Tuesday, December 26, 2006

2006 Top 9


      Thanks for your suggestion.

      Click to return to Roocha.

      Monday, December 25, 2006

      Merry Christmas!

      Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
      he is Christ the Lord.
      (Luke 2:11)

      For to us a child is born,
      to us a son is given,
      and the government will be on his shoulders.
      And he will be called
      Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
      (Isaiah 9:6)

      Friday, December 22, 2006

      Your Cheatin’ Heart

      It is refreshing when athletes speak their mind rather than try to be politically correct. Many of them try so hard to not give away strategies that they end up saying nothing during interviews. So, it was quite interesting to read a candid interview with the up and coming American marathoner Fernando Cabada (training partner of Fasil Bizuneh), who spoke openly about his ambition and goals.

      Of course, there is always the risk of talking too openly to an extent where a whole segment of society gets offended. Take Turbo Tumo, one of the top Ethiopian marathoners in the 1990s. After he failed to finish the 1996 Olympic Marathon, he was asked why he dropped out. Turbo (killer name for a runner!) replied saying he thought it would be better to drop out rather than finish the race in a time only fit for women runners. Ouch!

      Someone should have told Turbo about the Tanzanian marathoner John Akhwari who represented his country with great dignity in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Akhwari managed to
      limp to the finish line with a cut knee and dislocated joint he suffered from a fall during the race. As he approached the finish line, an hour after Mamo Wolde won the race, he was given a thunderous ovation by the crowd. When he was asked later on why he did not drop out of the race, he replied with what has become one of the greatest quotes: "My country did not send me over 11,000 kilometers to start a race. They sent me over 11,000 kilometers to finish one."

      Speaking of athletes talking openly, who can forget what Paula Radcliffe did at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. She
      openly protested against the Russian 5000m runner Olga Yegorova who had tested positive for the performance enhancing substance EPO. At the 5000m race which Yegorova was competing in, Paula watched the race from the stands while holding a large sign that read “EPO CHEATS OUT.” Now, that is talking openly!

      Radcliffe surely did not mince her words on how she feels about athletes who cheat. And many of them do cheat. Those who get caught almost always deny cheating and come up with the
      wildest excuses. Others say all top athletes (including Ethiopians!) cheat with some type of performance enhancing drugs. Many question the legitimacy of some of the seemingly unreachable world records supposedly achieved with an enhanced performance. There was even suggestion of scrapping all records and start fresh as we entered the new millennium.

      Athletics has changed from an amateur to a professional sport, and the money that comes with such transition could be enticing for anyone to want to cheat. That is the easy explanation. The question that I find more interesting is why some athletes cheat when there is no financial motivation. Last week, I read an
      article that talked about a $12200 settlement offered to 167 former athletes of East Germany who were forced to take performance enhancing drugs. It is an acknowledgment that someone within the East German government had taken a deliberate action to cheat against competitors from other countries. Why? Perhaps to prove to the world that Communism is a superior ideology and those who live under it are “stronger” human beings. In the process, the government compromised the health of those very people whom it wanted to prove as being superior!

      It is even more curious when non-competitive runners are caught cheating. Of course, no dose of performance enhancing drug could propel a regular Joe/Jane to the front of the pack so these people resort to other form of cheating. The classic case of this is Rosie Ruiz who
      “finished” first in the 1980 Boston Marathon before being disqualified shortly there after. There are also cases of charity runners cutting course to shorten the marathon in order to
      “finish” within the prescribed amount of time. I can not understand why anyone who goes out to run a marathon at a very slow pace would feel compelled to take a short cut rather than honorably drop out like the brave Turbo Tumo…

      And that brings me back to the thought of professional integrity among Ethiopian athletes. Is it inconceivable that some Ethiopian athlete would use performance enhancing substances? Are Ethiopian athletes more honorable than others and would consider cheating to be beneath them? One can never say for sure whether a particular Ethiopian athlete does or does not use performance enhancing substance until a test result comes positive. But rest assured that there will always be a bad apple in the barrel.

      As an unbelievable as it sounds (at least to me), there has been an Ethiopian elite runner, named
      Alene Emere, who has been caught using the performance enhancing substance EPO and suspended from competition in 2001. Even after serving his suspension, he was disqualified from a race where he registered with a different name in an apparent attempt to disguise himself.

      So, there is a cheatin’ heart in runners slow and fast, men and women, Ethiopian and American. Though we are stunned when we learn about stories of
      Ben Johnson, Regina Jacobs, Mary Slaney, Tim Montgomery, Dwain Chambers, Dennis Mitchell, Justin Gatlin, and even Ethiopia’s Alene Emere, we should never forget that there is no limit to the depth humans will sink to when left to their own devices.

      It is wonderful that all the big-name runners Ethiopia has produced have stayed out of trouble so far. However, we must be careful not to expect of them a super-human standard.

      Jeremiah 17:9-10

      The heart is deceitful above all things
      and beyond cure.
      Who can understand it?

      "I the LORD search the heart
      and examine the mind,
      to reward a man according to his conduct,
      according to what his deeds deserve."

      Psalm 19:14

      May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

      be pleasing in your sight,
      O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

      Wednesday, December 20, 2006

      Running Tidbits 19-Dec-2006

      • We did not know it then but for the record, ex-Ethiopian middle distance runner Maryam Yusuf Jamal beat a man to win here 800M gold medal at last week’s Asian games. The Indian runner who won the silver medal in the women's 800 meters failed a gender test and was stripped of the medal.

      • Race Results Weekly has chosen Mesert Defar and Kenenisa Bekele as Runners of the Year saying...

        Bekele and Defar had such excellent years that we concluded our internal debate relatively quickly
        However, choosing Bekele was easier than choosing Defar because her compatriot, Tirunesh Dibaba, also had a spectacular year.

      Sunday, December 17, 2006

      Abebe Dinkesa and Wude Ayalew win at Venta de Baños

      At the 27th Cross Internacional de Venta de Baños, Abebe Dinkesa and Wude Ayalew each won their respective races. Abebe Dinkesa who has the third fastest Ethiopian 10000M time behind Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie beat out Kenyan Hosea Macharinyang. Abebe had had a great 2005 clocking 26:30.74 which was the third fastest 10000M that year. 2006 had been expected to be a breakout year for the 22 year old but an illness has set him back. This win will firmly put his career back on track. 18 year old Wude Ayalew has been cranking out wins in 2006 and this adds to her great year.

      Saturday, December 16, 2006

      Running Tidbits:16-Dec-2006

      • You have to jump through some hoops registering but the Great Run site has podcasts from the Great Ethiopia run. They claim to have an exclusive two-part podcast with Haile Gebrselassie but the links to Haile’s podcasts are broken.

      • This could be trouble: Chinese officials declared themselves dissatisfied despite winning 316 medals at the Asian games. China finished second to the USA at the Olympics in 2004 but has set its sights on finishing first at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The article says that officials are under intense pressure to deliver after a massive financial and personnel investment from the Chinese government.

      • U.S. 100 meter Olympic champ who will be banned for life from athletics, after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, is looking for another line of work. He has been trying out with several NFL teams.

      • What do a German swimming champion, an American college basketball player, an Australian professional surfing champion and a Jamaican world championship medallist have in common? Answer: They are all competing at the 15th Asian Games in the Qatar capital Doha. The article also mentions Zenebech Tola.

      Friday, December 15, 2006

      China Watch

      In 2008, at the Beijing Olympics, the Ethiopian long distance women runners face fierce competition from China’s 10000M and 5000M runners. One of China’s hopes, 17 year old Xue Fei, is on display this week at the Asian Games. She is the reigning 5000M Junior World champion.

      In addition to this 17 year old, the reigning 10000M champion is Xing Huina is also from China. In the past China has been a pain for Ethiopia's women. The 10000M women’s World Record is still held by the worm eating Junxia Wang of China, who in Atlanta '96 won gold the 5000 and was the silver medalist behind Portugal’s Fernanda Ribeiro leaving Gete Wami with a bronze at the 10000. Gete's bronze was the only medal the women won on the track that year.

      Despite the Ethiopian clean sweep at the 2005 world championships, the Ethiopian women are not a lock at this event. China has a bag of tricks. The Chinese program is not squeaky clean. Last year the 2003 World Championship silver medalist and Athens 5000M Olympian Sun Yingjie failed a doping test and is now suspended. There are some that have always thought that there was something fishy behind the sudden dominance and quick disappearance of Chinese runners. In 1993 Wang Junxia came out of nowhere to break world records, in 3000M and 10000M and claimed it was the worms she eats that helped he. Her records haven't broken since she set them 13 years ago.

      This article from last year sums up the mess in Beijing.
      China has scored a sporting own goal, as its first rehearsal for Beijing's Olympic Games in 2008 descended into a farce of alleged match-rigging, bribery, unfair judging and doping scandals.
      The scandals have highlighted how Chinese sport remains tainted by the corruption prevalent in the sporting systems of the former Soviet Union and East Germany.
      Corruption in sports is always problematic and should never be tolerated because corruption makes for fertile grounds for performance-enhancing drugs to thrive.

      Last October, Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency in October summarized the problem before his visit to China.
      China was among "many countries" that have been identified as sources of "performance-enhancing drugs that have been sent to other countries.
      and he continued ...
      An Olympic host country has the special responsibility, both at home and around the world to demonstrate its commitment to doping-free sport.

      Now is the time for all countries, including China, to make sure that they have put into place programs necessary to remove doping from sport.

      The pressure to win at home in 2008 is sure to exasperate the situation. Let’s hope China cleans up.

      Thursday, December 14, 2006

      Switched Allegiance

      Been thinking aboutAllegiance.

      And of course, living in the United States, the first thing that word brings to mind is The Pledge of Allegiance with which millions of American children begin their school day. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, …” I am sure that for many of these children it is just a daily ritual they go through without giving a second thought to the seriousness of their uttering. It is recited day after day, year after year, “… one Nation under God, indivisible, …” even as hidden rifts are exposed with events such as the 2000 Presidential Election. The pledge concludes “… with liberty and justice for all” just as we are told this very week that, after all, the Middle-East may not be so eager to embrace American type democracy and “liberty for all” may really not mean for all.

      Needless to say, allegiance is serious business. And those who truly understand where their allegiance lies, and remain faithful to it at any cost, are truly inspiring. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Hebrews 11:26 where we read about how Moses chose disgrace for the sake of Christ rather than the riches of Egypt. I think of the early Chrisitans who chose being burned at the stake rather than affirm “Ceasar is Lord.” In more recent times, the story of people such as the runner Eric Liddell is quite inspiring and it has been made into the movie Chariots of Fire.

      Conversely, it is astonishing to hear stories of people who switch allegiances, some of them at a drop of a dime. I was amazed to learn that the staunchly conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat! In 2001, Senator Jim Jeffords decided that he was no longer a Republican and instantly tipped the power balance in Congress. I often remember how Arsenio Hall once joked that he would gladly don the hood of KKK if the money was right.

      Just like many issues of regular every day life, the issue of switched allegiance has been present in the sport of running for sometime now. The winner of the 1936 Olympic Marathon ran for Japan although he was a Korean native. We can at least give him a pass considering he was forced to run for Japan against his wishes. Of course, he did not have to win for Japan so I am not sure that he should get a full pass. In the 1984 Olympics, one of the most infamous races in Olympic History featured Zola Budd, a South-African-turned-British. It seems like the way the race unfolded caused more of an uproar than Budd’s switched citizenship.

      More recently, Khalid Khannouchi, a former marathon world record holder, became an American Citizen few years ago and he openly talks about his desire to bring an Olympic Medal to his newly adopted country. In a clear indication of where his allegiance now lies, Khannouchi has made it known that he has no desire to wear the uniform of his native Morocco:

      "I could still go run in the Olympics for Morocco. The king himself has called to ask me to do that. My own father, whom I love dearly, has asked me to do that. The Moroccan track federation said it would put me on the team.

      "But this I will not do. I will run in the Olympics for the United States, God willing, either this summer in the 10,000 meters or in the marathon four years from now, and I will be in world meets for this country in the near future."

      The list of runners who have switched allegiance goes on an on. Two of the current top American marathoners, Meb Keflezighi and Abdi Abdirahman are natives of Eritrea and Somalia, respectively. Merlene Otey, the ageless Jamaican sprint queen, is now a Slovenian citizen. The current top American miler, Bernard Lagat, is a Kenyan native. The fact that Lagat competed for Kenya in the 2004 Athens Olympics, while keeping silent about his newly acquired American Citizenship prior to the Olympics, is quite telling about how one can be torn apart by switching an allegiance. The Kenyan native Danish runner Wilson Kipketer missed out from participating in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, at the prime of his career, because his allegiance had changed from Kenya to Denmark.

      America and other wealthy nations are often the beneficiary of switched allegiance- be it in science, politics, or even athletics. But on rare occasions, they also find themselves on the losing side of the deal, as in the case of Felix Sanchez. Though he was born and raised in New York City, Sanchez brought the first ever Olympic Medal to the Dominican Republic and he is a national hero there.

      It is quite fascinating to see some of these athletes who have switched nationality win a race and then go on to celebrate their victory with two flags in hand. Meb Keflezghi always carries the American and Eritrean flag during his celebration. Even the super-star Marion Jones opted to celebrate with two flags, one American and the other Belizean, upon winning the 100M race in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. What a stark contrast to Emperor Haile proudly, and exclusively, carrying Ethiopia’s Tri-Color.

      In all the cases mentioned above, it is the athletes themselves that sought out the citizenship change as a means of expanding opportunities for their trade. And I have no problem with that in the same way as my partner blogger ATTILATHEHUN. However, I am disturbed by the most recent “runner for hire” African expedition of Middle-Eastern countries in aggressive pursuit of coveted championship and Olympic medals. To make matters worse, these countries are not content on simply transacting a citizenship change, but are also requiring a name change and apparently change of religion too!

      It has been quite sad for me to see talented Ethiopian runners having to switch their nationality in order to find success in their profession. Although it is getting more media coverage now, Ethiopian natives running for other countries is nothing new. The two best Marathon runners Israel has on its rosters are Ethiopians- Haile Satayin and Asaf Bimro. One of Australia’s best marathon runner is an Ethiopian named Gemechu Woyecha. Even Haile Gebrselassie’s older brother Tekeye is a Dutch citizen and represented the Netherlands on many occasions in the past.

      Of course, thousands of ordinary Ethiopians have also switched their allegiance by taking citizenship of another country in the post Revolution era. It would therefore be quite hypocritical to single out elite athletes and fault them for doing the very same thing other Ethiopians do on a daily basis. After all, why should athletes be held to higher standards than, say, Medical Doctors?

      I have met and talked to several Ethiopian elite runners at local races on weekends around the Washington, D.C. area. These runners, although talented enough to have represented Ethiopia in the past, are pursuing challenging lives in the United States where they work multiple jobs and run races on weekends hoping to win couple of hundred dollars to help make ends meet. I have nothing but admiration for the talent they possess and the little financial reward they get in return from their running talent.

      But one has to wonder how much is too much for a person to concede for the sake of opportunity. Is changing a name OK? The Ethiopian runner Hewan Abeye is now the Turkish Elvan Abeylegesse. And she is fighting tooth and nail to take medals and records away from Ethiopian runners.

      How about changing a religion? How about losing a family tie? The Ethiopian Zenebech Tola is now the Bahraini Maryam Jamal. Ethiopia has lost a runner and Ato Tola has lost a daughter. Incidentally, it is interesting to ponder how the world would respond if the United States made Abdi Abdirahman change his name to "John Christiansen" as a pre-requisite for representing USA in competition?

      I think the lesson here should be two fold: first, we should be immensely grateful to those athletes who choose to train in Ethiopia and compete for Ethiopia. Unlike many, they are proving their worth by remaining faithful in their allegiance to Ethiopia. I am sure Haile and Derartu could have made even more money than they now have by accepting citizenship of a “wealthier” country. Instead they have kept their allegiance to Ethiopia and have already contributed immensely for the betterment of Ethiopia in athletics as well as other sectors.

      Secondly, the Ethiopian Sports Federation should learn, sooner than later, to take good care of its athletes and provide fair and unbiased treatment. I have heard some disheartening stories of mistreatments by the Federation from some of the Ethiopian athletes who have decided to stay in the US.

      Elvan and Maryam are obviously highly talented athletes that got away. It is also obvious, by the fact that they decided to leave, that they were not given opportunity to blossom within the existing system. As a result Ethiopia has a reduced talent pool to pick from for competitions. Even now, after these expatriate athletes have achieved success outside of Ethiopia, they are viewed as enemies and are not welcome to train with other Ethiopian athletes when they visit their homeland. If Ethiopians can have occasional training sessions with Kenyans, Morrocans, and Mexicans, what is so terrible about training with Ethiopian natives who compete for other countries?

      As Ethiopians, we have lost much too much over the past 25 years. It is my hope that 25 years from now we will not look back and realize the fate, and the faith, of Ethiopia’s extraordinary athletes have been sold to the highest bidder.

      Long live ROOCHA and Jesus is LORD!

      Wednesday, December 13, 2006

      Running Tidbits

      • Mark this date! Tirunesh Dibaba will run at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games in Boston on January 27, 2007. In 2005 she set a 5000M world indoor record at this venue. She will be attempting another indoor- 5000M world record. It’s not often that we have a chance to see our athletes perform on the track this side of the Atlantic. If you are anywhere near Boston this is a great opportunity to catch some live action and cheer her on to a new world record. Tickets ($20,$40, $60) are already on sale here.

      • The Great Ethiopian Run site has a very frank interview with coaching legend Dr. Woldemeskel Kostre who says that his biggest regret is not seeing Derartu Tulu break a world record. He feels that Kenenisa’s form has stagnated since he won gold in the Olympics and sees one problem in Ethiopia which is that some athletes have adopted a sense of individualism and points out Abebe Dinkessa, Gebregziabher Gebremariam, and Ejigayehu Dibaba as examples. He also says he wants to coach again.

      Tuesday, December 12, 2006

      Bahrain Calling

      The influx of African athletes has transformed this month's Asian Games in Doha Qatar. Former Africans have won at least 15 medals for Bahrain and Qatar who now have a total of 27 medals between them placing these countries in the top echelon of Asian nations at the games.

      The Guardian article from last year covers how Qatar went about the business of acquiring athletes.

      The Qatari commitment to buying sporting success started in 1999, with the bulk purchase (in every sense) of seven Bulgarian weightlifters. The International Olympic Committee's rules define a three-year period for change of nationalities, but Qatar persuaded the Bulgarian Olympic Committee to waive that rule. The modest success of the Bulgarian lifters in Sydney, a single bronze medal by Said Asaad, did not dampen enthusiasm for the idea.
      With the Athens Olympics fast approaching Qatar was back at it.
      Athletics was next on the shopping list, and Kenyan athletes were targeted. Qatar reaped their richest reward with the signature of the world's best steeplechaser, Stephen Cherono, though this time they could not persuade the Kenyan Olympic Committee to let him compete in Athens.

      Stephen Cherono has been Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Quatar for over three years and has shatters the Asian records for the 10000, 5000 and 3000 Steeplechase and made a lot of doe. There is nothing wrong with a big pay day and Saif Saaeed Shaheen has been pretty open about it. I even remember him having a good sense of humor mocking his new name.

      All these moves led to International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge’s condemnation of mercenary athletes.

      But that did not stop the shopping.

      Roland Schoeman is no ordinary swimmer, so when Qatar came knocking on his door last month, the South African Swimming Federation were close to panic. Olympic sport in South Africa is in critical condition and the prospect of a Commonwealth Games in Melbourne next March without Schoeman, who had been inked in to win four titles in a potential South African total as low as six, was too dire to contemplate.

      The Qatari’s were offering £4.5m which was one-third of the entire swimming budget on one swimmer. They did not succeed in South Africa but that did not stop them and they were able to get Duje Draganja the Olympic silver medallist in the 50m freestyle at Athens. There acquisition took an interesting twist in that the Croatian public opinion largely turned against Draganja, the press portraying him as a villain with no respect for his homeland. Draganja accepted a Qatar passport in August 2005 claiming that he will keep his Croatian passport and will not change his religion. However, in February 2006 he reversed his decision and will not compete for Qatar.

      So, it was with interest that I read this article about a very talented runner called Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain who has won two medals at this week's Asian Games in Doha.

      Ethiopian-born Maryam Yusuf Jamal insists her decision to switch allegiance to Bahrain was borne out of love of athletics, not for money.

      Oil and gas rich Bahrain and Qatar have between them won 22 Asian Games medals in athletics, 15 of which came from former Africans who have switched citizenship.

      Maryam Yusuf Jamal the former Zenebech Tola Kotu says her reason for changing allegiance is that "she chose Bahrain when Ethiopian athletics chiefs shunned her because of her tribal background."

      In 2002 she left Ethiopian and applied for political asylum in Switzerland and had been away for two years before she cleared the 1500m Olympic standards at Luzern and asked the Ethiopian federation to include her in the team for Athens. The federation of course did not include her and it seems like there is a bit of bitterness still lingering. Her husband Mnashu Taye now known as Tareq Sabt Hasan calls Ethiopia's refusal to select her "stupid".

      There is nothing stupid about this decision. I don’t see any reason why the federation should pick a runner that hasn't been part of the national training group for a couple of years. Ethiopia has many deserving athletes and there is always the shortage of resources. Clearing the Olympic standards on its own is not sufficient for being selected to the Olympic team.

      Regarding money, the couple keeps insisting that the change of allegiance it wasn’t for money and that they are different from Kenyan athletes. There is an element of truth to this. Perhaps her impatience to work within the Ethiopian system sent her on this detour. Perhaps she would have never emerged from the huge pool of talent had she stayed in Ethiopia. If Ethiopia wouldn’t take her was Bahrain her only option? Why would one jump through hoops, changing names and religion when there are other options? Judging from this article it seems like Maryam Yusuf Jamal has encountered some culture shock.
      Bahrain: 'Indecent outfit' worn by athlete angers lawmaker

      An outfit worn by a Bahraini athlete last week at an international track meet has caused an outrage in Bahrain.

      A leading parliamentarian blasted the sports authorities for "disrespecting Islamic precepts and offending local values".

      The published picture of Maryam Jamal dressed in a short sleeveless top and shorts after winning in the 3,000 metres in Oslo.

      Islamist lawmaker Hamad Al Muhannadi yesterday said: "We were all shocked by the look of the young woman who was representing Bahrain at the international gathering. The outfit is not in any way related with the normal clothes that Bahraini young women are accustomed to wearing."...

      "We are all aware of the mental, emotional and physical importance of sports and we want to promote athletic activities. However, we must ensure that they are within the perimeters of Islam and our local traditions," the legislator said....

      I am not against Athletes changing citizenship for money. If I had talent that someone would pay for, that's something I would do. Athletes work hard and they face a lot of insecurity so they owe it to themselves to make as much money as they can when they can. So I don’t blame the athletes. What I think is disguising is the empty nationalism of Bahrain and Qatar and the corrupting influence their money has had on the federations of poor nations.

      Maryam Yusuf Jamal could turn out to be an Olympic medalist that got away. But that's not a big deal since Ethiopia has so much talent that goes untapped. Let’s face it - it’s hard to become a track star in Ethiopia. Zenebech Tola Kotu, even with an Olympic medal wouldn’t have been noticed too much. With so much talent and so much ambition in Ethiopia the the era of the individualistic athlete is upon us. The bottom line is that the world has changed and this isn't going to be the last time we hear such a story.

      Fasil Bizuneh

      Fasil Bizuneh the Dallas White Rock Half-Marathon last Sunday and here is a clipping from the Dallas Morning News:

      Fasil Bizuneh, a 26-year-old from Bristol, Tenn., won the men's half marathon division after passing Valentine Orare just before the finish line. Both runners were clocked in 1:02:59, with Bizuneh setting a personal best by three minutes.

      Last month, Orare placed second in an eight-kilometer race in Richmond, Va., finishing 10 seconds ahead of Bizuneh. A fifth-place finish there earned Bizuneh $100. Sunday, the former Arizona State All-American won $5,000.

      That's a big help when you're a professional runner, as Bizuneh is. He has a degree in chemical engineering, but for the last seven months he has focused on his running.

      "I'm sponsored by New Balance, and they pay me a stipend, but this is my career. I don't do anything else," Bizuneh said. "To make $5,000 here, it's good for my bank account."

      Bizuneh made his marathon debut Oct. 1, running 2:18:14 and placing fifth at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon – which doubled as the USA Marathon Championships. But it's Sunday's performance that really gives him confidence for next month's USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston.

      "Now I've got a faster PR," Bizuneh said. "It will help me mentally to compete with some of the fastest guys in the country and compete for a national championship."

      Fasil Bizuneh is part of a training group called The American Distance Project and is coached by Scott Simmons who has been a national team coach twice. The training group has a web site, www.americandistanceproject.com. The site includes short bios, and news. The site also has a FasilBlog which is actually an interview about his 2:18 marathon debut. The 2:18:12 qualifies him for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

      Monday, December 11, 2006

      Aloha Ambesse

      Ambesse Tolossa a member of the 2004 Ethiopian Olympic Men’s Marathon team and a fellow who achieved the unlikely feat of finishing 19th in two World Championship marathons won the Honolulu Marathon this weekend.

      In the heat of Athens, the 2004 Ethiopian Olympics men’s team turned in a poor performance when Tereje Wodajo (I am sure there is a typo on his passport) finished 46th and highly regarded Hailu Negussie dropped out. The only decent performance was Ambesse Tolossa’s 15th place finish. Contrast that with the 1, 3 and 22 finish the men had in the on a crisp day in Sydney in 2000. The lack of success that Ethiopian runners have had in warm weather is another blog entry on its own. For Ambesse, who is undefeated so far this year this has been a breakout year winning the Tokyo Marathon Feb 12th in 2:08:56, the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 4th in 2:10:08 and now the Honolulu Marathon in 2:13:32. The Honolulu time is decent considering that it’s a tropical marathon and the course is hilly. The course record is 2:11:12. The key is winning and winning races in warm weather.

      Of all male Ethiopian Marathon runners Ambesse seems like the one guy that does well in warm weather and the successes Ambesse has had in this race and in June in San Diego are notable because these could be the seeds of a great performance in the sweltering summer heat of Beijing.

      Saturday, December 09, 2006

      Is Marathoning Too Much of a Good Thing for Your Heart?

      This New York Times article starts with a story of a runner that had a heart attack during the Marine Corps Marathon. Another runner also died of a heart attack in the same race.

      This has been an unusual season for the cardiac health of marathoners. After years in which almost no deaths were attributed to heart attacks at this country’s major marathons, at least six runners have died in 2006.

      So there is renewed scrutiny. This topic comes and goes but what makes this article noteworthy is that has the findings of two studies.

      Here is the first study:

      Sixty entrants from the 2004 and 2005 Boston Marathon were tested before and after the race. Each was given an echocardiogram to find abnormalities in heart rhythm and was checked for blood markers of cardiac problems — in particular for troponin, a protein found in cardiac muscle cells. If the heart is traumatized, troponin can show up in the blood. Its presence can determine whether there has been damage from a heart attack.

      The runners (41 men, 19 women) had normal cardiac function before the marathon, with no signs of troponin in their blood. Twenty minutes after finishing, 60 percent of the group had elevated troponin levels, and 40 percent had levels high enough to indicate the destruction of heart muscle cells. Most also had noticeable changes in heart rhythms. Those who had run less than 35 miles a week leading up to the race had the highest troponin levels and the most pronounced changes in heart rhythm.
      The second study finds that:

      More than a third of the runners (in the study) had significant calcium deposits, suggesting they were at relatively high risk for a heart attack. Only 22 percent of a control group of nonrunners had a comparable buildup.

      Last year a nonmarathoner cousin of mine in his late thirties who had no symptoms and was fit was struck by a heart attack but survived so frankly this article has put a bit of a scare in me. One suggestion is for a visit to a cardiologist for marathoers over 40 to get a Spiral CT scan which is one of the best ways to detect any heart abnormalities. The other suggestion was to do the training and on marathon day watch the marathon on TV. I am not sure the last suggestion will work.

      Tuesday, December 05, 2006

      Haile in Japan

      Halie’s win in Fukuoka was remarkable in that he proved that he can produce a sub 2:07 marathon consistently. In fact, he has had only one race that was not sub-2:07. He also happens to be the second person ever to run four career sub-2:07 races. To put things in perspective our own Belayneh Dinsamo ran 2:06:50 on Apr 17, 1988 and for more than ten years no one included Belayneh Dinsamo could run faster than 2:06:50. A sub-2:07 was a rare achivement just eight years ago.

      Haile's Marathon Times
      314-APR-2002 London 2:06:35

      What do we have to look forward to? Haile thinks he can set the World Record sometime next year. The fact that he ran negative splits (1:04:19 for the first half and 1:02:33 for the second half) indicates that he probably could have run faster on Sunday. I put Haile's half-marathon time and his 10K times into a race time predictor at Runners World and the predictions are that - based on his half marathon time of 58:55 Haile is capable of running a 2:02:50 and based on his 10K time of 26:22.75 he is capable of running a 2:00:31 marathon. These are impressive times but I won’t bet on these predicted times. However, I would bet that if Haile can stay healthy he would break the world record sometime next year.

      Saturday, December 02, 2006

      Meskel Adebabay

      Contrasts fascinate me. I am intrigued by seeing two extreme sides of things. Take Sam Walton- he was content driving an old pick up truck while ranking as the world’s richest man. How about a mother that has twin babies, one black and the other white? Back in the 1980’s I was fascinated to read in one issue of Time Magazine a story about a three year old billionaire baby, only to see few pages later an ad for a charity with a picture of a little girl, about the same age, hanging on to a pair of crutches with a heartbreaking look on her face. I cut out pictures of those two girls, taped them together, and kept them with me for many years as a reminder of extremes present on this earth.

      It was such fascination with contrasting extremes that froze me in my tracks couple of years ago, when I came across a stunning picture in the March 2004 issue of Runner’s World Magazine. The picture itself was quite simple; a multitude of people running across Meskel Adebabay in the heart of Addis Ababa as they completed a 10K race.

      But there was more to the story. True to its name, Meskel Adebabay was serving as center-stage to an event that so poignantly symbolized the “cross-roads” that Ethiopians have traveled in the preceding twenty-five years. I was so moved by the picture that on March 29, 2004 I sat down and wrote the following to the editor of Runner’s World:

      The first glance I took of the picture you put in your Warm Up section of the March 2004 issue immediately transported me back some 25 years in time. I am sure almost all of your readers simply saw a sea of humanity traversing Meskel Square, en route to completing The Great Ethiopian Run 10K.

      However, I couldn’t help but be taken back to the mid 1970’s where Meskel Square, then Revolution Square, was filled (though not by choice) with hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians every September 12, with the backdrop of huge portraits of Marx and Lenin, to commemorate the day when Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by a communist military group. A military parade full of Soviet war machine would always take place, followed by hours of communist tirade from dictator Mengistu Hailemariam. I even recalled how on one occasion
      [April 17, 1977]
      Mengistu tried to intimidate his opposition by smashing down several bottles filled with blood on the asphalt of Meskel Square as he spewed hate and anger at the top of his voice.

      This very same place was now transformed by the presence of thousands of Ethiopians who had come out, of their own free will, to participate in the beautiful sport of running. What a testament to the power of running- to even lift the spirit of a nation!

      In the 1970’s, during my elementary school years, I crossed Meskel Adebabay daily, many times on foot. I now long for the day when I will get my chance to trample on the grave of Communism with a beautiful run across Meskel Adebabay.

      Wednesday, November 29, 2006

      The Berhane Adere Story

      IAAF has an article about veteran women runners rekindle Ethiopian marathon hopes. It talks about the reemergence of former tracks starts Gete Wami and Berhane Adere as marathon runner. It's really a great read and has a nice write up about Brehane Adere and what she has had to overcome. She is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite athletes and get this - she has had such bad luck that she hasn't won an Olympic Medal (not even a bronze.)

      I have always been somewhat skeptical about track starts aging into marathostardomme. Runners that win the big races (Olympics and World Championships) are almost always never ex-track stars. Our champions Gezahegne Abera and Fatuma Roba did not come up this route. However, I think Berhane Adere is an exception. Although Berhane has been consistently one of the best track runners and can run a blistering 3,000 meter she never looked totally natural on the track. On the other hand, she looked like a natural marathon runner when she disposed of Galina Bogomolova with one of the best marathon closing moves to win the Chicago Marathon. Hopefully that is something that she can repeat.

      Monday, November 27, 2006

      Weekend Report- Nov. 23 – 26, 2006

      Great Ethiopian Run 10K
      Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
      November 26, 2006
      1st Deriba Merga 28:18.61
      1st Belaynesh Fekadu 33:02.25

      Cross Internacional Valle de Llodio (Men 9.17K, Women 7.7K)
      Llodio, Spain
      November 26, 2006
      1st Tariku Bekele 27:08
      1st Meselech Melkamu 26:13

      Obudu Ranch Mountain Race 11.5K
      Northern Cross River State, Nigeria
      November 25, 2006
      1st Kedir Rehima 53:26

      2006 NCAA Division I Championships Cross Country 10K
      Terre Haute, Indiana, USA
      November 20, 2006
      2nd Neftalem Araia 30:52.6

      NOTE: Why was Ethiopia uncharacteristically absent at the prestigious CHIBA INTERNATIONAL EKIDEN 2006 held on Thursday Nov. 23? Ethiopian Teams have delivered strong performance at this event on previous years.

      Saturday, November 25, 2006

      Biggest Race In Africa

      I like that I am able to blog this title. There is something sweet about watching soemthing grow.

      The sixth running of The Great Ethiopia Run is coming up this Sunday. Haile has been able to gather an impressive list of celebrity including Hichem El Guerrouj, Sonia O'Sullivan as well as 2004 Olympic heptathlon champion Carolina Kluft (I am not sure I knew of her before she singed up for the Great Ethiopia Run) and a strong Kenyan contingent. Kudos to Haile who continues to nurture somthing that was an idea just 6 years ago and which has grown into an international fixture.

      As for the race the pundits at IAAF seem to favor Ibrahim Jeylan in the men’s 10K and the-runner-not-the-singer Buzinesh Bekele. I personally would like to see a Kenyan win it to give it an International flavor and to attract more runners from the continent.

      Look for next year's run to be in September as part of Ethiopian millennium celebration and it should be a huge event. Let see if we can get some ex-marathon runners P. Diddy and Oprah to do a 10K in the homeland. Hey, if it were up to me I would let Oprah win it for just showing up. Who would you like to see run in Addis next year?

      Thursday, November 23, 2006

      Happy Thanksgiving!

      Happy and safe Thanksgiving Holiday to all!

      Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
      His love endures forever.
      Give thanks to the God of gods.
      His love endures forever.
      Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
      His love endures forever.
      to him who alone does great wonders,
      His love endures forever.
      who by his understanding made the heavens,
      His love endures forever.
      who spread out the earth upon the waters,
      His love endures forever.
      who made the great lights —
      His love endures forever.
      the sun to govern the day,
      His love endures forever.
      the moon and stars to govern the night;
      His love endures forever.

      (Psalm 136:1-9)

      Monday, November 20, 2006

      Weekend Report- Oct. 28 – Nov. 19, 2006

      23rd Zevenheuvelenloop 15K
      Nijmegen, The Netherlands
      November 19, 2006
      1st Mestewat Tufa 47:22
      2nd Gete Wami 47:31
      5th Deribe Alemu 49:44

      TLC King of the Road 5K
      Rockville, Maryland, USA
      November 18, 2006
      1st Gurmesa Kumsa 14:44
      1st Alemgena Desta 17:05

      Monson Memorial Classic Half-Marathon
      Monson, Massachusetts, USA
      November 12, 2006
      1st Alene Reta 1:07:50

      Veterans Day 10K
      Washington, D.C., USA
      November 12, 2006
      1st Gurmesa Kumsa 30:13
      11th Beruk Debrework 32:50
      2nd Alemgena Desta 36:07

      SunTrust Richmond Marathon
      Richmond, Virginia, USA
      November 11, 2006
      1st Asnake Fekadu 2:20:22

      2006 NTELOS 8K
      Richmond, Virginia, USA
      November 11, 2006
      5th Fasil Bizuneh 22:31

      New York City Marathon
      New York, New York, USA
      November 5, 2006
      8th Hailu Negussie 2:12:12
      18th Kassahun Kabiso 2:19:04
      18th Leteyesus Berhe 2:45:05

      Athens Classic Marathon
      Athens, Greece
      November 5, 2006
      3rd Habtamu Bekele 2:20:04

      26th Cross Internacional Castellano-Manchego XC 6K
      Quintanar de la Orden, Spain
      November 5, 2006
      1st Wude Ayalew Yimer 21:10

      2006 Austin Komen Race for the Cure 5K
      Austin, Texas, USA
      November 5, 2006
      3rd Dawit Seyfu 15:56

      Cardinal 5K
      Kensington, Maryland, USA
      November 4, 2006
      1st Gurmesa Kumsa 14:37

      Marine Corps Marathon
      Washington, D.C., USA
      October 29, 2006
      5th Belay Kassa 2:27:31
      8th Tamrat Ayalew 2:30:10
      6065 Mamo 4:13:03
      9196 Tequame 4:31:54
      14707 Dereje 5:07:50
      Abiy DNF (Did Not Finish)
      Fikru DNS (Did Not Start)
      14873 Anchinlema 5:09:20
      Bete DNF

      Saturday, November 18, 2006

      Running for Office

      Here in the United States, we are just coming off of the mid-term election season. The Republicans were decisively kicked out of their majority status in Congress by angry American voters, and the fallout from that is still being sorted out.

      I went to the polls last week Tuesday, in the evening after work, to do my civic duty. It took approximately thirty minutes from the time I got on line until the time I came out after voting. Of course, this being the first election in the US after the 2005 election in Ethiopia, I couldn’t help but think about the millions of Ethiopians that stood on line for hours to cast their ballots, only to have their voices discarded within few short weeks thereafter.

      As I stood on line last Tuesday, I found myself actually feeling frustrated by how long the wait was, only to quickly get a mental reminder regarding what the multitude in Ethiopia endured for a chance to have their voices heard. Needless to say, I felt ashamed in realizing how impatient I was getting.

      As I got closer to the front of the line, I was able to catch a view of a slew of voting machines, each occupied by a person (some accompanied by small children) quietly reading through the choices and registering his/her preference for leaders of the county, state, and country. What an ordinary but amazing sight to behold!

      Almost all the election results were known later on that night before I went to sleep. Unlike the two previous elections (which the Republicans won), there wasn’t even any accusation that the victors (democrats this time around) had tampered with the election or stolen votes. One wonders if feelings on this election would have been the same had the Republican’s won again, but that is another topic for another time.

      As I thought more about the simple concept of free people expressing their will through the ballot box, without risking injury or death, I could not help but wonder why such a simple concept has eluded us Ethiopians for so long. What could we as people possibly do to achieve the status of a democratic society? Have we done all we possibly can to give ourselves the greatest chance of achieving such a goal?

      Looking at recent Ethiopian history, all those that assumed political leadership in Ethiopia have come from almost all walks of life- rulers divinely appointed, military strong-men, guerilla fighters, businessmen, academicians, medical doctors, etc. However, it is obvious, even to the most casual observer such as myself, that none of these “leaders” have succeeded in moving the country forward in any meaningful way for the average citizen.

      And that brings me to the reason why I want to advocate “Running for Office.” Why not try something else? Why not pursue a different avenue? Why not think outside the box? What do we really have to lose when we never have much to start with? It “seems” like we have tried them all; saints, soldiers, and scientists, but nothing has worked and it is time to look for a leader elsewhere. Albert Einstein is noted to have said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” With that sentiment, I want to ask for your support as I propose “Running for Office” for the betterment of Ethiopia.

      So you ask, what is my qualification to run for office? Well, it does not matter, and not because such arrogance is status quo for Ethiopian leaders. It does not matter because I am not the one running for office. I am simply suggesting looking towards the sport of running (and by the way, the most successful long-term international endeavor Ethiopia has ever engaged in) to find someone worthy of holding an office; i.e. "Running for Office."

      In my opinion, that person is none other than “The Emperor” (just a nick name, relax :-) Haile Gebrselassie. I want to go on the record, with all seriousness, as the first person calling on Haile to take up the cause of Ethiopia by seeking high political office when the 2010 elections come around. I will outline below why I believe this needs to be supported by all democracy seeking Ethiopians.

      First of all, only people with genuine interest to help their fellow citizens, through an elected office, should seek high political office. After all, how is it promoting a democracy to force someone to serve (Dergue style) if the person is not interested to begin with? Fortunately, Haile has already indicated some interest in seeking a political office. He is on the record saying “Let me finish my training first, my running first, then we’ll see. I want to help the people, to be an example to the people. I have traveled to many countries. I have experience. And if I am to share that experience, and try to help people, I have to be in politics. But which way it will be, I don’t know.”

      I dare you to find the source of the above quote from Haile and read the entire interview (Hint: The Big Interview: Haile Gebrselassie, 2003). It will be well worth your time. One more Haile quote from a different
      source: "At the moment I am a little bit politician, yes. I think that could be my next step. It is not because I want power, it is because of what I think I could do for the people. I want to do something for the people. I have many fans, many people love Haile Gebrselassie. Thank you for that. But they need a reply from me. If I was in politics, I would give that reply." And what sort of reply would it be? "Eradicate poverty. This is all that matters in my country. When I am out training I think about this a lot; when I am running it is going over in my mind. As a country we cannot move forward until we eradicate poverty."

      Secondly, only people with a track record (no pun intended) of accomplishment should seek high political office. Well, need I say more on this? Haile not only has more than fifteen track (world) records to his name, but he has also proven in many ways that he can produce even when the odds are stacked up high against him. Consider the harsh situation he faced as a child, working hard on the farm, before and after having to run six miles to school and back every day. How about losing his loving mother as a youngster? Remember those tears on the podium at the Atlanta Olympics? Haile pursued running with single minded focus, despite strong opposition from his father, and managed to reach unimaginable heights. So far Haile has mastered all that he attempted, and there is no doubt that it will not be any different as an elected leader. After all, Haile has been called “A black African who, at last, possesses charm, charisma and natural PR instincts equal to his running talent.”

      Thirdly, only people who can be trusted with money should seek high political office. This would finally eliminate a history of Ethiopian leaders making like bandits and running away with the country’s coffers when their gig is up. No risk here with Haile because he ALREADY is (and not seeking to become) a multi-millionaire. One thing we can be sure is that when Haile decides to seek office, it will not be for financial gain or fame. He already has more money and fame than he knows what to do with.
      Fourthly, only people who are patriotic should seek high political office. This is an easy one for Haile because when he goes to work, he always has the name Ethiopia proudly written across his chest and he wears the flag on his back. When he concludes his work, he always carries the Ethiopian flag and waves it proudly in front of thousands before heading home. Haile has turned down offer of citizenship from at least one European country and has always preferred to keep his Ethiopian citizenship and conduct his training at home. By the way, when was the last time you saw Meles Zenawi carrying an Ethiopian flag?

      Finally, and most importantly in light of the 2005 election, only people who can not be defrauded by a rigged election should seek high office. Again, this is another easy one for Haile. Who would ever believe it, inside or outside of Ethiopia, if Meles Zenawi dares to claim that he got more votes than Haile Gebrselassie, the most famous Ethiopian who also happens to hail from Oromia region? Haile is known to fiercely run down anyone who attempts to steal a race, let alone a national election. If there is ever a sure bet in a foot race, or political race, it is none other than Haile Gebrselassie!

      Though it has not happened in Ethiopia so far, it is common in the western world that sport stars transition to other significant and visible public service roles after retiring from sports. The former Olympian and world record holder in the mile, Jim Ryun, is currently serving as a United States Congressman. Olympic Gold Medalist and former world record holder Sebastian Coe has served as member of the British Parliament. If we look outside of athletics, there are even more examples. Bill Bradley, the former NBA star, was a United States Senator and ran as a United States Presidential Candidate in 2000. Former NFL player Jack Kemp was the 1996 Vice Presidential candidate for the Republican Party. Other names with similar stories include J.C. Watts, Steve Largent, and Lynn Swann. Even in Africa, former world soccer player of the year George Weah was a Presidential candidate in Liberia in 2005.

      Haile is sure to be focused on running marathons through 2008, when he will once again go for the gold at the Beijing Olympics. However, once that is done and Haile has hanged up his running shoes for good, I am sure he will answer his country’s call for service of a different kind. Unlike the past history of Ethiopian Olympic Champions, who simply faded out of the limelight and into subsistence living or even outright poverty, I believe Haile will “kick it up a notch” and use his skill and stature to serve his fellow citizens in moving Ethiopia out of poverty and eternal authoritarian rule.

      Haile has always been one to achieve the impossible and, in the end, this chapter of his life will be no different. Let’s all encourage him to seek office in 2010, let’s chant to him “YICHALAL!”

      Monday, November 13, 2006

      Zenebech Egzero- 1919-2006

      Sometimes, even running has to take a back seat when things more serious come to pass in our lives. This past week has been one of those times.

      My only remaining grandparent, the beloved Emama, passed away on Sunday Novemeber 5, 2006. She was blessed with many years of life and I was blessed to have her as my grandmother. She was a truly courageous woman, a very hard worker, and a person with great sense of humor. Being with her was one of the most joyful things I have experienced in my life. Even as an adult, her embrace had the magic of taking away any worries out of my mind.

      There are many stories that I have heard recounted over the years that tell just what a unique person she was: hiding from the fascist Italian soldiers alone with a crying infant as others shunned her for fear of being captured, days of trekking on foot to retrieve my father and a young brother-in-law out of the countryside and into the city where they could get education, subduing with her bare hands a baboon that had terrorized the town of Nazareth, etc.

      Emama was a hard worker but still relaxed enough to often laugh at herself. She cared for many who had no one to care for and she kept her faith even during trying times. Although she only had one child, my father, she was mother to many that she raised at her home and supported elsewhere.

      Emama was a parishioner at Nazareth’s Medhanealem Church for several decades and had an annual tradition of gathering and feeding the homeless every year on the day of annual Medhanealem celebration. Emama passed away on November 5th and was buried on the grounds of Medhanealem Church on November 6th, which was the day of annual Medhanealem celebration. I believe this was a divine nod from above for a life exemplarily lived.

      Emama, I will miss you and will always love you. I look forward to day I see you again up yonder.

      1st Thessalonians 4:13-18

      13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

      And the Winner is …

      … #7, Running a Marathon, by a mile :-)

      Seven times champion of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong, did turn in a solid sub-3 hour performance at New York last Sunday, especially considering he did not train seriously for it. It is even more impressive that he stayed on pace during the final miles when the going got tough.

      Even though Armstrong was paced by four running celebrities (Alberto Salazar, German Silva, Hicham El Guerrouj, and Joan Benoit Samuelson), who have five NYC Marathon titles and three Olympic Gold Medals between them, it was still a strong effort by Armstrong that got him to the finish line and achieve his goal of finishing under three hours.

      Here is what Armstrong said afterwards:

      "Given the level of my condition, this was the hardest thing I've ever done. Considering all my Tours, even the worst days, nothing was as difficult or left me with such a sense of fatigue and so much soreness as the marathon today.”

      “…when I had 3 miles to go, even though I knew I had a chance for a sub-3-hour race, which was my goal, I was so tired I just didn't care. If you had told me I was going to finish in 3:05, I would have said, 'So what?' I don't care."

      Armstrong had this to say about the top marathon runners:

      "I'll tell you this. This is a very tough event. I don't know how the 2:10 guys do it. This is a special event."

      Speaking of the top marathoners, the Ethiopian runners did not have a particularly strong showing in New York. Hailu Negussie (2005 Boston Marathon Champion) finished in 8th place while Kassahun Kabisso and Leteyesus Berhe both finished in 18th place.

      Both Kassahun and Leteyesus are New York based runners who gain very little from running but still run for the love of the sport while holding other full time jobs. Stories such are their’s are inspiring and sometime receive coverage from the media. Here is what the International Herlad Tribune wrote about Kassahun and his friends about a year ago. I did have a chance to see Kassahun run in the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2003 and the opportunity to say few words of support the night before that race.

      Sunday, November 05, 2006

      #7 vs. #8

      A year and a half ago, USA Today newspaper ran an interesting series titled 10 Hardest Things To Do In Sports. On that list, Running a Marathon came in at #7 while the Tour de France came in at #8.

      While it is difficult to fathom that either one of these things could be easier to do than Hitting a Baseball or Race Car Driving, as the series seems to suggest, we should atleast have a clear answer for the #7 vs. #8 scenario. The undisputed champion of #8, Lance Armstrong, will be attempting #7 (not another Tour de France victory but a marathon run) in few short hours at the New York City Marathon, the most famous foot race in the world.

      I am sure the first question Armstrong will be asked, if and when he finishes the marathon, is whether running the marathon is easier than riding on the Tour. I can hardly wait for his answer.

      By the way, you can watch the New York City Marathon here. Among the elite athletes entered in the race are Ethiopians Worku Beyi, Kassahun Kabiso, Hailu Negussie, and Leteyesus Berhe.

      Saturday, November 04, 2006

      Ethiopia on the Map

      Congratulations, Marine Corps marathoners! Well done. I will do a post-mortem on MCM before the weekend is out, but for now …

      I want to talk about “Ethiopia on the Map.” That is, not where Ethiopia is on the Map, but who has put "Ethiopia on the Map."

      One of the reasons I became so interested in running is that, well, Ethiopians seem to be so darn good at it, and at the highest level of the sport. And who wouldn’t want to be associated with success?

      Often times, it seems like everything is going wrong with and in Ethiopia. When Ethiopia makes the news, it is in one way or another associated with suffering such as starvation, flooding, AIDS, war, and deadly election violence. Added to the mix are the relatively new categories the western news media has discovered about Ethiopia including religious conflict, female genital mutilation, and even animal cruelty.

      So, with all the negative publicity Ethiopia continues to receive, it is disappointing to see how little is written or talked about the things that are “right with Ethiopia.” Even more baffling is how little an interest there is on such things in the general population of Ethiopia. Simply put, we have not capitalized on things that we have going for us. A prime example of this is distance running.

      When the Olympic Games come around every four years, interest level in track and field seems to reach fever pitch. Songs are written, videos are made, and millions come out on the street to greet the athletes. But during the intermediate years, it takes a stunning world record performance at a minimum to get the attention of the average Ethiopian. Events such as the 2006 Berlin Marathon, where Haile Gebreselassie set an Ethiopian marathon record, are at best side bars where all the musings are on why he failed to break the world record and advice on how better he should prepare for next time (by the way, that next time is Dec. 3, 2006 at the Fukuoka Marathon, and there will most definitely be no record set).

      To be sure, distance running is going well in Ethiopia. Notwithstanding all the medal counts from Olympics and World Championships, we can simply look at the iconic figures Ethiopian distance running has produced. Unlike the twin evils of Mengistu and Meles, these are people who have put "Ethiopia on the Map” for the right reason. Just to name a couple, there is the one and only Haile Gebrselassie, who has broken countless world records, with a beaming smile that endeared him, and thus Ethiopia, to the western media, and by extension to the whole world.

      There is also Derartu Tulu, the first black African woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal. Her fierce competitive spirit, only hidden by her modesty, was key at the Barcelona Olympics in bringing Ethiopia back to Olympic glory of yesteryear after Ethiopia’s long absence from the Olympics during Mengitu’s reign. Derartu would go on to win another Olympic Gold Medal eight years later, and after having become a mother. Her legacy is filtering down to the younger generation of Ethiopian runners, and women in general.

      However, the one person that single-handedly put "Ethiopia on the Map” was the incomparable Abebe Bikila. Abebe burst on to the world’s stage virtually out of nowhere and with immense force. One can make a strong argument that Abebe is the one person, in the post World War II era, that managed to put Ethiopia front and center on the world’s stage. In an era where blacks were thought to be inferior when it came to distance running, one can simply imagine the impact of an unknown black African, running barefoot, and winning the marathon, the signature event of the entire Olympics and the culmination of the entire Games. The effect is further compounded when we consider that Abebe set a world record on that run and the host city was no less than Rome itself where “all roads lead.” The legend of "Barefoot Bikila" was born on that day.

      Of course, Abebe’s win in 1960 opened the floodgates for all the African runners that followed in his footsteps. But one wonders what is left of Abebe Bikila’s legacy and why there isn't even a government operated shrine that propagates his legacy to future generations.

      Several years ago, I was happy to get my hands on a book written by Abebe’s daughter, Tsige, who did a commendable job of telling her father’s story. The book is titled Triumph and Tragedy and the stories recounted in the book are well complemented with rare photographs. The personal hand written note that Tsige added along with an autographed copy of the book was a definite delight to receive. But I wonder how many copies Tsige was able to sell.

      Once again, it would seem non-Ethiopians are doing more to preserve our country’s legacy than ourselves. The New York Road Runners Club (organizers of the New York City Marathon) gives an annual award named “Abebe Bikila Award” and this year’s award was given to Paula Radcliffe at a ceremony this morning at United Nations Plaza in New York City. Radcliffe said “It is a great honour for me to receive such an award. The name alone represents so much for distance running and it is a huge privilege to join the list of outstanding athletes and previous winners who have done so much for our sport."

      So, how many awards do we know that are named after an Ethiopian and presented on such a huge stage? While we are busy reading about what the western media tell us about Ethiopia’s starvation, flooding, AIDS, war, etc. we should pause to ask ourselves what “Abebe Bikila” means to us and how to tell that meaning to the next generation of Ethiopians.

      Saturday, October 28, 2006

      The People's Marathon

      If you are an outdoors enthusiast, it does not get any better than October! The crisp fall air and the breathtaking hue displayed across the landscape in this season are truly refreshing. It is the best time of the year to go out and enjoy a run and take in the scenery nature offers.

      For the marathon enthusiasts, the fall season is in full swing with some impressive performances already in the books. Both Ethiopian men and women national records have been broken within the past month by Haile Gebrselassie in Berlin and Berhane Adere in Chicago, respectively. The marathon excitement is sure to continue every weekend, at least through November.

      In particular, this year’s edition of the New York City marathon is a race to watch as the legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong makes his much anticipated attempt at marathon running. Another celebrity scheduled to run in the New York race is the Olympic Champion Gymnist Shannon Miller. New York has also assembled an incredible line up of elite runners to go after the title of the most famous foot race in the world.

      While New York City Marathon is still one week away, the next major marathon on the calendar is Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. This marathon is nick named “Marathon of the Monuments” (runners will pass many prominent monuments along the way) and is also affectionately known as “The People’s Marathon”. The 31st annual run will take place tomorrow October 29th.

      In a stark contrast to the “who’s who” line up anticipated in New York next week, Marine Corps Marathon does not host any elite runners, and does not offer cash to the winners, but rather caters to “The People” (with notable exceptions such as Oprah Winfrey and Al Gore) who run for the sake of running and not to make a living.

      Along the same line, while many of the world’s other major marathons showcase the talented Ethiopian elite runners, “The People’s Marathon” will showcase a group of regular Ethiopians who run for the sake of running and not to make a living. In fact, this year’s edition of Marine Corps Marathon is perhaps poised to set the “record” for the most number of non-elite Ethiopian runners ever assembled in any marathon race in history.

      To be exact, there are at least seven regular Ethiopians registered to run the Marine Corps Marathon this coming Sunday: Anchinlema, Bete, Dereje, Tequame, Mamo, Fikru, and myself. In May 2006, we all agreed to register for the marathon and began training for it. Anchinlema, Dereje, Tequame, Mamo, and I had completed one or more marathons in the past (check here for more on my previous marathon) while Bete and Fikru were planning to make their first attempt at the distance. Several of us got together for a half-marathon in mid-July but aligning our schedule to be able to train together proved an impossibility.

      All of us have our different reasons for running, but one thing is for certain: it is not to earn money. In fact, some of the group members are coming from out of state to do this marathon and thus have incurred considerable cost on airfare and hotel expenses, in addition to the registration fee of $94. One member of the team, Anchinlema, is even raising funds by dedicating her run for a very noble cause of funding research to cure Autism.

      So, my dear friends Anchinlema, Bete, Dereje, Tequame, Mamo, and Fikru: I salute your courage in dedicating yourself to train for, and attempt to run, a marathon. You are doing it not for any gain but for the satisfaction of pushing yourself to the limit both physically and mentally. I especially salute you, Anchinlema, for going above and beyond in your effort to bring a cure for children suffering from Autism, one of whom is my own beloved son Addis.

      All of us have encountered our own ups and downs amidst training due to injuries, illness, accident, and hectic summer schedules. The marathon day has now arrived. Some of us may set personal records while others may not get to the finish line. One thing is certain, however; I know for a fact that all of us will be at the starting line when the gun goes off, ready to give “The People’s Marathon” nothing less than our best.

      As John Bingham would say, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”