Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bydgoszcz marks Dibaba's healthy return to World Championships competition

Bydgoszcz, Poland - It was not Ethiopia’s day at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, their men were well beaten and the best their women could do was a senior bronze by Meselech Melkamu. One place later came former champion Tirunesh Dibaba, but at least she made a healthy return to World Championship competition and gained a team silver.

For 29 seconds she joined Worknesh Kidane as the most decorated woman in World Cross Country Championship history with 20 medals.

Then Kidane crossed the line herself in the forest of Myslecinek to increase her total to 21.

Memories from Ostend and Dublin

The day before the race we had rare opportunity of a one-to-one with the most successful female runner of the past decade. She recalled through interpreter Sabina Yohannes her cross country origins and talked of the future and what might have been in Berlin 2009.

On March 13, 2001 Paula Radcliffe got all the headlines when she finally won at the hastily-arranged World Championships in Ostend. An hour or so earlier, Tirunesh Dibaba Kenene had placed fifth in the junior race and help Ethiopia to team gold. What does she remember from that occasion?

“I ran barefoot in that competition,” she explained. “And what I remember the most is the cold because to this day I don’t think I’ve ever experienced cold as bad as what I experience on that day. That is my most lasting memory, of the cold.”

She progressed from fifth to silver in Dublin 2002, losing out in a sprint finish to Viola Kibiwott of Kenya.

“In 2002 it was my second world cross country competition, and at that point I was wearing shoes and it was at the very end, practically at the tape that she beat me. I was still fairly new to running, I was very happy with my result.”

The rest really is history, because she effectively left the junior ranks after winning the World Junior Cross Country title in Lausanne 2003. Within five months she was World champion at 5000m and went on to win 17 senior World or Olympic golds culminating with her double long distance win in Beijing.

Later that year she married her compatriot Sileshi Sihine, but from then there were no more medals, until Bydgoszcz. She spent 2009 with a series of injuries, but just as she was ready to defend her World 10,000m title injury struck again.

“It was the underside of my [left] big toe,” she revealed. “I got an injury there about a week before the Berlin World Championships and I was unable to run.”

So how does she think she would have fared had she been able to start?

At the time of the 5000m I had already gone back to Ethiopia, but for the 10,000m I was in the stadium, I watched it live there. If I hadn’t been injured, I had expected that I would have been able to win both the 5000 and 10,000 metres. Based on my training I was in very good shape, I think I could have [done it].”

Back in shape

Sadly married life has co-incided with injury for both “Tiru” and Sileshi.

He missed the whole of 2009 with a calf injury and he of course was sorely missed in Bydgoszcz.

“Yes he’s been injured and missed competitions for that reason,” explained his wife, “but now he’s better and he’s been training fully. I expect that he’ll be running well on the track.”

With him having so many silver medals (mainly behind Kenenisa Bekele), is there any spousal rivalry given that her honours have been primarily gold.

“No, we don’t really compete, we support one another. He supports me and hopes for the best for me, and I also hope for the best for him so we support one another.” Has marriage made her a better athlete?

“I don’t think that it has made a real difference, however I train well just like I used to. It’s since then that I broke the 15km World record and I also expect that I’m in really good shape now, so we’ll see.”

Saying “good” shape is something of an understatement with regard to her 15km because she shattered the previous World record with a 46:28 clocking in Nijmegen on November 15, 2009, her final 5km taking just 15:05. Yet she is not switching to road running like her cousin Derartu Tulu, nor does she wish to move up in distance just yet.

“I’m most comfortable on the track,” she admits. “I really enjoy running on the track, especially the 5000m which I like very much.”

And it is on the track where we have seen Dibaba at her glorious best, bursting ahead at the bell and running down the back straight as if with fresh legs, covering the final lap quicker than most of her rivals could manage for 400m from blocks.

In the Olympic 10,000m, a race which was the second- quickest in history, she clocked just 14.0 for the section between 9700m & 9800m. For that 100m she was moving faster than any women in Beijing at any distance above 800m.

It’s a turn of speed which is her trademark and has only been beaten by the great Meseret Defar at her very best. So how does she do it?

“I believe that it’s just a gift from God,” she said. “I think that I do have a natural talent, but of course on top of that I work very hard at it, and I work a lot on speed. But primarily I believe that it’s probably just a gift from God.”

Finally, we must end the myth that Dibaba once claimed she was planning to compete until 2024. That would be the Olympic Games after the Olympic Games after the ones which have just been awarded to Rio de Janiero!

“It’s just a dream I have to run for a long time and if I’m healthy and still competing well, to compete many times, but the date of 2024 doesn’t come into it at all.”

Tirunesh Dibaba Kenene
Born June 1, 1985

World records set:
Indoor 5000m: 14:32.93 (2005) & 14:27.42 (2007) Outdoor 5000m: 14:11.15 (2008)
15Km: 46:28 (2009)

Olympic Golds (2)
5000m & 10,000m (2008)
Also 5000m bronze (2004)

World Championship Golds (18)
14 at cross country (individual & team)
2 at 5000m
2 at 10,000m

Win streak at 10,000m
6/6 in 2005-2008

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dibaba falls short in title bid

Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba failed to collect a fourth World Cross Country title after being run out of the medals in Poland.

Dibaba, whose last victory came in Edinburgh two years ago, was unable to master the muddy conditions in Bydgodszcz and had to settle for fourth place as Kenyan duo Emily Chebet and Linet Masai dominated the race.

Chebet edged Masai into second place for the second successive year by one second, with Meselech Melkamu of Ethiopia finishing third.

Kenya also won the team competition ahead of Ethiopia with the United States finishing third.

Former European junior champion Stephanie Twell (23rd) led the British team to sixth place with the backing of Faye Fullerton (33rd), Freya Murray (37th) and Stevie Stockton (47th).

Joseph Ebuya's strength also clinched the men's gold medal for Kenya as he brushed aside the challenge of Eritrea's Teklemariam Medhin by six seconds, with Moses Kipsiro of Uganda a distant third.

Kenya also collected top team honours well clear of Eritrea and Ethiopia, with the British men finishing 14th.

Mo Farah, returning to international action after a bout of illness, had to settle for 21st.

Andy Vernon (44th), Mike Skinner (65th) and James Wilkinson (107th) were the other scorers.

The British junior men and women's sides finished fifth and ninth respectively and were the first European squads across the line as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda took the podium places in both races.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ethiopia did take another women’s 1500m title, but the gold didn’t go to defending champion Gelete Burka.

Ethiopia did take another women’s 1500m title, but the gold didn’t go to defending champion Gelete Burka.

Running with the grit and determination of a seasoned veteran, 18-year-old Kalkidan Gezahegne effortlessly kicked past Burka and Spaniard Natalia Rodriguez to become the youngest woman to ever win a World indoor title.

“I was hesitating to attack after falling down in the heats,” said Gezahegne, whose tumble to the track and brave run to victory was perhaps the major highlight on the opening day of competition. “At the end my finish was enough.”

Her spectacular comeback in the heats already displayed to the world the determination of Gezahegne, who at 18 years and 310 days old, outdid a very familiar name as the youngest ever World indoor champion: Gabriela Szabo of Romania who won her first 3000m title in 1995 when she was 19 years and just under four months old. That was a stat, though, that Gezahegne didn’t think about much at all.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said. “That is an excellent feeling.” An excellent feeling to match a finely executed race.

Kenyan Irene Jelagat took the early lead, controlling the tempo ahead of Burka, European champion Anna Alminova of Russia, Gezahegne and Sylwia Ejdys of Poland. With laps in the 33 to 35-second range, the order didn’t change until 700 metres remained, when Burka made her move for the front.

She was immediately shadowed by her younger compatriot, with Jelagat and Ejdys following single fie just a few strides behind. The boldest move of the race came next when American Erin Donohue, just a 4:12 runner indoors and sitting near the tail end of the 10-woman field, went for broke and made her way to front.

She managed to work her way into second place, but Burka held firm. Donohue couldn’t maintain the rapidly increasing pace for long, and was swallowed up first by Gezahegne, and then Natalia Rodriguez, who took the lead a few steps from the bell. But it wasn’t hers for long.

Burka, who was knocked to the ground and out of contention at last year’s World Championships in Berlin by Rodriguez, retook the lead from the Spaniard as they entered the final turn, with Gezahegne following on the outside. Entering the homestretch it was the teenager who proved stronger, running wide to pass Burka and eventually reach the line in 4:08.14. It was among the slowest performances of the youngster’s career, but certainly the biggest victory.

Rodriguez, who took silver behind Burka in Valencia two years ago, kicked past the Ethiopian over the final 50 metres to successfully defend her silver medal, clocking 4:08.30, 0.09 ahead of Burka.

“I was very tense after Berlin and I really wanted to prove myself,” said Rodriguez, who was disqualified shortly after crossing the line first in Berlin last summer.

Rising Polish star Ejdys was fourth in 4:09.24, while Jelagat just edged Donohue 4:09.57 to 4:09.59, personal bests for both.

But the day belonged to Gezahegne. Perhaps the future, too.

“I’ve been running and training for only three years,” said Gezahegne, who ran to World junior silver in the event in 2008 and reached the final in Berlin last summer. “And already being a World champion is very special. But my career is just beginning.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Defar wins fourth straight indoor 3000m title

DOHA — Ethiopian Meseret Defar won a record fourth consecutive women’s world indoor 3000m title on Saturday.

Defar, who won Olympic 5000m gold at the Athens Games and a bronze in Beijing, clocked 8min 51.17sec.

“I’m very happy with this race and my fourth gold medal,” she said. “It was an easy victory for me because the pace was slow.

“I changed my tactics. I was thinking about a fast race but then I saw it would be better to wait with the final kick. That worked well.”

The Ethiopian, who also won world outdoor 5000m gold in 2007, finished 0.68sec ahead of Kenyan world 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot in silver.

Defar’s team-mate Sentayehu Ejigu took bronze at 0.91sec.

Defar was happy to bide her time, sitting on the coat-tails of Portuguese frontrunners Jessica Augusto and Sara Moreira.

Augusto pushed the pace with eight laps to go, taking Kenyan Sylvia Kibet with her as the field began to string out.

Defar, Ejigu and Cheruiyot moved to the front with two laps remaining, and the pace stepped up a gear.

Come the final bend at the Aspire dome and Defar produced one last decisive kick to storm home in front of a crowd swelled by a large and vociferous Ethiopian contingent.

“I’m happy I pleased the crowd,” said Defar, adding that her season target was now the newly-launched IAAF Diamond League and world records in the 5000 and 10,000m currently held by her compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba.

Cheruiyot complained that the race had not been smooth.

“In the last 1500m there was a lot of pushing. But I am very happy for this medal and I am satisfied with silver.”

Ejigu admitted that the Ethiopian team had been under pressure after their failure at the hands of the Kenyans at the world outdoors in Berlin last year.

“There was a lot of tension at the beginning because there were a lot of expectations for us to get over Berlin,” she said.

“We had a plan with Meseret to counter the Kenyans and I am so happy that Meseret won the race. I am just so happy Ethiopia got the gold.”

Source: AFP

Monday, March 8, 2010

Course record for Utura in Addis Ababa

Addia Ababa, Ethiopia - World Junior 5000m champion Sule Utura destroyed the course record to take victory in the 2010 Choice Women First 5km in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Saturday (6).

The 21-year old, who last week missed out on a place in Ethiopia's senior World Cross Country team, clocked 15:44 to take a massive 16-second victory over Koreni Jelila with Makeda Berhanu coming home in third.

The seven-year-old race also broke ground with the participation of a record 9000 women in the race, the largest for a women's only race in East Africa.

Utura dominates

It was no perhaps very little surprise to see Utura crowned the winner of this race, but the manner in which she dominated and took victory is a clear indication of her capabilities with the track season in Ethiopia ahead.

A large leading group that included Jelila, Utura, marathon runner Askale Tafa, steeplechaser Mekdes Bekele, and little known runners Etenesh Diro and Makeda Berhanu led the pack through the opening 2km. But Tafa, who is preparing for a spring marathon, was the first to feel the strength of the pace at the head of the pack and was dropped around the half way point. The pack continued to dwindle when Jelila, Berhanu, and Diro remained for the last two kilometres of an absorbing contest.

Jelila was the first to try an audacious break at 4km, but Utura responded by first drawing level and then moving ahead to take a deserved victory. Her time of 15:44 was a massive improvement on Asselefech Mergia's 2009 course record time of 15:57.

"This was my first appearance (here)" said Utura after the race. "As many best athletes were in the competition, it was difficult to win. But before I entered the race, I was aiming to win. Everytime I enter a race, I don't want to think about losing."

Elshadai Negash (with the assistance of Bizuayehu Wagaw)

1. Sule Utura (Defence) 15:44.20
2. Koreni Jelila (Defence) 16:00.63
3. Makeda Haroun (Federal Prison) 16:04.04
4. Etenesh Diro (Defence) 16:08.47
5. Shetaye Bedaso (Defence) 16:23.03
6. Aselefech Assefa (Muger) 16:25.12
7. Mekdes Bekele (Selam) 16:25.71
8. Yebergara Melesse (Alfa) 16:31.73
9. Aynalem Woldehawaria (Alfa) 16:37.09
10. Bekelech Daba (Alfa) 16:38.36

Friday, March 5, 2010

Komen dares Ethiopia's Bekele

World 3,000m record holder Daniel Kipng’etich Komen has dared Ethiopia’s long distance runner Kenenisa Bekele to break his record at the indoor outing in France on Friday.

Bekele, who holds the world’s best time in 2,000m and two miles and boasts a double 5,000m and 10,000m world records, goes to the Pas de Calais, Lievin, bent on slapping a new mark on the Kenyan’s 12-year-old record. Komen set the 7:24.90 mark at the Budapest Indoors meeting in Hungary in February 1998.

And the Ethiopian icon, a multiple Olympic, world champion and six-time world cross country title holder, has announced he will make a stab at the World Indoor 3,000m record in his maiden race in France on Friday.

Prime land

But Komen, who posted the world 3,000m outdoor title at 7:20.67 in 1996 said: “I will reward him [Bekele] with a five-acre parcel of prime land within Eldoret municipality should he break the record. And any foreign runner who makes it can take the prize and invest here in Eldoret.”

Komen, who started running while a student at Biwott High School in Keiyo South District, appreciates Bekele’s dream but said it will be no easy task for the Ethiopian.

“The record is hard to break. Let him try. I believe he is well prepared as the task would not be a walk in the park. But there was no need for him to announce it,” Komen told the Nation in Eldoret on Thursday.

“For me, I just attempted it while a young man, without telling the world. I prepared myself and broke it, and I will congratulate my friend Bekele if he does it.”

He added: “If a Kenyan breaks it [record], I will straight away take him to a showroom and buy him a brand new Mercedes Benz. The one I promised the other day looks old-fashioned.”

Glowing tribute

Komen, who is also Athletics Kenya Keiyo Branch chairman, pays glowing tribute to sprints runners Robert Kibet and Laban Rotich, his pacesetters in the Hungarian contest.

He wrestled the title away from another Ethiopian legend, Haile Gebrselassie and Bekele, who has a 7:30.51 personal best time, is set to walk a tight rope. “I covered the two-kilometre mark in exactly five minutes and wound up the final stretch in a time of 2:24.90.”