satayin 224.88 jeremy la.
(photo credit: Jeremy Last)
Haile Satayin may not be the most decorated or talented athlete in Israel, but he is undoubtedly the most remarkable. At the age of 46 - or 53, depending on who you ask - the Israeli marathon runner will almost definitely be the oldest athlete in next year's Olympic Games in Beijing.
Satayin stunned all the experts once again last month in Osaka, Japan, finishing the marathon in 19th position, ahead of many younger and supposedly quicker runners.
"I expected to do well in Osaka," Satayin told The Jerusalem Post this week. "I have no specific target in the Olympics. I will train hard and hopefully do well.
"Sometimes luck makes all the difference in the important races. I couldn't succeed without God's help," a modest Satayin added.
Satayin, who claims he is 45 even though his passport says he's 52, immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1991, but only began running professionally in the late 90s. He focused on cross country racing at the start of his career, but despite claiming the Israeli title year after year could only finish as high as 81st in the World Cross Country Championships in 2000.
Two years later Satayin decided to take up the marathon run full-time and was fired from his job as a youth running coach. "I coached youth runners for four years but was fired from my job in 2002 after I chose to step up my marathon training," he said. "I managed to qualify for the European Championships in 2002 and met the criteria for the Athens Olympics."
Satayin surprised the athletics community by finishing in 32nd position at the European Championships in Munich in 2002, but his greatest achievement to date came two years later.
At the age of 43 (or 49), Satayin ended the Olympic marathon in 20th position despite being by far the oldest runner in the field. He completed the race in a time of two hours and 17.25 minutes, producing one of his best runs when it mattered most.
One of the most amazing things about Satayin is that he consistently comes up with his very best performances at the big competitions. In the World and European Championships of 2005 and 2006 he once more completed the marathon in excellent time and came in 21st and 18th place respectively.
"There's no doubt that Satayin is a remarkable athlete. Every year you think it will be his last, but he surprises you again and again and records outstanding results. It's unprecedented," physiologist and Sport5 track and field analyst Moli Epshtein told the Post.
"He will be one of the attractions at the Olympic Games. Even if he is really 45 I don't know of any athlete of such an age who competes in the most prestigious championships in the world."
Satayin runs many kilometers a day in training and he puts down his success to his work ethic. "I work hard and that's why I'm doing well. I run between 25 and 44 kilometers a day," he said.
"A marathon runner must to be very strong mentally and learn how to suffer," Epstein said.
"The run is all about suffering, especially in training. You need to have a very special personality to learn how to enjoy the pain."
Hard work can't, however, explain how Satayin is achieving such amazing feats at such an age.
Epstein believes that the runner's success could be put down to the fact that he only began running full-time at a very late age.
"Satayin hasn't been running for that long because he began his professional career quite late. He's not like other runners who began training at 12 and have to retire 20 years later because their body is worn out," he explained.
Despite his age Satayin has no plans of retiring any time soon, but he does nevertheless have a plan for that day, whenever it should come.
"I will continue running for as long as I can," he said. "I think I will return to training senior and junior runners after I retire. I will run in the Olympics and then begin training others."
After being stunned year after year by Satayin's accomplishments Epstein refused to even speculate when the veteran runner will call it a day. "It's a mystery," he said.
"It's like asking when Iran will complete its nuclear program. Nobody knows the answer.
" I think we'll know the answer to the Iran question before we know when Satayin will retire."