Israeli Runner Will Be One of Oldest at Olympics

Israeli marathon runner Haile Satayin will be one of the oldest athletes at the Beijing Olympics.

He immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia. While his passport says he's 53, he says he's only 48.

Most days, Satayin gets up around 4:30 a.m. and runs at least a half-marathon before it gets too hot. His favorite running spot is a forest on the edge of the town of Hadera in central Israel.

Watching Satayin run is a little like watching a cheetah — his loping strides seem effortless, and you don't realize how fast he's going. But one of his running partners, Dror Haziza, uses a different analogy.

Haziza says Satayin has a special style.

"He just flows. There's no resistance at all. Sometimes I feel that I'm fighting to run, but with him there's no fight," he says. "It just comes naturally. When he runs with us, the whole group gets to a new level."

Satayin was airlifted to Israel along with more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in 1991 and began running soon afterward. He says that living in Israel made him gain weight, and he needed a way to slim down. He soon started running competitively and placed 20th in the world at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Satayin, a quiet, modest man, says he's looking forward to the Beijing Olympics.

"It would be great to win a medal, but in any case I'll compete and do my best. I'm the oldest runner there, and I thank God that he's given me strength to run. As long as I can, I'll keep running," he says.

His personal best time for a marathon is 2 hours, 14 minutes, and 21 seconds at a competition in Venice in 2003. That's well off the world record of 2 hours and 4 1/2 minutes.

Satayin says that when he runs, he's most worried about getting hurt.

"Running is hard work, but it's my profession. I always think about how I can do better. But I also worry about getting hurt or injured. It's something all athletes worry about," he says.

Satayin has won dozens of titles in Israel. He says he sometimes holds himself back from running his best time to encourage other runners to push harder. But he always makes sure he wins. His running partners say he needs the prize money.

Satayin lives with his wife and eight children in a small apartment in a rundown section of Hadera, populated mostly by Ethiopian immigrants. On the second floor of a four-story building, the apartment has three tiny bedrooms, a cramped living room and a kitchen. On a shelf above a bunk bed in one of the children's rooms are dozens of trophies he won in competitions.

Yet Satayin says he's barely making a living. He gets $1,500 a month from the Israel Athletic Association — that doesn't even cover rent and food. He says he used to coach youth running teams but quit because he wants to focus on the Olympics.

"The government doesn't do enough for athletes here," he says. "It's not just me, it's all of us. The government doesn't invest in us, and a lot of athletes are quitting. I love running, so I'm not stopping — but a lot of others are.

Now Satayin is looking ahead to the Beijing Olympic games. He's currently training in the hills of his native Ethiopia, where it's cooler.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: