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Q & A with Tefera Ghedamu

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(CNN) -- Tefera Ghedumu is a popular talk show host on Ethiopian TV and has known Haile Gebrselassie for a over a decade. He tells CNN his thoughts on how and why Gebrselassie has made such a positive impact in his homeland.


Tefera Ghedamu believes Gebrselassie will be a constant source of inspiration to the athletes that come after him.

CNN: What do you think of when you hear the name Haile Gebrselassie?

Tefera Ghedamu: Haile is an achievement-oriented Ethiopian. The reason why I say that is because if you see the village where he grew up in and look at him now, as one of the top tycoons in Addis Ababa involved in several projects, that says it all.

CNN: Let's talk about Haile's childhood, what makes Haile's story so special?

TG: On the surface of it Haile is an ordinary soul, but if to go back to his town, what you see is a predominantly agricultural area. Access to education is low although it is picking up these days. Here was a small kid in a family of 10 who had meagre resources -- they had land, but their survival depended on the land -- and you can see that it is very difficult to feed a family of ten. His father was an ordinary Ethiopian, who was trying to make ends meet. Now here is a guy, who at age of 15 decides that he has to run to get out of the situation he finds himself in -- to get out of that village. It's a very interesting human story. Looking at the area where he grew up, you would be tempted to say that here was a guy who should never have made it in the first place.

CNN: You originally met in 1996, how would you compare Haile then with Haile today?

TG: When I met him in 1996 I hosted and produced a weekly half hour show, and I wanted to talk to him about why he runs. I called him. He said: 'Tefera, I know your program, I have seen it on TV, but what do you expect from me? I have no stories to tell'. And I told him: 'Hey, come over, let me ask you the questions and give me flat answers. Let the viewers judge'. Fast forward to 2007 and there was a documentary shot by a South African Company. I was involved in that project and I called Haile and said that we wanted to do a story on him. I didn't see any difference in his character; I didn't see an inflated ego that comes with success. If you had the opportunity to meet Haile 10 years ago, that is the same Haile that you meet yesterday or today. You don't see any difference. He is always charming, cracking jokes and playing, caring and ready to answer questions.

CNN: Why do you think he is so successful? What do you think has made him who he is?

TG: Haile is definitely a technician. He is a very good athlete. You can see that when he runs and trains. When he is asked by journalists: 'Will you win the Olympics? Will you win the 10, 000 meters?' he says: 'My job is to train and I have trained hard, so I will see what it brings'. What makes Haile successful is partly that he does his homework. He is ready for any challenge but in most cases he never tells you he is going to win. But he is also achievement-orientated and he never takes things lightly. He never misses his training schedules, he will never stop listening to his coaches and he never stops calculating -- he is a very assured on the track. So what makes Haile successful is the combination of all these factors, and above all is his sense of wanting to achieve.

CNN: He has shown people that you can be extremely successful as a runner and he has inspired people to run. How else has he inspired people in Ethiopia?

TG: Haile inspires athletes and fellow Ethiopians by doing things. He inspires athletes by being at the top -- I think it's been 20 years since he has been in international competitions -- and I think he is still strong. That is a constant source of inspiration to the athletes that come after him. He has money but he hasn't wasted it. He went into the business arena. He is involved in transportation and building. He is involved in a number of things like school building in his own town of Asela and also up north in Bahir Dar. He's a constant source of inspiration. Haile is not a charitable person. He doesn't have to be charitable and he doesn't have to throw away money. You have to lead by example. He works hard. Haile is also interested in learning about television. He is also on the board of many institutions which are interested in poverty eradication and a number of social causes.

CNN: He obviously does a tremendous amount of work to show people how they can help themselves. Do you think that there are people who resent his wealth in a country where there are so many people struggling?

TG: There are people who think that Haile is making money so he should give some of that away. I don't subscribe to that philosophy, because how long are we going to think of aid money. Haile does not do that. I am not saying that people don't resent him, but they are formed in small pockets around the country. But his presence is so overwhelming that those pockets don't find themselves in the larger picture, demeaning his stature. So yes, he has a bunch of critics but they do not have a voice when you talk of Haile as an athlete, a person or an Ethiopian.

CNN: If there was a 'man of the millennium', do you think he would be deserving of that title?

TG: He would definitely get stiff competition from others, but he is definitely one to consider. If you talk about athletics in Ethiopia or Africa, he is one of the best distance runners that we have had in the world. If you talk about athletics, business, inspiration, Haile comes top of the list. He is, in many cases, head and shoulders above everybody else. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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