Tuesday, January 30, 2007

National stride

By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist January 29, 2007

Mesele Kifle is a big figure in Boston's Ethiopian community, and especially on its sports scene.

So there was only one place for him to spend this past Saturday night -- the Reggie Lewis Track in Roxbury at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games.

To track and field insiders, the meet, which boasted highly ranked runners from around the world, is a major stop on the indoor track circuit. It was broadcast on ESPN, the ultimate sports-world validation.

It means something different, though, to a man like Kifle, the president of the Boston Ethiopian Sports Club. Kifle, 55, came to Boston decades ago to attend college and, to his surprise, never left. For him and his associates, the meet is a huge occasion of community pride and a source of a sometimes-elusive unity.

"People are divided, with different ideas about politics and religion, but sports gives us national unity," Kifle said. "When we see the runners, we have a special feeling."

The Reggie was awash in emotion during the meet. Ethiopian flags were out in abundance, as were the national colors. Those who had come out to cheer their country's finest runners had plenty to cheer about, starting with the performance of Tirunesh Diruba .

The world record holder in the women's 5,000 meters, she brought the crowd to its feet by leaving her so-called competitors in her distant wake. Among those finishing far, far behind her was her sister, Ejegayehu . The Ethiopians would get their next chance to cheer when Meseret Defar easily took first place in the women's 3,000 meters -- to the delight of a huge cheering section at the finish line.

Diruba later said she enjoys running in Boston, mainly because of the fans. "It's like running in Ethiopia," she said through a translator. "People here have lots of love for me, and I can feel that."

The love affair between the local Ethiopian community and the nation's runners dates back for years. When Fatuma Roba won three consecutive Boston Marathons in the late 1990s, it was common for her fans to jump on the course and run alongside her for moral support. They didn't keep up for long, but a tradition was born.

Kifle, not surprisingly, was usually among those who would try to run a piece of the marathon alongside Roba. "When it comes to these kinds of things, I get very emotional."

He and others said that emotion comes from the connection that it gives to home. Next to soccer, track is the country's great athletic pastime. The dominance of the country's runners gives a relatively low-profile community here something to stand up and cheer. Tickets to the Reebok Games get snatched up early, with sales spurred by word-of-mouth in convenience stores and restaurants.

Kifle didn't know he would become an American when he moved to the United States. He attended Bunker Hill Community College and Boston State College. He thought he would spend perhaps five years in the States before returning home. But while he was away, the emperor, Haile Selassie, was deposed in a military coup, changing Ethiopia utterly. He has been back to visit only a few times since, most recently just a few weeks ago. Kifle said he saw a country that was little like he remembered it.

"Everything -- the poverty is different, the unemployment is different. There is a lot of poverty," he said. "But the people are the same. Eventually, I'm going to end up there."
Kifle Alemu, 30, became a high school track star at Boston English High after moving here from Ethiopia. He and a friend were videotaping the meet at trackside. "This is special for Ethiopian people," Alemu said.

Mesele Kifle said he would probably be traveling to other meets in Washington and New York in the next couple of weeks. He is not alone among Ethiopians who like to travel the track-and-field circuit. He lives for this. "I like to see us win," he said.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Record in Boston

As promised the Reebok Boston Indoor Games was a great event. With Tirunesh Dibaba shattering her 5000 M World Indoor Record by get this - five and a half seconds. Tirunesh herself was surprised by the margin. The full story is at IAAF. Running with a cold, Meseret Defar was not as lucky in breaking the 3000 M record. She ended up winning the race but had to be helped off the field. I don't know how many of you have run with a cold but it is a dangerous thing to do because the reparatory system is being taken to the extreme. Best wishes to Meseret who gave it all her best and congratulations to Tirunesh.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Asleep at the Wheel

Last weekend was a busy weekend for running. We have been asleep at the wheel here at Roocha.net. But while we were dozing off, roocha never stops, so others have picked up the slack and helped us out. We received the following email from Gedeonsharew who was at the Scotland Great Edinburgh Cross Country event and wached Kenenisa, in basketball shorts, destroy the field. With many thanks to Gedeonsharew and with his permission we are positing his email.

Hi guys,

Allow me to invoke my bragging rights having watched this at the venue.


As cross country events go, it was an open field with just a single strip of loose rope on either side of the winding and undulating 9km route separating the runners from the spectators. It was like watching golf, as enthusiasts like me (and of course several others) were able to scurry around the middle of the winding course to catch a good view at every turn except when the runners disappear behind the hill for a short portion of the route.

I actually got so excited half way thru, me and a couple of other guys waited for the leading pack to turn the corner and then started running right along side them (on the outside of the rope of course) for a few seconds, me with my huge bandira blowing high up (in the hope of being picked up by the live BBC camera feed). It was actually more like a blur because to my horror I found the speed at which the likes of Kenenisa, Zeresenay, Kipchoge... gallop tough the muddy and hilly course, is faster than my full speed sprint and this is just midway before they start picking up real speed.

Anyway, it was truly breathtaking to see a reportedly "not fully fit" Kenenisa bursting up and down the course with unbelievable ease and energy. The man is quite small (not very thin even at his ideal weight). When you look at him up close while he is burning the course, the confident face, the jutting chest, the amazingly long strides (I couldn't stretch my strides that wide for a long jump), the way he seems to lightly bounce off the ground each time he lands a foot, the perfect rhythm, the devastating finishing speed... was exhilarating to watch. The race probably would have been wildly exciting if Zeresenay didn't run out of steam but instead held on for a sprint finish.

Zeresenay who is shorter but slightly stockier was constantly a step ahead or behind of Kenenisa throughout most of the race and actually towards the beginning of the last lap tried to lead. It was to no avail as Kenenisa easily shot past him and continued to widen his lead to the finish. Zeresenay is a bit stooped and seems to bury his head in his shoulders (as opposed to Kenenisa's front-jutting) and therefore not too stylish of runner, but definitely a strong and very talented athlete who now seems second only to Kenenisa.

Kenenisa's face and body is very fresh and young and leaves no doubt that he is not a day older than his official 24 years. Zeresenay has one of those rugged ageless faces like Haile Gebreslassie’s, and could lead you to think that he can be anywhere between 20 to 55.

The women's race was similarly exciting. Gelete Burka who has a very strong, fast and wide stride, never seemed in doubt of winning. She ran like a rocket with her head and body leaning out front in an angle. Like Kenenisa, she won very comfortably and her victory never seemed in doubt after the first few laps.

There were about twenty five Ethio types from Edinburgh/Glasgow and about a hundred or so very boisterous Eritreans mostly from London. The atmosphere among the two groups was very friendly and civilized through out. Prior to the start of the race, I almost created an incident when my bandira was blown out of my hand by the gale force wind, and of all places landed a few hundred feet away right smack in the middle of Eritrean bandirawoch held high by a group of singing and dancing Zeresenay tifozowoch (and Hailesilassie yimut it was totally unintended). I mean the bandira made a few very wide arcs above the huge field and it probably had a chance of one in a thousand to land on the Eritreans, and that is exactly what it did. Anyhow, at first, I saw some in the Eritrean crowd with a bewildered look, then a frowning and questioning look toward the small Ethiopian crowd I was with. Thankfully, a young pretty girl ran across field and delivered the flag to us to my great relief, it seems like just plain kind heartedness and/or camaraderie in a foreign land took over. Imagine how bad I would have felt if some sort of fracas broke out as a result - especially when the fact that the bandira’s air trip was accidental and not plausible. I think one of the good things is a lot of the crowd on both sides (and I think increasingly in many public gatherings in the general Diaspora) are youngish under 30s who have so much less baggage and hang-ups.

The small Edinburgh/Glasgow Habesha community who seem to have a loose network had organized a dinner and dance party afterwards to honor the athletes and also to have a belated Habesha Gena party. We had a great party well into the wee hours.


If you enjoy Gedeonsharew's report drop him an appriciation comment.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More on Tariku

Additional articles have rolled off the press regarding tomorrow's R 'n' R Arizona Marathon. They do make mention of Tariku and it almost sounds like he is considered as the favorite to win. I did get the chance to speak to Tariku several times from Arizona, and earlier this evening I have passed good wishes for the race. Incidentally, I am quite impressed with the organizers of the race as they seem to be taking good care of the athletes. In particular, Mr. Mike Long, who is the elite athlete coordinator, has been very helpful in establishing contact with Tariku.

If anyone in the Phoenix area can provide updates from local news outlets as the race progresses, it will be greatly appreciated. Please send e-mail to

The race will be televised at a later date as follows:

The 2007 P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon & ½ Marathon will be televised locally on FOX Channel 10, and nationally on FOX Sports Net. Times and dates are subject to change so please check your local listings.
National Broadcast on Fox Sports: January 27th at 6:00pm MST*
Local Broadcast on Fox Channel 10: Sunday, January 28th at 3:00 pm MST

When You See a Mess

When you see a mess you know a mess and here is a mess.

Last November, claiming that it was acting on evidence that surfaced in the criminal case of convicted East German coach Thomas Springstein, Germany's Athletics Federation (DLV) filed a complaint against Hermens and Spanish doctor Miguel Angel Peraita.

Last month, denying wrongdoing and claiming damage to his reputation, Jos Hermens the agent for 39 Ethiopian athletes including Haile Gebreslassie’s and Kenenisa Bekele, filed a slander suit against the German Athletics Federation (DVL) President Clemens Prokop.

The central figure in this mess is the former East German coach Thomas Springstein who was sentenced to 16 months in prison last year for giving a banned substance to minors he had been coaching. Hermens is the former manager of two German athletes coached by this convict. It appears that Jos Hermens name surfaced in the court documents during this trial. The two athletes are former 800m Olympic champion Nils Schumann and former world 400m relay champion Grit Breuer. The more controversial of the two is 34 year-old Grit Breuer, a former East German athlete and girlfriend of the convicted coach Springstein. She was the 200M World Indoor Championship in 1991 and a medalist at the Olympics and World Championships in the 4x100m relay. In 1992 she received a two year ban for taking a performance-enhancing substance and got in trouble again in 2004 for skipping a drug test. She faced a lifetime ban for a skipped drug test but managed to get cleared on a technicality.

The DVL accuses Hermens of sending three athletes to Dr. Peraita. Hermens said he recommended Peraita to the German athletes because he believed some of the Spanish doctor's methods, which included homeopathy, were revolutionary.

Last summer cycling experience a huge doping scandal that damaged the credibility of the sport. OnJuly, 1 2006The Washington post reported :

The Tour de France, the legendary three-week bicycle race that is one of Europe's most popular sporting events, was rocked by a major drug scandal on Friday -- the day before the race was scheduled to begin -- that forced several of the top competitors to withdraw, including favorites Jan Ullrich of Germany and Ivan Basso of Italy.

Cycling analysts described the burgeoning doping scandal -- which centers on a sports doctor in Madrid who allegedly helped dozens of riders with performance-enhancing blood doping -- as the worst to ever hit the sport. They said that it could claim more Tour riders before the race is finished July 23 -- or even before it starts Saturday morning in the French Alsatian city of Strasbourg. Johan Bruyneel, coach of the Discovery Channel team that was headed by seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong until his retirement last year, said the ongoing Spanish drug probe "is probably the biggest doping scandal in cycling and maybe even in sports ever.

According to this Spiegel Magazine, for years Spain has been considered a paradise for athletes open to doping. That piece of doping paradise was not limited to cyclist. Dr. Miguel Angel Peraita and the East German convict were a part of this paradise.

The first reports about compliant doctors and well-equipped laboratories began making the rounds in the track and field world in the late 1990s. The suspicion that a network had developed in this environment was confirmed last year when the police staged a spectacular coup against the drug cartel. In a series of raids on the Spanish mainland, as well as on the Canary and Balearic Islands, police secured 10 tons of illegal doping products.

Since the trial of former sprint trainer Thomas Springstein in Germany, anti-doping activists there, like Heidelberg cell biologist Werner Franke, have openly referred to the so-called "Spanish connection." In March, a court in Magdeburg gave the eastern German track and field coach a 16-month suspended sentence for supplying drugs to minors. The investigation had revealed that Springstein was regularly in contact with Miguel Angel Peraita, a Madrid physician.

During a search of Springstein's home, the police seized a folder containing faxes and email printouts. In some emails, Springstein, whose screen name was "Top.speed," inquired about advances in genetic doping. In others, he asked Peraita (screen name "Top Doc") for his views on the respective advantages of testosterone creams and insulin injections.

Germany's National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) in Bonn now has portions of this incriminating file at its disposal and is trying to uncover links between Fuentes and Peraita, whose medical practice is located on Madrid's Calle Fernández de la Hoz -- just a few steps from Fuentes's apartment and Merino Batres's blood laboratory.

About sending athletes to Dr. Peraita, Jos Hermens said:

I was maybe a little dumb, I should have asked more questions about what Peraita exactly does.

It may have been dumb mistake but it’s something you just wish Hermens never did. The stink surrounding these German athletes is seriously threatening his livelihood and reputation. The most confusing thing is why would such a well respected agent send the East German convict's girlfriend (Grit Breuer) who herself was a cheat to Dr. Peraita the doper. This is the wrong crowd for him to have anything to do with. All this does not look good but the fact of the mater remains that the evidence against him is still slim.

The current evidence isn't enough to press doping charges against high-profile agent Jos Hermens and a Spanish doctor, the investigating district attorney said Wednesday.

But Rudolf Jaspers said his Magdeburg office will investigate the allegations of trafficking in banned substances brought against Miguel Angel Peraita and Hermens, whose clients include long-distance greats Haile Gebreslassie and Kenenisa Bekele.
The German Athletics Federation, which filed a criminal complaint Monday, bases its doping allegations on court documents from the trial of Thomas Springstein, a German coach sentenced to four months for providing a banned substance to a minor.

"We have hints in the e-mails between Springstein and Peraita, but nothing that specifies amounts or where they (drugs) were transported," Jaspers told the Associated Press. "That will not be enough to build a case." Jaspers said his office may appeal to Spanish and Dutch authorities for help in the investigation. It's also not clear if any wrongdoing falls under German jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, the problem is not legal but a problem of preception. Joe Hermes is an agent who is regarded as the best of the best in the business. It’s unfortunate when such an incident hoovers around a good guy like him.

Hermens does much more than negotiate financial deals for these athletes. "Jos had done everything for me, not only in running," says Gebrselassie, the two-time Olympic 10,000m champion. "He is doing everything. For example my brother was in [the] hospital in Holland. Jos is looking after him."

"I never see him as [a] manager," says Gebrselassie. "Always he looks like a brother or a father and son."
And there is more...

For his athlete family, he is willing to assist wherever necessary in their lives. Occasionally his duties include such diverse tasks as shipping farm implements from Europe to Africa on behalf of enterprising athletes.

In September 2004, Hermens even sought out the best doctors for Gebrselassie and his friend, 2000 Olympic marathon champion Gezehegne Abera, in Helsinki. Abera is not even one of his clients. Hermens wanted, however, to ensure he was also in capable medical hands.

I believe Joe Hermes is innocent. The problem here is that every news article that covers this issue also mentions our record shattering athletes Haile Gebreslassie’s and Kenenisa Bekele. This places two of the hardest working athletes under a cloud of suspicion without an ounce of evidence. Anytime an athlete dominates there are suspicions and it is the athlete’s responsibility to stay clear of anything that may create a controversy. Lance Armstrong’s career has been dogged with doping allegations without any evidence and his legacy is somewhat tarnished based just perception. I personally have always been suspicious of Paula Radcliff and I have no evidence for that. Therefore, I can’t blame anyone for being suspicious of Ethiopian athletes given how dominant they have been. We may think our athletes are special but not everyone thinks like we do. The good news is that Ethiopian athletics has been one of the cleanest in the world of sports. It is unfortunate that Jos Hermen’s second tier German athletes could tarnish the hard earned reputation of our heroes and for that matter the reputation of our country.

This is something you would hope have never happened. This is a mess. There will be no winners.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Watch Out for Tariku

NOT Tariku Bekele, Kennenisa’s younger brother, who has recently stepped up to the major league of running, not that Tariku… watch out for Tariku Aboset! Who in the world is Tariku Aboset? I will tell you in a minute, but first…

One of the most enjoyable things about running for me is to talk to other runners about it. I find that runners are always (well, almost always) happy and positive people. Runners are pleasant to talk to and there is no end to conversations that runners can have when they become acquainted to one another.

Being the introvert person that I am, I very rarely engage into conversation with total strangers whenever I fly. I like to keep to myself- curious thing for someone writing an open blog. Anyway, on one occasion when I was flying from Washington to Atlanta, I was somehow having a small talk with the passenger next to me even before the plane pushed back from the gate. The conversation quickly switched to the topic of running, which we both were very interested in, and we talked about running all the way until the plane landed in Atlanta.

Conversations with runners are always pleasant before and after races. Even during races, conversations that last many miles are often struck up with total strangers. Conversations about running are even more enjoyable when it is with someone I already know.

So it was the case in 2001, when I last visited Ethiopia, that I met some of my relatives that I had not met previously. It was Tariku Aboset and one of his brothers. I had heard over the years that Tariku was a pretty good runner who trained very diligently. But no one could tell me exactly how good Tariku’s running talent was. So when I finally met Tariku, we spent sometime talking about running. I had a million and one question about training and running in Ethiopia. At the time, Tariku already had some exposure to Ethiopian elite athletes so I was able to hear about how they trained and prepared for some of the major races. He also told me his time for 10K but I didn’t know what to make of it. The fact that Addis Ababa is 9000ft above sea level makes it a difficult place to run. So it was impossible to gauge how good a runner someone is solely based on his time run at altitude in Addis. Is a 30min 10K in Addis equivalent to a 27 min 10K at sea level?

Anyway, I was impressed with Tariku’s talent and dedication to his training, but considering all the running talent that Ethiopia has, I felt it would be a long shot to rise to the top and race internationally. Upon returning to the US, I did some research and contacted some people to see if I can find any way to offer him some help. None of the leads I had were promising and my mind slowly drifted away and went back to my regular routine. I still kept hearing that Tariku was training hard with very little resources he had.

Fast forward to January 10, 2007. I was reading through an article about the upcoming P. F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon scheduled for this coming Sunday January 14. The article talked about how the winners from the last two years (both Ethiopians) will be running again this year. It then went on to say that the past champions will be facing a newcomer who has been keeping pace with Haile Gebrselassie in training and is expected to be a “powerful contender” at the marathon on Sunday. I was not prepared for the sentence that followed:

Tariku Aboset, 24, from Ethiopia is the newcomer and though his marathon prowess is yet to be proven on a certified race course, his counterparts will be well-aware of his presence on race day.”

Whoa! I re-read it just to make sure. And then I started arguing with myself.

“Could it be the Tariku?”
“No, I would have known about it ahead of time.”
“But then the name is unmistakable and it is not even misspelled.”
“There is only one way to confirm.”

So I made a quick phone call here in the US and then another to Ethiopia. Tariku’s brother in Ethiopia confirmed to me it was indeed him.

I was simply stunned to see how far Tariku’s dedication has brought him. I felt so happy about his success, but also felt ashamed that I had not done more for him when I returned back to the US after I met him five years ago.

My direct contact with Tariku was obviously over a short time period but family members tell me that he is always a very pleasant person to be around. He is a person of faith and unbelievable work ethic. Tariku’s determination to consistently train himself, despite very limited resources, has obviously paid off.

Come Sunday, I will be eagerly waiting to see how well Tariku’s debut marathon turns out. I believe he has picked a good race to run. It appears that P. F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon has recently become a destination of choice for Ethiopian elite athletes. This year’s elite field contains seven Ethiopian men (including Tariku) and four Ethiopian women. You will also remember that this is the same race where Haile Gebrselassie set a half-marathon world record last year. I hope Tariku will find similar success on Sunday. As I conclude, I would like to leave you with a quote from Abraham Lincoln that Tariku’s story has reminded me of:

“You can have anything you want, if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.”

Abraham Lincoln

Duel in Boston

Tirunesh Dibaba and Mesert Defar, aka The Duelling Ds , face off at the 12th Reebok Boston Indoor Games in Boston on Jan 27. The two will be attempting to break the 3000 meter indoor record. Mesert Defar is the defending world 3000 meter champion and Tirunesh holds the 3000 meter indoor record.It should be a great race since both women have plenty of incentive to win this race. It's not often that us folk on this side of the Atlantic get an opportunity to catch such action. Don't miss this chance if you can help it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bahrain Sendoff

Just a month after my Bahrain Calling blog entry I did not expect to blog about Bahrain giving up an athlete. But that indeed has happend. The opportunity presented itself with the folly of former Kenyan Leonard Mucheru who morphed to Mushir Salem Jawher of Bahrain only to be striped of his Bahraini citizenship last week and now is stateless and stuck with his Bahraini name.

The story is that Mushir Salem Jawher in his greed committed a crime entering Israel by using his Kenyan passport which he should have surrendered in 2003, when he became a Bahrain citizen. After winning the Tiberias marathon in Israel, he was striped of his Bahraini citizenship, when officials of his new country where embarrassed to find out that a citizen of the Arab country had run a Marathon in Israel. I suppose there is no place like home-sweet-home because last reports on the where about of the stateless runner were that he was hiding in Kenya, afraid of arrest by Kenyan immigration officials for his passport violation. Over the last two days, the IAAF has been working to help this fellow and the IAAF has enlisted Kenyan Athletics Federation in an attempt to help him regain his Kenyan Citizenship. The final decision rests with Kenyan Immigration. You can't help but feel sorry for this dude.

I am glad to say that Ethiopia has not produced such fools. I hope this dude's ordeal serves as an example. While on this subject, I wanted to evaluate the magnitude of this trend in defections. So I went looking for numbers.

What I found was that it's almost impossible to know the number in a broad sense so to find useful numbers one must take a narrow interpretation of the term "change of allegiance". The only useful statistics that I found were kept by the IAAF which tracks when an athlete who has represented a country changes allegiance. Athletes that have never represented their country of origin such as Maryam Yusuf Jamal are not tracked by the IAAF. While the number of athletes that have competed for their country of origin and changed allegiance is limited they represent a heavy investment by the country of origin and defections are significant events. The data in the chart below is for allegiance changes since 1998. Data prior to 1998 is not available and even if it were available I am not sure it would be very useful.

United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and Canada appear on both sides of the chart indicating ease of mobility and the transient nature of allegiance in these counties. So the net loss and gain numbers are more useful are represented in the next chart.

As expected, the countries with the most losses are African nations followed by former Eastern Block nations. Drilling down on Ethiopia, lets take a look at our former athletes. When, who and to where?

Turkey and Great Britain are the top destinations for elite Ethiopian athletes and 1998 was a pretty bad year with 5 athletes changing allegiance. In fact, if we take out 1998 we find that Ethiopia hasn’t lost more than two athletes in any given year.

The following graph has the complete trend line and a comparison of Ethiopian (red) with Kenya(gray) and Morocco(green.)

What is clear is that while we (Ethiopia) lose some athletes there is no mass exodus similar to what Ethiopia experienced in 1998 or what Kenya has recently experienced. Let's hope it stays that way.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Melkam Genna

Enkuan LeBrhane Lidetu Bedehna Aderesachu- Merry Ethiopian Christmas to all. As you celebrate, make sure you do not leave out any of these steps.

Haile in the News

Haile in the news? "What's news about that?" you say, "he is always in the news." Well, this time he is not in the news for running... or organizing a race, or acting, or any of the things he has done in the past. Haile is in the news for politics! Yes, that dirty eight letter word, politics.

You think he read Roocha's earlier post on Running for Office?? Fat chance. Anyway, Haile (killer name for a politician!) apparently has been supplementing his recovery activity from Fukuoka Marathon with some under-the-radar political mediation. Some of the Ethiopian online news outlets and blogs such as Ethiopian Media Forum and Seminawork are reporting that Haile Gebrselassie and Dr. Ephraim Issac have been mediating secret talks between the Ethiopian Prime Minister and jailed opposition leaders.

Haile has been appointed a UN Ambassador in the past, but I believe this is his first direct contact with the rough and tumble "sport" of Ethiopian politics. Haile deserves admiration by his fellow citizens for being willing to risk his name and reputation in an attempt to solve the current political impasse in Ethiopia. Great job, Haile, and best wishes!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cheers Ethiopia!

As we are getting ready to bid farewell to the year 2006 and welcome 2007 (well, that’s when this post was started), it is only fitting to add one more post to say cheers!

Happy New Year to all readers of Roocha! And a special cheers is in order for all Ethiopian Olympians. Although the past year has gone by without much mention of this, 2006 marked a milestone for Ethiopia's participation at the Olympic Games. It was 50 years ago, at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, that Ethiopia made its first appearance at the Olympic Games.

There has not been much commemoration of this Golden Jubilee of Ethiopian Olympic participation. In fact, I became aware of this milestone only after hearing it mentioned several months ago by the magnificent journalist Negussie Aklilu of
Voice of America’s Amharic language service. Thank you Ato Negussie and VOA Amharic for bringing this to our attention. It is a shame that we do not take time to celebrate significant historical milestones such as this. The need for celebration is highlighted in an interesting article I came across sometime ago about how Australians planned to commemorate the 1956 Melbourne Olympics- “The Friendly Games.”

By any measure, Ethiopia’s record at the Olympic Games has been outstanding. It seems that every four years Ethiopians not only win medals (which very few countries do to begin with) but also break barriers and achieve feats previously out of reach.

So, in the spirit of a new year’s tradition, let’s count down the significant accomplishment of Ethiopians at the Olympics over the past 50 years. Obviously, each entry is worthy of a separate post (note to self!) but it would not be right to let 2006 expire without making mention of these achievements, even in a hurried fashion. So, here goes:

Derartu Tulu wins Gold Medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics 10000M race, eight years after her first gold medal. It is an amazing, and quite likely unmatchable, achievement to win a track race at two Olympic Games with this much time in between. This race is also notable for having Ethiopians finish 1-2 with Gete Wami claiming the Silver Medal.

Haile Gebrselassie wins Gold Medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics 10000M race. Although this was anticipated by all Ethiopians, the victory lifts the spirit of an entire nation. In advance of the Atlanta Olympics, Haile had already attracted the attention of international media by setting multiple world records on the track as well as his public relations savvy off the track. His victory in Atlanta was the deciding factor in picking Haile’s life story as the one to be featured in the movie Endurance.

Kennenisa Bekele wins Gold Medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics 1000M race. In the same race, Sileshi Sihine wins the Silver Medal and Haile Gebrselassie finishes fifth. But this race was more than winning medals. The team work displayed by Kennenisa and Sileshi to help out the injured Haile served as the inspiration for a popular Ethiopian music video by Tewodros Kassahun. Kennenisa and Sileshi were willing to risk their medal chances by slowing down in mid-race to allow Haile to catch up with the leaders. This was clearly the race were the “baton” was passed from one generation to the next.

Gezahegne Abera wins the 2000 Olympic Marathon in Sydney giving Ethiopia an unprecedented fourth Olympic Gold Medal in Men’s Marathon. Reclaiming of the Marathon Gold medal after 32 years sends Ethiopians into euphoria. In the same race, Ethiopian Tesfaye Tola wins the Bronze medal.

Fatuma Roba wins Ethiopia’s first Gold Medal in the Women Olympic Marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Although Fatuma was a relatively unknown runner in 1996, she has gone on to win the next three Boston Marathons, easily distinguishing herself as one of the greatest women marathoners in the world.

Miruts Yifter wins two Gold Medals in the 5000M and 10000M race at the 1980 Moscow Olympics earning a rare double victory in these distances. Although Miruts had won a Bronze medal in the 5000M at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, his double victory in Moscow puts him among all time running greats. Miruts’ achievement distinguishes him as the only Ethiopian Olympian to win two Gold Medals at the same Olympics.

Derartu Tulu wins the 1000M at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, earning the first medal by an Ethiopian woman and the first Gold Medal by a black African woman. Her victory paves the way for all the great Ethiopian woman runners that followed in her footsteps. Derartu’s success served notice that Ethiopian women runners are as much talented as the men.

Mamo Wolde makes it a three-peat for Ethiopia in Olympic Marathon by winning the Gold Medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Mamo also won a Silver Medal in the 10000M race foreshadowing the success to come in future track races. Mamo’s victory in the marathon showed that Abebe Bikila’s victory was not just a one man show but highlighted the special talent of Ethiopian runners.

Abebe Bikila repeats as Olympic Marathon Champion at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. With another Olympic Gold Medal to go with the one he won four years earlier in Rome, Abebe clearly achieves the status of a running legend that is revered to this very day. The fact that Abebe won the Tokyo race after having his appendix removed only six weeks earlier adds to the legend.

Abebe Bikila wins the 1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome, running barefoot, setting a new world record, and becoming the first African to win an Olympic Gold Medal. This victory would be quite significant if taken in and of itself. But from a vantage point of 45+ years in the future, it is indisputable that Abebe’s victory in Rome is single-handedly responsible for the magnitude of success African runners have achieved in the years that followed.