The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Geography teacher helps break world records

When Ethiopian marathon-runner Haile Gebrselassie, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, broke the world record for the marathon in Berlin in 2006, Sean Hartnett, was there.

But Hartnett, professor of geography, wasn’t just cheering him on.

He played a role in Gebrselassie’s success, and following the race, Gebrselassie gave Hartnett one of only two sit-down interviews; the other went to CNN.

When Hartnett’s not teaching, he covers marathons all over the world for several publications and also makes maps of the courses for athletes to study, showing elevation profiles, average speeds and paces.

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After helping Gebrselassie with the maps for several years, Hartnett, or “The Professor” as Gebrselassie calls him, said they became good friends and now joke back and forth.

“He’ll say ‘I flunked the exam, I’m still a school boy’,” Hartnett said, if Gebrselassie has trouble with a race. “And when he fell short last year . (but) still set a record, I told him ‘You’re no longer a school boy. You’re in high school now.’ ”

When Gebrselassie set the world record, Hartnett said he had five words.

“Now you’re a professor, too.”

Hartnett said the great thing about his life is he can combine all of his interests together.

While his degree is in geography, Harnett tried his hand in journalism during graduate school in Madison, writing reviews.

“There’s nothing better than going to grad school with free tickets to concerts,” he said with a laugh, but he said he soon found he loved it.

Now, Hartnett writes for Track and Field News, Let’s Run and a Kenyan publication profiling Kenyan athletes.

He was also a runner in school, so he started reporting on the crosscountry team.

Later, since he knows geography, he started studying the courses and creating the maps.

“Geographers are naturally multitaskers,” he said. “For me, it’s an honor to have these athletes ask me (things). It’s nice to know that maybe that map is helping them.”

Senior geography major Korah Petrasko worked closely with Hartnett on her cross-country GPS map, making elevation profiles. She said she thinks it’s great that he is able to do everything he does.

“I think it’s cool he teaches all the cartography classes and works with students and still has time to travel the whole world to map marathons,” Petrasko said. “He’s friends with world class runners. What a sweet life.”

Hartnett said he saw the last seven world records set and can just sense when records are going to happen, adding that it’s like scientists studying volcanoes.

“You kind of sense one’s going to blow,” he said. “You pack up your bags and go. So that’s what I did in Berlin.”

So far this year Harnett went to races in Kenya twice, London, Boston, Japan, Berlin and Chicago.

He also plans to go to the New York City Marathon, which he made maps for, the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Indiana and Gebrselassie invited him to Ethiopia over Thanksgiving.

He said the athletes he met in Africa are very serious, hard-workers and also some of the greatest people.

“They’re always a fraction away from a smile.”

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Geography teacher helps break world records