Athletics: Gebrselassie wins major Spanish award

2nd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ethiopia's marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie won Spain's Prince of Asturias sports award, the jury said Friday, describing him as "the best distance runner of all time."

The smiling 38-year-old Ethiopian, who has two Olympic golds in the men's 10,000 metres and has won four world championships, beat the world marathon record in Berlin in 2008, finishing in 2hr 03min 59sec.

"Considered the best distance runner of all time, Haile Gebrselassie is an extraordinary example of sacrifice and self-improvement who has been a leading figure among the sports elite for over two decades," the jury said.

"His commitment to peace and understanding through sport and his humanitarian and social work in Ethiopia have made him an ethical role model for a whole generation of athletes worldwide."

The award, announced in Oviedo, northern Spain, confers on Gabrselassie a diploma, a Joan Miro sculpture and a cash prize of 50,000 euros ($71,000), the award organisers said in a statement.

The jury noted his spectacular career but also his membership of The Elders who mediate to prevent conflict in Ethiopia and his position as goodwill ambassador for the UN's children's fund and development programme.

A diminutive man with an outsized personality, Gebrselassie owned a string of world records and Olympic and world titles stretching from 1500m to 10,000m before reinventing himself in the twilight of his career by setting a world record in the marathon.

In April this year, he celebrated his comeback after a short-lived retirement by finishing the Vienna half-marathon in just over an hour, beating the country's previous record.

Gabrselassie ran his first marathon at 15, wearing street shoes, in Addis Abba in a time of 2hrs 48min, taking a 200km bus trip back to his village and hobbling the last few kilometres in agony.

© 2011 AFP

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