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.