A tribute well earned
Haile Gebreselassie is often described as the greatest athletes in history. His was unprecedented success that earned him wide recognition at home and abroad. Streets, songs and children have been named after him, and his life has been chronicled in a book and film.
A recently made 30-minute CNN documentary ‘Haile Revealed’ adds to the list and provides another look at the man who has “redefined the art of long-distance running”. Last Thursday I was at Alem Cinema to watch the documentary along with journalists, diplomats and athletes, including the perky Kenenisa Bekele who was reading for a nuptial ceremony the next Saturday. While Kenenisa’s marriage with the young film actress got the town talking, it was Haile who loomed large in the hall. The basic thesis of the film looks similar with story of other fellow Ethiopian athletes: A boy from a farm made a career in athletics, made a lot of money, built his own business empire, got to hang with the rich and famous.
But Haile’s life and career can be taken as plea for not going with the crowd. Not only is he trailblazer but as Sebastian Coe, the former middle-distance runner, stated in the film Haile is the most visible evidence of somebody who has maintained humility with a career still going on into areas his fans thought unlikely 2-3 years ago.
Like most shows of this sort, ‘Haile Revealed’ presents a mix of archival footage and interviews. We hear from Haile himself in the first part telling us about his family, business and charity. Here the film pays due credit for the not- often- acknowledged works of his, supporting numerous charity projects.
The film then takes us to Assela where we are given a glimpse of Haile’s childhood: living in a hut, running ten kilometers to and from school every morning and evening, and his early influences. It goes into how his father implored him to forge a career as a doctor or a teacher, and then his illustrious career that followed. We watch his development and a mix of problems along the way. He was more than willing to try anything for a competitive edge. He won his first 1500-meter race at primary school when he was eight years old and that experience gave him a taste of a whole different level of athletic prestige at school. Since then he run with a crooked arm, as if the books were still there- which remained a distinctive feature of his running style.
We see how his senior career would take off in a spectacular fashion when he won the 10,000-meter Olympic gold at Atlanta in 1996 emulating his boyhood hero Miruts Yifter.Seeing Haile’s memorable performance at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 where he beat Paul Tergart in a narrow 0.09 seconds once again sent a wave in the audience and the silence was broken with applause. That is followed by footage of the welcome and cheers he received from fans in Addis streets in a homecoming parade.
The final third of the program shows his attempts to break the marathon world record in Berlin.
Broke it, he did. In fact by a spectacular 29 seconds, giving the documentary a happy ending. Seeing him cruising alone for he final seven miles on Berlin streets lined with golden leaves sent a wow through the hall.
You would see shots that reminde you that the victory that further energized the celebrations of the Ethiopian Millennium.
We also hear from Haile’s coach Dr. Yilma Berta who has known him since he was a junior athlete. He says how enjoyable it is to work with Haile who listens and does exactly what he is told.
Another commentator, Tafari Wossen, a media consultant said the athlete had to make his own fight against his family and the culture in a country where singing and running not accepted as prestigious. Now he says in almost every town people are seen running- the legacy of Haile.
Tefera Gedamu, a Meet ETV host, gushed out at Haile’s interesting human history and how one would be tempted to say that here was a guy who should never have made it in the first place, looking at the area where he grew up.
The documentary suffers from its relatively short length and the high number of participants. It offers comments from a number of people that it reduces most of them to sound bites.
Yet this rewarding film endorses Haile’s greatness, and that is what the channel intended. By the end you will have a remarkable feel for Haile’s personality-humble, cheerful, determined, tough and still retains a hunger to achieve.