NAIROBI, Kenya, May 11- Paul Tergat has paid moving tribute to his greatest rival on the track and best friend off it, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie following the latter’s decision to bring curtains to his astonishing 23-year career on Sunday.
Haile, who is credited with 15 world records, two Olympics gold medals and nine IAAF World titles including four consecutive men 10,000m crowns announced the end of his competitive running days after finishing 16th at the IAAF Gold Label Great Manchester Run.
Tergat, widely acknowledged as the ‘gentleman of athletics’ who is serving his nation as a Kenya Defence Forces captain and the sport as an International Olympics Committee (IOC) Member since 2013 hailed the man he chased to history and the only stumbling block to his own greatness.
In an epic rivalry that defined distance running for a generation, Haile stood between Tergat and glory at an incredible two Olympics and three successive IAAF World Championships by forcing him to accept silver in 10,000m.
“He’s a great person, a great man. He’s much welcome to retirement since he’s shown young Turks how to build the sport. Of course, he has not left the sport but only competitive running, so it is not the end,” Tergat said on phone.
The living Ethiopian legend beat Tergat to the top medal at the 1995, 1997 and 1999 IAAF World Championships but it was their performances at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympics that cemented their legendary status.
“I’m now inviting him to take up management in his country Ethiopia, the region, Africa at large and even at the world level. I never knew how big the sport was until I retired and I know his great experience, understanding and excellence in the sport can make him a great leader as well,” Tergat added.
It was his heartbreaking loss at the Sydney Olympics – where he was beaten by a thinner margin than the 100m final- coming in for once as the favourite that led to the Kenyan great to move up to the marathon where in 2003, became the first man in history to dip under 2:05 when he won Berlin Marathon in 2:04:55.
But Haile was not done with him since he also stepped up to the classic distance where in 2007, broke Tergat’s record at the same course in a 2:04:26 performance, pausing his press conference to call his Kenyan rival to apologise.
“The record was Paul Tergat’s. He’s my great friend,” Haile told bemused reporters at the time.
“Actively participating in sport is very much demanding and Gebre can now enjoy the sport more than he did from the outside since there is no more pressure to perform and he can still run for fun. He is free now” Tergat who was voted an IOC Member during the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires in September 2013 explained.
“I invite him to Kenya we see what we can do together to lift our sport and I’m looking forward to working with him in retirement,” the founder and patron of the annual red carpet Safaricom Sports Personality of the Year Awards added.