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Q & A with Tafari Wossen

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(CNN) -- Tafari Woosen is an Ethiopian Media Consultant with 40 years experience. Here he gives CNN his assessment of Haile Gebrsalassie and the impact that he has made during his prestigious career.


Tafari Wossen believes that Haile Gebrselassie carries his success with humility and with humbleness.

CNN: What is the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Haile Gebrselassie?

Tafari Wossen: To me, as you know this is the time of the Ethiopian millennium and he would be my man of the millennium. What makes Haile different from the others is that he overcame complacency -- his determination to prepare for the next challenge, rather than be satisfied by the past achievement. That, I think, is something that also caught on with the other athletes. He contributed a certain style to follow that meant they had to be disciplined and practice all the time. This, I think, is a gift he gave to Ethiopia. This is much more important than money. I think that is why Haile has made a substantial contribution.

CNN: Let's talk about Haile's roots. What kind of childhood did he have, where did it start?

TW: There are a number of activities in Ethiopia that are not accepted as prestigious -- like singing and running. In a way he had to make his own fight against his family and against the culture. And he was considered not worthy. It's funny, I did an extensive interview with his parents, and his father used to tell him 'why don't you take some profession like teaching or become a lawyer?' But when he became famous then his father said to him 'now you have become a man'. Now we see in almost every town people running and that is the legacy of Haile. If you get up at 6am in almost every part of Ethiopia you are going to see young people running. So I think he created a kind of ambition and had an important input in our culture that people have to be determined and work hard. That is a very important part so I think he changed the value of life.

CNN: Haile is very successful. That's not the world he came from. Has it changed him?

TW: I think he carries his success well, with humility and with humbleness. He is very popular amongst people. He is very popular with street kids and statesmen. He is obviously confident and he also has reason to be. I don't think he's forgotton where he came from. I think he is very proud to show that he can achieve. He taught himself English. He entered the business world, which is unthinkable, because his predecessors that inspired him never thought that they could become a tycoon in Ethiopia. He is a person that owns various high story buildings. He has a road in his name -- one of the most prestigious roads connecting the North of Ethiopia with Addis Ababa. I have not seen him change or be influenced with his success. There are some who think that with any person of any status that there is a good side and a bad side. I think that is wrong. Because he was considered a miser, to me that is the wrong attitude. To me he is both generous and he encourages people to be self-sustainable. He does not believe in charity per se I think. I know he has helped a lot of people and the first thing he will tell them is to be self-sustainable and achieve something for yourself.

CNN: Let's talk about his running career. When, for you, was the first moment that Haile became a great runner?

TW: I must admit I am not a person who follows these things very well. I followed him because of his persistent victories. I think you couldn't ignore it anymore. I think that he became the one most important images for Ethiopia, especially after the famines and so forth. So in that respect that is why I talk about him being a pioneer in always being prepared for the future. I became involved with him when the film 'Endurance' was made. He tries to inform himself in all kinds of ways and he has enriched himself with a broader outlook than where he came from - which was basically farmland and a big family. So when he continued to win and I started going to his home and I found him humble, determined, interested and curious.

CNN: Do you think that the Altlanta Olympics was Haile's first big moment?

TW: I think that was probably a turning point. I remember the producers of the film 'Endurance' were rather worried because they pinning their hopes on him to win. So they apparently assembled many photographers and film makers to do it. They had invested so much in the film and Haile lived up to it. And I think that's what makes Haile amazing. He always comes up with the goods at the end. Many of us had thought his golden days are over but in the past few years he has retained some of his points. I would like to see him retire with some kind of grace. I don't think he needs to be working on his image anymore as I think he is part of history. But he keeps running and winning. I think that determination is something I would like to see spread in Ethiopia.

CNN: Another really big event in his career were the 2000 Sydney Olympics. We heard that the welcome home for him was monumental, can you describe that?

TW: It was almost like a head of state coming in. Traffic was jammed, but then you know after Atlanta almost every other year was a big fiesta in Ethiopia. Through his initiative and through his example we now have many runners breaking records. I was never really much of a follower of sports but I became more interested because of the film and looking at him more closely it is very rare to have people always determined to win. But I don't really remember exactly the celebration because I don't go to these things.

CNN: Obviously, for the last few decades we have been always been described as people of famine, and I think he gave us a sense of new hope, a sense of new image and self determination. So when he came back to Ethiopia, the airport was totally full. Officials were there, personalities were there, culture groups were there and almost from the airport to the stadium people lined the streets all the way. And he was driven in an open-top car, shaking hands, being very easy with people. And that was what I meant by saying it was like the arrival of a head of state. But in fact, I don't think some heads of state get that kind of attention.

CNN: Some people thought his golden days were over and that he was going to retire after having a few bad races? What's your view on his longevity?

TW: Part of this was to do with his injured ankle and foot. So in a way there was a very good excuse for him not to win. But I suppose the desire for him to win was so great that people were perhaps sad that he didn't win, not disappointed, I think there is a difference there. Also people knew exactly why, or part of the reason, why this happened but I don't think this has diminished him. I think many people think he has really done enough and that we shouldn't really put him on a footing where we will examine whether he will win the next race or not. I think he has won enough, he has achieved so much. So I think in that respect it is what people see, but of course having said that people are extremely surprised when he came back again a year or two later and won. Not only once but several times. I think that's what makes him a very unique personality not only for Ethiopia, but for the world.

CNN: He's going to Berlin at the end of this month and he wants to break another world record. I know that you don't follow sports, but you know him and you've followed him. What do you think his chances are?

TW: When I said I follow him, I don't follow him religiously but you can hardly ignore his presence and his activities. We were uncertain before and he came out as a winner. I think it is inherent in him -- the will to come out in a glorious way. One of the most important parts of him is his continuous rigorous training in order to succeed in the next challenge. I am inclined to think that for him to win is the greater chance than not to, but if he doesn't, I don't think that there is anything lost. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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