Friday, December 11, 2009


As a bit of inspiration leading up to Sunday's White Rock Marathon, I decided to pick up this biopic of Haile Gebrselassie, who Runner's World calls the greatest distance runner of all time.  Gebrselassie, an Ethiopian, has won a world championship or set a world record at every distance from 1500 meters to the marathon.  (Let's just stop right there and say WOW!)

The film focuses on Gebrselassie's performance in the 10000 meters at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  Most of the film flashes back to his childhood in Ethiopia.  One of 10 children living on a farm, Gebrselassie's childhood was marked by work in the fields, taking the pack of donkeys to fetch water miles away, and running barefoot 6 miles to school.  Running a 10K in the morning and another in the afternoon gave him a training foundation that served him well competing in 10Ks later!  (It is said that he still runs with his left arm crooked, as if holding school books.)  If he was late to school, the teacher slapped his palms with a ruler; if he was late coming home, his father beat him.  How's that for motivation to boost your PR?

He longed to be a competitive runner.  He enjoyed watching races at the local track and following reports of Ethiopian running stars on the radio.  He competed with a local running club, then, against his father's wishes, decided to move to Addis to train full time.  He placed 99th in his first marathon, but quickly became competitive.

Gebrselassie is known to be a humble, modest, and generous individual.  Even as he runs, his exuberance inspires.  I aspire to matching his effortless, joyful gait (though I am not so self-deluded as to think I could come close to matching his pace!  If I beat double his marathon time I'm doing well!)  This picture of him winning the 10000 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics says it all.

Besides highlighting the life of this inspiring runner and the odds he had to overcome as a child to become a professional runner, Endurance beautifully portrays life in Ethiopia.  The soundtrack is perfect, featuring Ethiopian music.  There are long sequences in which there is little dialogue, or dialogue in the Ethiopian language that is not translated for the viewer.  It gives the feel of being a fly on the wall watching real life rather than watching actors portraying real life.  Many of the later scenes star Gebrselassie himself, as well as his father and wife, adding to the realism.

Although it was not a major feature of the film, Gebrselassie starts the film out speaking of the importance of prayer.  He says, "You hard work, and the God help you.  If the God not help you, your work is nothing."  I wish we could learn more about his faith through out his career.

Endurance is a beautiful, moving film, not just for the runner or fan of distance running, but for anyone who enjoys inspiring stories in which the good guys win.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.


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