Then, he had arrived to take part in the steeplechase at the London Olympics. He was a member of the Eritrean national squad and, aged just 18, had been chosen to carry his country’s flag at the opening ceremony.
Normally, this is a moment of supreme sporting pride.
But Ghebresilasie’s immediate aim was less trying to win his race than securing his personal safety.
Alarmed by the situation in his homeland, and fearful of being drafted into the army to fight in a civil war, he had a plan. Even before the Games had finished he moved into action.
With a neat irony, it was while his team-mates were watching the marathon that he made his escape, leaving the Olympic village in search of asylum. Even as he went, he threw away the sim card he had been given by his team’s organisers so that they could not contact him. He then approached the British authorities. It had been something on his mind for a while.
“Before the 2012 Olympics my country was not in a good situation,” he explained. “I was in the army and I didn’t like that, so that’s why I stayed in Britain after the Olympics.”
Ghebresilasie was not alone. Seeing what he had done, three other members of the Eritrean squad used the opportunity of the games to escape from the war-shattered misery of their homeland and followed him in applying to the Home Office. Initially, after being granted temporary residence, he was given sanctuary in Sunderland.
“I know Steve Cram comes from Sunderland,” he said of the city’s most renowned athlete, these days the man commentating on the London Marathon for the BBC. “In Sunderland they tell you this all the time.”
Not that initially Cram’s heritage spurred him into running. For his first few years in Britain, he gave up all thought of athletics. His priority was making a living. After he moved from the north east to Birmingham and found a job working on the production line at Land Rover, he thought his days as a competitor were over.
But once he felt more settled, the urge to get back competing led him to the marathon. He started training on his own and in 2019, he entered the London event as a regular runner. That year he emerged from the mass start to finish as the fastest British-based runner. His form alerted the scouts from Team GB and he was picked up to train with the country’s elite squad. When he was granted British citizenship in 2020, he was able to run in his adopted nation’s colours. Now, full of thanks for the new opportunity he was gifted, he has ambitions to represent Britain in the Paris Olympics in 2024.
“That’s my plan, to run at the World Championships and then the Olympics, hopefully for Great Britain,” he said. “I am very happy in Britain.”
Now based in Glasgow, it has not been possible for him to make a return trip to Eritrea. And worse, he has been split from his family. “I have no contact with them for three years. I don’t know what the situation is.”
In order to find some sort of comfort given the problems in his homeland, he has been concentrating on his running. And following his finish in London, he has one further ambition. He is hopeful his performance might put him in touch with another hugely successful refugee who came to represent Britain in the marathon.
“I have never spoken to Mo Farah, we are not friends yet,” he said. “Maybe that will change? Yeah, that would be good.”