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Haile Gebrselassie shares secrets of his success

By Susannah Palk for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Haile Gebrselassie is the current marathon world-record holder
  • Success requires more than just talent, the running star says
  • Gebrselassie credits his achievements to commitment, discipline and hard work
  • He applies the lessons learned from his athletic career to his business ventures

(CNN) -- As the fastest long-distance runner ever, Haile Gebrselassie knows a thing or two about ambition and drive.

In a career spanning almost two decades, the two-time gold medalist and current marathon world-record holder has redefined the art of running -- beating his own personal best at the 2008 Berlin Marathon with a time of 2:03:59.

But success for the athlete isn't limited just to running. One of Ethiopia's most successful businessmen, Gebrselassie is the sole importer of Hyundai cars into the country, owns a number of properties in the capital, runs a gym in the city and has recently opened a new hotel near Lake Hawassa.

Now Gebrselassie is passing on his knowledge, mentoring young athletes from around the world and helping them realize their ambition at the 2012 Olympics, where he's also planning to compete.

Whether it's on the running course or in your career, doing well depends not just on talent, but requires drive and discipline, the 38-year-old, who lives and trains in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, said.

He spoke to CNN about what has kept him at the top for so long and shared advice that he said can be applied to all professions.

Give it your all -- all the time

Gebrselassie credits his achievements to three basic principles: commitment, discipline and hard work. "For me, they are the three most important things you have to do if you want to achieve, in anything," he said.

It's a long process, you're not going to achieve what you want overnight, but the more you give, the more you get.
--Haile Gebrselassie
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The first ingredient is commitment. The drive and passion "to win gold, to be a world champion, to succeed," is essential, he said. "Once you have commitment, you need the discipline and hard work to get you there."

It's a formula that has worked well for Gebrselassie and one he implements in his everyday life.

By 5:30 a.m. the world champion is already running around the stadium or in the forest near his house as part of his training program. By 9 a.m. he's in the office ready for a full day's work and at 5 p.m. he's back training for another two hours before heading home to see his wife and children.

Everything he does is done with enthusiasm. "I just work hard," he said. "When I wake up at 5 in the morning is it just to jog? Definitely not, I give it all of my efforts."

Don't do it for the money

For Gebrselassie, financial reward shouldn't be your sole motivation. "It's not about the money," he said. "It's about being better, being number one, to strive, to always be better.

"Money comes after. If you're planning only to make money and nothing else, you'll be broke."

How to have a 'rock star' career

He continued: "It's a long process, you're not going to achieve what you want overnight, but the more you give, the more you get."

Compete against yourself

When Gebrselassie is running a race, he's doesn't think about what the other athletes are doing, he's too busy racing against himself.

"I don't think about if I have to be number one, two or three. I don't think I have to win the race, what I'm thinking about is that I have to run faster."

That applies to whether you're running a race or racing up the the corporate ladder.

He continued: "You're race is not against other athletes, it's against the time, it's against yourself. I really think this really gives me an advantage. You're not worried about them so much, you focus on what you are doing.

Pick yourself up

"Hitting the wall" is an all too common experience that befalls athletes and Gebrselassie isn't an exception. But, he said, resilience is key.

It's all in the mind, he said, and his philosophy is to always be "mentally fit."

"Many years back at the beginning of my athletics career, I injured myself during a marathon in Addis Ababa and I couldn't walk for almost a week.

"I was wounded physically, but mentally I wanted to continue. If your body is damaged, wounded, it can be fixed, but if inside, mentally, you are wounded you cannot fix it, it's hard."

This mentality has helped Gebrselassie in his business career as well as his athletic one.

"Both require you to always be better," he said. "Technically and tactically what you need to do for each is different, of course, but the mind set is always the same."

Haile Gebrselassie is a mentor to the athletes of the G4S 4teen program, which is helping 14 young athletes achieve their dream to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.

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