An interview with the Marathon Man, Athlete Ghirmay Ghebresilasie

By: Amanuel Alazar

Translated by Billion Temesghen Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Eritrea

World champion marathoner Ghirmay Ghebresilasie is a young athlete whom shined best in 2016. Placing at 4th in March 2016 at the London Marathon, 4th in the September’s Rio Olympics and golden medalist at the New York Marathon, Ghirmay Ghebresilasie took the athletic world by surprise after his first amazing stunt at the Beijing’s 2015 World Olympics.

That year Ghirmay Ghebresilasie won Eritrea its first gold medal, breaking the record for the youngest gold medalist. Ghirmay Ghebresilasie surprised the world once more at the London Marathon where he showed up not long after having an incident.

In the footsteps of his senior Zerisenay Tadesse adding medals to Eritrea’s collection ,Ghirmay Ghebresilasie is the type that doesn’t lag behind on the tracks; vivid example his recent feat in Brazil where from 14th place he moved up to 4th in a speed of light. And what about New York, well there, he led the race since the 21st km of the track.

Some of the world records Ghirmay Ghebresilasie unassumingly broke so far are: the youngest marathon champion, the fastest in several USA’s marathons holding 2:07:56 as best of his time, the first Eritrean athlete in major marathons…!

Here is our interview with young world champion Ghirmay Ghebresilasie, enjoy!


What memories come to your mind when you think about your childhood?

Well as a young boy living in our village I played a lot. Traditional games were my favorites: Shaqui, Karsa and Yahlele just to mention some. We led a pastoral life; consequently, I studied and played proportionately.

Do you know how to till the land?

I’d better! It is a profession I took up since a young age. Especially since 2008, every household responsibility was on my shoulder.

Where did you grow up exactly?

In a village called Kisad Ika in the sub zone of Adi Kuala. I studied elementary and junior in two nearby villages outside my home village. So, I either had to run or walk fast to go to school. Maybe that was the reason of why I became an athlete. In fact, the teacher which urged me to pursue athletics, Mr. Dawit Beyene, had noticed this peculiar aspect. He pushed me to take my interests to the next level.

How would you explain ‘marathon’ in your own words?

Unlike other types of athletics, marathon is more complex. Within its longitude, marathon is a type of a race that does not allow strategic errors. And as long as an athlete’s performance is based on the trainings he/she takes, it requires the athlete’s continuous prudence in preventing small mistakes that might turn fatal. Therefore, in my own words ‘marathon’ is a complex and challenging race.

What is the maximum number of races a marathoner can participate in a year?

It might vary from one athlete to another; but for an athlete to do well, I’d say not more than three marathons a year. Even preparing for the race is quite a big hurdle by itself.

You did not last long on track races, what is the reason behind your swift advancement to marathons?

I am as surprised as you are! I took on only a single 10km tack race before I proceeded to marathons. Maybe it was my time that encouraged me to risk and try to move forward; my time was 28:33.

My coach and I were highly convinced that I could succeed in long distance races, which is how I got to marathons.

Tell us about the New York marathons?ecfe9ca6-f1cc-45fc-a5b9-9530c2e110c5

I had scored 4th in a previous marathon in London. Original plans had me scheduled for the October Boston marathon but I run out of prep time. So I signed up instead for that of New York, which is one of the six biggest marathons of the world.

What was your aim in preparing for the New York marathon?

My aim wasn’t to set a new time or to race against the other athletes, I was racing with and against Ghirmai; it was I against the best of my own. The New York Marathon is unlike others; my principal aim was to simply win.

How do you perceive pre-stage news, analysis and previews on expected outcomes of the marathons?

I have no problem with the local media outlets and a few international as well. Local journalism respects our societal values; so there is no need to shy away from it. Nevertheless, some social networks really do go for inquiries I would prefer not. Such as “Which athlete are you most scared of?” “What could possibly be a threat to you?” and so on. They irritate me, and disturb my calm behavior and force me to show my annoyance. Anyways now it’s over.

How do you face unexpected changes in a game?

It all depends on the preps. If you are healthy and have practiced enough, then no unexpected change could shake you. Nevertheless, so many things can happen in a game. A small injury can cost you a lot.

For example, in Rio’s Olympics, the sudden pain I felt caused me to lag behind at 14th place for most of the race, however when later I recovered, I sped on. And yet, even now, that performance still angers me!

Did you know you had three athletes leading you?

I actually did not. I thought I was leading at second or third place, I knew I was leaving many athletes behind but never had I thought that the American athlete Roope was right before me racing for third place. I was mad. I used to tell myself it would have been better to score fifth place to console myself from the “I was so close to the medal” kind of feeling. But then as long you are a professional you have to praise defeat equally as glory. That is how it works.

Do you follow any other sports?

I am a big fan of football! I was busy most of last year so I missed several matches but I normally cheer for Manchester United. I love Ronaldo… Can you believe his 2009 stunt?! Amazing!

…Messi or Ronaldo?

I leave this question to the professionals of football. Simply I am a fervent fan of Manchester United. … Still, I admire Ronaldo.

Any hobbies?

I love listening to music. I carry music with me during the long distance practices. I had my earpiece plugged for 2 hours and 5 minutes, while training in the Asmara – Dekemhare route, for the New York marathon. And I also read a lot, mostly didactic, to enhance my knowledge.

The unbroken record of marathon is 2:02:57. Say you can reach it?

I could, any athlete could. It needs no miracle, just consistent and intensive trainings. But first I plan on advancing the Eritrean record, from 02:07:00 to 02:04:00 or 02:05:00. I think we should remain humble and take things one step at a time.

Do you think you can get medals in the five remaining major marathons?

The probabilities are there. My next schedule is the March 2017’s London Marathon, I scored 4th last year. I hope I will get better this year.

You received the Soyra excellence award in the 7th EriYouth festival from the Eritrean President, how does it feel?

A childhood dream came true! When I was younger I was jealous of the Zagre awardees as they got to receive their award from the president. I shifted from scholar’s award to that of exemplary youth; so it’s even better.

But beyond everything, the Soyra award shouldered on me more responsibility of hard work, and it is a reminder of the long way ahead of me. It prompts me to bring more medals home!2B90871300000578-3206813-image-a-17_1440225864843

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