sport and though his English is not great he appears to be keen to learn as much as possible about running in South Africa. It seems he wants to have a last crack at the Olympic Games and has his sights eyes set firmly on next year’s Olympic marathon in London.
But after that he has declared a real interest in running the Comrades marathon. This is not the first time I have heard the rumour that the most famous Ethiopian runner ever may run the Comrades. And as we were chatting he asked me a very loaded question;
“How hilly is the Comrades Bruce? “
I couldn’t lie so I replied
“Quite Hilly Geb, quite hilly”
He just smiled.