Oviedo – Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete Haile Gebrselassie was named here Friday as the recipient of Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Sports, beating out Spanish soccer great Raul Gonzalez in the final voting.
After initial deliberations on Thursday, the jury chose as finalists Gebrselassie, Raul, Spain's synchronized swimming team, French cyclist Jeannie Longo and the joint candidacy of mountaineers Edurne Pasaban and Reinhold Messner.
The jury said it decided to confer the prize on Gebrselassie in recognition of his "sporting and human excellence," noting that he is regarded as the best long-distance runner of all time and is known among his countrymen as "Naftanga, the chief."
"Raised on a farm, he had to travel 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) each day to school, a circumstance that served as his training and influenced the way he runs: with his left arm crooked as if still holding his schoolbooks," the jury added.
"He always ran the most demanding of races with a permanent smile on his face. Right up to the end of his career, he has been a myth, challenging his own legend," it said of the 38-year-old athlete, who continues to compete at the highest level.
"The athlete is also involved in humanitarian and mediation work in the many conflicts that have raged for years in Ethiopia."
Initially making his claim to fame and shattering Olympic and world records in distances from 3K to 10K, he began specializing in the marathon and half-marathon after an injury.
He first set a world record in the marathon in 2007 in Berlin and then shattered that record by 27 seconds at the following edition of that same race, becoming the first marathon runner in history to complete that distance (42.2 kilometers) in less than two hours and four minutes.
Gebrselassie said after learning of the announcement that "it is an honor to receive this award from the hands of the prince of Asturias, heir to the throne of Spain, and to form part of the prestigious list of laureates that have received this award in the past."
"I consider this lofty distinction to be a tribute not only to my career, but to that of all the athletes from my country and from Africa."
According to the Prince of Asturias Foundation's Web site, the sports award recognizes people or institutions "whose lives and works are not only examples to others, but who have also reached new heights in man's quest to surpass himself, and whose efforts have contributed to the advancement, nurturing, promotion or dissemination of sport."
The sports honor is the seventh of eight Asturias prizes to be awarded this year, each accompanied by a 50,000-euro (roughly $71,100) cash prize.
The recipients also receive a sculpture by Joan Miro that represents and symbolizes the awards, a diploma and an insignia bearing the foundation's coat of arms.
Other award recipients were announced earlier in the year in the arts, social sciences, communication and humanities, technical and scientific research, letters and international cooperation categories.
The winner of the year's final Prince of Asturias Award - in the concord category - will be announced on Sept. 7.
The prizes, which Spain's Crown Prince Felipe will hand out later this year in the northwestern city of Oviedo's Campoamor Theater, are regarded as the Ibero-American world's equivalent of the Nobels.