Haile Gebreselassie - universally hailed as the greatest ever long-distance runner - was born and brought up, as one of a family of 11, in a single-roomed mud hut in the fertile province of Arsi in central Ethiopia.
Like many millions of families throughout the developing world, they had no basic services at home. 'There was no electricity or running water,' he recalls. 'So we had to go to the nearest river, which was around 3 kilometres away. We would leave early in the morning so we could reach the water when it was at its cleanest. This was our opportunity to wash clothes, drink and gather water for home. The trip would often take three hours.'
Then he got ready to set off barefoot for school, which started at 8 o'clock. 'School was over 10 kilometres away, and we had to make our way through forests, gorges, muddy roads and a river. It was because of this journey that I began to run.' His mother, 'a wonderful woman' who pressed all her nine children to get an education, died of cancer when he was seven. His father was less keen on them going to school, wanting them to work with him in the fields - and opposed Haile's ambition to be a runner.
'I always told my father that I wanted to become a runner, but he wanted me to be a farmer,' he says. 'He believed I was wasting my time. It was only when I became world 10,000-metre champion in 1993 that he was finally convinced.'
For the next eight years Haile Gebreselassie remained unbeaten at that distance, making and breaking no fewer than 15 world records, and winning Olympic Gold at both the Atlanta and the Sydney Olympics. He has also set world records at 5,000 metres and 1,500 metres. He still holds the 10,000-metre record and has been world champion four times at that distance.
Now, as one of the world's greatest ever athletes, he could have his pick of luxurious living anywhere he wished. 'I can live a very comfortable life anywhere in the world,' he says. 'But I chose to stay home because I can make a difference here.' In the same way he has invested all his earnings in Ethiopia. 'It is very difficult living with so many poor people,' he has explained. 'I was always thinking: what can I do? How can I contribute something to these people?'
'I decided from the beginning that instead of putting my money in Europe I should invest it here. All the money I have, I spend in this country. Why not? This is where I was born. This is where I shall die. I am proud of this country. I am proud of these people.'
So he started a business, which now employs 250 people. 'That makes me so happy. The most important thing is to create jobs for these people.' He also campaigns on raising awareness of the scourge of HIV/AIDS which people 'very close' to him have contracted. And he wrestles with the issues of poverty and hunger in his country. 'Both poverty and HIV/AIDS are the priority,' he says. 'The outside world knows Ethiopia as simply being a very poor country,' he adds. 'But all these problems are not God-given. They can only be solved by our own efforts.'
'All the developed nations of the world that we so much admire today have, at one time or another, gone through the same trying times that our country is going through now. We have seen some changes in our country during the last few years, but we still have a long way to go.'
How did you start?
I grew up in the countryside. My Dad was a farmer. I started running as a schoolboy when I ran 10 kilometres to school and another 10 back each day. All the same I was often late for class and got told off by my teacher. I entered my first race aged 14.
What do you eat?
I like my food. It's important to eat well as an athlete. I eat a mixture of Ethiopian and western food. For example, I eat injera, but also pasta, and lots of fruit, like mangoes and bananas. Oh, and lots of coffee - that's an Ethiopian tradition.
How important is a good diet for athletes, and the rest of us?
Food gives us energy, so it's important to have a good diet. But it's important to work hard first. Then enjoy good food afterwards.
What can be done about food shortages in Ethiopia, and Africa in general?
We need lots of help from other countries to improve the situation here and we must try to make things better for ourselves. Things are slowly getting better, but a lot of poor people are still suffering. I think about them a great deal, about ways in which I can help them and about how our country can overcome these problems.
What are your plans for the future?
I am still trying to win big races. The Olympics is my next big goal, and I want to carry on running for many years. Then I will continue with my business in Ethiopia and try to help more people here.
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