Rising stars: mentoring talent

Elissa Jobson

Competing at the Olympics is a dream shared by an archer from India, a greco-roman wrestler from Peru, a discus thrower from Estonia and 11 other young athletes from around the world being mentored by one of the world’s mostinspirational athletes, Haile Gebrselassie, who won Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2000

Since 2007, Haile Gebrselassie – arguably the greatest-ever long distance runner and an inspiration to athletes across the globe – has been mentoring 14 of the world’s most promising sporting talents, sharing with them the secrets of his success. “I cannot be their coach but I can share my experience,” he said. “How I became world champion, how I became the Olympic champion, how I became a world record-holder. I can tell them what I did when I was young and what I do to prepare for a major championship. That is what these athletes need.”

These young men and women, many of whom are from deprived backgrounds, were all teenagers when they fi rst started working with Gebrselassie three years ago. They had been identifi ed by their national Olympic Committees and local sporting associations as having outstanding ability in their discipline for their age group and were chosen because of the commitment they had already shown to their sport, as well as their evident determination to succeed. With the right kind of help they might achieve at the very highest levels.

As well as attending twice-yearly regional training camps, where the athletes and Gebrselassie meet, they each receive $10,000 a year to spend on coaching, travel and equipment. In the scheme of sports sponsorship this may not seem like a huge amount of money, but it can make a big difference to the lives of these young people. International security solutions company, G4S, is providing this help through its ‘G4S 4teen’ programme.

In addition, the resident G4S offi ces provide the athletes with funding for non-sports related activities including English language tuition, computer-skills training and even assistance for their families. Local employees are building a home for the parents of Kenyan long-distance runner Pauline Korikwiang and a shop for the mother of Botswanan sprinter Fanuel Kenosi, whose training schedule means that he can no longer help her provide the family with a regular income.

The idea is to improve the lives of the athletes themselves and to benefi t the communities they live in. Earlier this year, Zodwa Maphanga, the South African table tennis player, spent a day at the SOS Children’s Village in Pretoria teaching the children how to read and play table tennis. In March, Gebrselassie and four of the 14 athletes held a sports day at a school in the slums of Manila, Philipinnes, as part of celebrations to welcome the newest addition to the team, Filipino boxer Charly Suarez.

Some of the young stars have had the opportunity to visit Gebrselassie at his home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to see at fi rst hand how he maintains his rigorous training regime, runs his ever-growing business empire and gives back to his local community.

It is hoped that the support they receive will enable them to compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Some of the athletes have already had Olympic experience, participating at the Beijing Games in 2008, where the programme had its fi rst major success: Kazakh weightlifter Ilya Ilin won gold in his event and has since left the group. “The next two years will be diffi cult for them,” says Gebrselassie. “They have to push themselves harder and harder. I hope in 2012 that we can achieve something like we did in Beijing. You never know who out of those 14 athletes will be the next Olympic champion. We will see.”

About the author:

Deputy Editor, Global


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