Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why Run?

On Sunday February 25, 2007, Tadesse Tola won the Ethiopian Cross Country Trials at Jan Meda in Addis Ababa. I had never heard of Tadesse Tola before then, and when I saw the results I even wondered if it was a fluke win. After all, it is not an everyday occurence where a relative unknown shows up and thrashes a well established runners such as Sileshi Sihine and Tariku Bekele. With that win, Tadesse gained prominence in international athletics.

One month later, on March 24, 2007 I got a chance to see (on TV) Tadesse Tola compete at the 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya. On the initial results, Tadesse Tola was listed as DNF (Did Not Finish). I saw that race few times and it was clear that Tadesse had finished in seventh place (first Ethiopian), yet the results never got corrected. I could not find explanation for this no matter where I looked so it remained a mystery for a while. The official results now show him as the seventh place finisher. Tadesse's result was confirmation that his victory at Jan Meda a month before was no fluke. Just as he had done at Jan Meda, he finished ahead of all the other Ethiopians in the race, including Kennenisa Bekele who did not finish the race. As a side bar, it is worth noting (with heartburn!) that the other Ethiopian men finished the race in 15th, 16th, 17th and 27th places. With the corrected results of Tadesse Tola in 7th place, five Ethiopians finished the senior men's race. However, a minimum of six finishers were needed to get a team score. Therefore, had Kennenisa hanged on two finish in second place behind Zeresenay, Team Ethiopia would have scored 84 (2+7+15+16+17+27) easily outpacing Team Morocco who claimed the Silver Medal behind Kenya with 152 points. Kennenisa dropping out of the race cost the Ethiopian team a most certain Silver Medal!! Anyway, let me go back to my focus on Tadesse Tola. I will do a separate post about other observations from the Mombasa race later on.

A mere one week after the Mombasa race, Tadesse had flown half-way around the world and was at the heart of Washington, D.C. on Sunday April 1st. Never mind the fatigue from a grueling race in Mombasa just a week before, or the jetlag from flying half way around the world, the 19 year old Tadesse was lined up as one of the favorites to win Washington, D.C.'s most popular race-
Cherry Blosom 10 Mile Run. And win he did! He turned in one of the fastest times in recent years while our compatriot Teyba Erkesso tore apart her competition in the process of setting a new world record for ten miles.

And this is where the story gets real interesting- at least for me. It just so happened that my blogging partner Welemta and I were also registered for this same Cherry Blossom race. I was in no form to run a ten mile race but still managed to finish the race. I shall not disclose my finishing time here, but let's just say I caught a nice view of Tadesse Tola as he was breaking away from his challengers about half-mile from the finish line. At that time I was somewhere between mile 2 and 3.

So, why run? One can list many reasons but here are
ten reasons that is worth considering. I particularly like #8:

Running offers a unique opportunity for recreational runners to mix with world-class athletes. You can't play in a PGA golf tournament, at Wimbledon or for a Super 12 Rugby side, but on almost every weekend, recreational runners compete in the same events with elite athletes.
Six weeks ago, I learned of Tadesse Tola for the first time. Two weeks ago I watched him compete at the Cross Country Championships in Kenya. One week ago, I was in the same race with him- proof positive for Reason #8!!

After the race, Welemta and I walked over to the awards ceremony. We watched the
top finishers (several Ethiopians including the two champions) receive their awards to the appluase of an enthusiastic crowd. We then made our way to the side of the stage where the athletes were. They were obviously having a good time amongst themselves but were very gracious to us as we introduced ourselves, shook hands with and congratulated all of them, and took sometime to chat. It was refreshing to see how respectful and polite these athletes were even as they were signing autographs for fans and accomodating reporters, including from The Washington Post, who published a nice piece about the race.

Let me conclude with one final thing worth noting- with heartburn! As Welemta and I walked back to our car, we passed by an adjacent field where a pick up soccer game was in progress. The field was no farther than 200m from where the awards for the race had just been given out. The soccer players were mostly Ethiopians, some of them wearing patriotic warm up suits with the design of the Ethiopian tri-color flag. As they ran back and forth kicking the ball, it was apparent that they were completely oblivious to the fact that world class Ethiopian runners had just won the hugely popular Cherry Blossom race with a world record setting performance. On the following day, I eagerly listened to VOA Amharic's weekly sport program with anticipation of a report on Tadesse and Teyba's great achievement just a day before. VOA, whose headquarter is just a stone throw away from where the race took place, was obviously just as well (ill) informed as the soccer players we passed.

What a fitting image to portray the level of attention Ethiopian runners get when they are not running in the Olympics or World Championships. Never mind that
St. George beat Coffee 3-1 in a Premiere League shake up match!


Anonymous said...

nice story this is why i read this site

Anonymous said...

Great story! I am also very pleased to read that you also took part in the race. Many of our countrymen and women avidly follow the success of our elite runners but never take part in the sport that has made our Ethiopia shine above all.

As a marathon runner myself, I commend you for doing your part in joining our elite in this fantastic sport. I would also like to mention that you're absolutely right that the first-hand contact with our country's best is probably the most exciting part of the race - you as a fellow runner and not just a spectator.