[Warning: I'm a huge Haile fan...huge! I basically stalk the guy...so...if you're not a fan...you might not want to read this post. ;)]
Let's be honest here. Last Sunday, Haile Gebrselassie didn't have the best of days. Not even close.
Berlin Marathon 2011. Fast course. World record course. 2:03:59 course. The 2011 Berlin Marathon was Haile's fifth Berlin Marathon. He'd never crossed that Berlin finish line anything but first. This was number 5. Lucky number 5.
Well, not so much...
Berlin had some perfect marathon weather last Sunday. At least, for the elite runners, who'd finish before the heat would kick in. Sunny.
Even watching the Berlin Marathon on tv, you could feel the 'buzz'. The excitement. The 'this could be WR day'. The Race Director had even hired six (yes, six!) pacers to pace Haile and Makau to a 62 minute half. Taking into account the probability of a negative split, this would mean a new WR. Makau had told the press he was there as a student. To learn from Haile. Oh yeah, everything was set for Haile to work his magic one more time!
We all know what happened next. The lead pack crossed the half way mark with some seconds to spare. 'New Marathon WR' was buzzing through the Berlin streets.
And then the 27K mark came. Haile stepped off the course. Out of the blue. He seemed to have GI / breathing issues. 'Okay, this is NYC 2010 all over again. Effing Ef!'. Then the small-boned Ethiopian did the unimaginable. He stepped back on the course again. After 1 or 2 minutes (it felt like a couple of hours to me...). At that point he must have known that any hopes on winning the race and/or setting a new WR were out the window. But still...he continued. And that's one of the reasons why this guy is still my hero. A true athlete. A man that's doing this because he loves the distance (and - let's be honest here - because he's good at it...and makes a living out of it... ;)).
In the meantime, Makau was cruising his way to a 2:03:38 marathon. A new WR. But Makau jumping his way to the finish line isn't the 'Berlin 2011' image I'll remember. The image that I will remember is the one of Haile clearly struggling at the 35K mark...with one of the pacers next to him. The pacers that were hired to work their magic till the 30-ish K mark. The pacer that decided to stick with Haile. To say that Haile has earned some respect among his 'fellow runners' would be an understatement.
That image is what symbolizes the magic of Haile to me. And yes, I am convinced that he will fight his way to London 2012. And I'll cheer him on while he's working that Haile magic. :)