As Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie packed trophies and medals into the crowded display case at his home in Addis Ababa last year after an undefeated outdoor track season, he made sure no shiny new item took the place of a battered pair of shoes. Embedded in the wall of his house, the glass case is framed in a dark wood, its three shelves overflowing with medals and plaques commemorating a dazzling career. Just in the past year, Gebrselassie set four world records -- at 2,000 and 3,000 meters indoors and 5,000 and 10,000 outdoors -- was named athlete of the year by the International Amateur Athletic Federation and was the subject of a movie. He hopes to begin collecting more mementos Sunday, at his first meet of the new season in Karlsruhe, Germany, where he will try to regain the 3,000-meter indoor record. (He held the record for less than two weeks last season before arch rival Daniel Komen of Kenya lowered it by 1.25 seconds to 7 minutes 24.9 seconds.) But among the symbols of present glory is the humble reminder of the past. Propped up on the bottom shelf is the 25-year-old's first pair of professional running shoes: the pair he inherited from his older brother. "There is no better keepsake than the shoes," Gebrselassie said. If Tekeye Gebrselassie, a marathoner who now lives in The Netherlands, hadn't been a runner first, said Haile, "I might not have either." Several top Ethiopian runners, including the Brussels grand prix 5,000-meter champion Assefa Mezgebu and last Sunday's Seville cross-country meet bronze medalist Girma Tola, share Gebrselassie's experience of following a sibling into athletics. Mezgebu and his older brother, Ayele, who is on the national team, also shared running gear and tips at the start of their careers. "Getting a pair of track pants was no small thing," Assefa Mezgebu said. The runners have traditional, family-oriented lifestyles, sharing hardships and fortunes alike. "Like many African athletes," said Jos Hermens, Gebrselassie's Dutch manager, "they do everything for their families." Many also hail from rural areas with limited career choices. "You gravitate to what your older siblings do, particularly if you have a desire for it yourself," said Tekeye Gebrselassie, 28. "You view your options through your surroundings. Our father is a farmer. So our likely fate was farming." The 10 Gebrselassie children were born to rural subsistence farmers near the town of Asela, in the fertile highlands south of the nation's capital. Nationwide, agriculture is the largest means of employment. "Even in school," Tekeye said, "I took agriculture courses, so I could farm a little better, maybe." But school was six miles away, and Tekeye ran there each day. Accustomed to long distances, he began racing in high school. Later, competing regionally while working part-time in an agricultural plant, he was recruited into an Ethiopian Airlines-sponsored athletic program. "Haile saw my experience and liked it," Tekeye said. Enchanted by athletics since Ethiopian Miruts Yifter's double gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the 1980 Olympics, Haile saw how his dreams could materialize. Around that time, his oldest brother, Assefa, got a chance to attend college, and the family urged Haile to pursue his education. But Haile's passion for running was evident. "In Ethiopia, a brother helps his brother," Haile said. Many rural athletes begin running barefoot or with simple canvas sneakers, but the young Haile soon had a more convenient alternative. "We shared the shoes I was given," said Tekeye. The red, white and black adidas shoes in Haile Gebrselassie's display case were a special pair that Tekeye obtained through an Addis Ababa coach and reserved for races. Another brother, Belay, and a sister, Yeshi, also tried running, with moderate success. "All of us have raced with that pair of shoes," Tekeye said, although the siblings don't all wear the same size. "As long as it wasn't too small," laughs Haile, "it was all right." When Assefa Gebrselassie settled in Addis Ababa, he took in Tekeye, who had already been recruited by one of the city's many athletic clubs, and later, the teenage Haile. A club affiliation and a few years later, Haile had captured world junior 5,000- and 10,000-meter titles. "Endurance," a new film due out in March, combines footage of Gebrselassie's 10,000-meter 1996 Olympics victory with reenactments -- by Gebrselassie and various family members -- of selected events in his life. "It's Haile's story, but it's also our family's story and Ethiopia's story," said Assefa Gebrselassie, who has a life-size cutout of his brother in his living room. Once the aspiring athlete who lived in his brother's house, Haile Gebrselassie now commands $30,000 to $60,000 per race in appearance fees, Hermens said. He has provided homes for his siblings and his widowed father, and Tekeye, who is currently training with Haile in Addis Ababa, lives permanently in a house Haile owns in The Netherlands. "What's his is ours," said Tekeye. "And what's ours is his." CAPTION: After setting four world records in 1998, Haile Gebrselassie goes for the 3,000-meter indoor mark Sunday. ec