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The Champ

  • “He may be the world and New York champion, but Ghirmai Ghebreselassie’s goals for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon are all about times not triumph as he aims to run the quickest race of his life on Sunday”, Virgin Money London Marathon.
  • We have here with us today, one of the greatest names in athletics Ghirmai Ghebresselassie. Ghirmai Ghebresselassie became the youngest winner of the 2015 World Championships in Marathon held in Beijing, China. He is also the first Eritrean to win the gold medal at the World Championships. On top of all the honors he has earned, he is also the youngest athlete to win the New York Marathon. Tomorrow, Ghirmai will be participating at the London Marathon, one of the biggest races. Best of luck to him and the Eritrean athletes who will be competing along with him. Here is a brief chat we’ve had.
  • -Background

I was born in a village named Kisad Iqa, in the Southern region. As a child, I was quite good at sports at school and my sports teacher always encouraged me to go further in this field as he believed that I could have a prosperous future in athletics. However, despite his encouragements I wasn’t as interested in it as I thought that it may hinder my studies. Anyways, through time, I realized I couldn’t live without it and I started to get more involved. I wanted to work hard and be good at running and I finally officially started athletics in 2009.

  • -How did you got in to Marathon?

At the beginning, I was involved in different kinds of athletics, especially in half-marathon. Then after a few years, I began to travel for international races in 2012. The kind of training I used to get was not supported with knowledge. I used to train up until I was exhausted. The reason I worked like that was because I thought if I didn’t work out until I reach this level of exhaustion I wouldn’t succeed. Of course, now I understand that it was a totally wrong philosophy. As a result, I repeatedly injured myself. I focused on marathon when I started to score well in the half-marathon races.

My first competition was in 2014 in Chicago. I was trained to make a 25km for other athletes as a pacemaker. Unexpectedly, though, just a day before the race I was told to run 30km in order for the athletes to win. For me to run that far meant I almost run the marathon. For that reason I told them that I couldn’t do it. However, one of the athletes told me that if he was going to win the race, he needed my effort, to run a 30km. I agreed and ran a 32km, but after that I decided to finish the race in order to know my capacity.

  • -The first to become Eritrean World Champion…

The honor I had from my people and government, I would never have enough words even if I try to. What I did and the respect I got from everyone was just a dream for me. I did a very small thing, but it made me motivated and responsible for the future. I would never forget it.

  • -The 2015 World Championship, Beijing Marathon…

We had done an intense training for the competition. I was confident and somehow I was sure that the competition would be a success. I was so sure that I told my team mates that we were going to come back with gold medal. So I went into the race with a plan to run the first 25km conserving my energy and to run as fast as I could for the last 10km and to not wait for the finishing time. Fortunately I did just as I planned and turned the race to my benefit. When I reached 34km, I raised my speed and finished first holding a record for the youngest gold medalist in marathon.

  • -The 2016 Olympics

Olympics, my team and I prepared well, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to reach my target. It was a tough competition with a rainy weather, but I don’t want to blame my weakness on anything besides myself. I need to accept my defeat. I didn’t do as I expected and what the people expected from me. I wasn’t able to deal with the condition and turn it to my benefit as the other athletes did, which means they were greater than me at that moment. I was running fast and had a muscle contraction during the game, I couldn’t do anything expect reduce my speed and watch athletes run past me. I could have stopped but I didn’t want to so I kept running. But when my body started to recover I gained my strength and speeded up. I came in 4th place from 13th.

  • -Do you think that if the race had more kms left that you could have won it?

If I had the chance of 3 or 4kms, yes I believe so.

4th place in Olympics is still the best rank that Eritrea has got so far…

It is, but what is the point if you are not on the podium and your national anthem isn’t chanted. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t name my country at that particular moment.

  • -The New York Marathon.

The comments I had from my fans made me even more motivated to do well at the New York Marathon. Everyone told me that they had expected more of me in the Olympics and I was determined to make that happen there. I trained well with my athlete friends who helped me a lot, Areza and Abadi Mogos. They paid a lot of sacrifice for me to win the marathon. It was a game in which I had a lot of pressure. I didn’t want to lose again and let down everyone who believed in me and helped me. And as I planned everything worked out for me and I came back with a gold medal.

  • -The coming up London Marathon, how have you prepared for it?

It is going to take place on the 23rd of April. It is a race in which many of the great contenders participate. It is also one of the major marathons, which means that I have to be extra ready for it. It is not an easy game. For the target is to break a record which makes it even harder. I have been preparing myself, training with pacemaker and without. Who is the most qualified for the London Marathon? We can only know after the game.

  • -You have a record to protect at the World Championship, London Marathon in August.…

Yes, after my competition in London, I am going to talk with my trainer and get to a conclusion on how our training is going to be. Also I am planning on training in North America, if it is at all possible, we are going to see whether it is a good idea to train here or in North America. Generally speaking, the World Champion is one of the toughest games and I know I need to do everything in my power to protect my record. Nevertheless, it is not just me who needs to work hard because it doesn’t matter who is the champion as long as we are branding the name of our country Thus, I advise the four athletes who are going to participate to work harder to make it happen and come back with pride. We are going to have four athletes since Eritrea is the 2015 champion, which is an advantage. But yes I am obliged to pay a price to protect my honor.

  • -What does the training Nike has guaranteed you a sponsorship include?

It is not finalized yet, I still have to talk about it with the Eritrean Culture and Sport Commission and listen to their advice. But it includes all the trainings I need before and after a competition, as well as my mental and physical capacity with a theory and practice. Of course, it will be scheduled with my regular competitions.

  • -Anything you want to add at last?

I want to thank everyone who has worked with me and helped me during my athletics years, and I want to help them get to where I am as they have helped me tremendously over the years.

  • Best of luck.


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