Monday, May 28, 2007

Tamrat Ayalew

Tamrat Ayalew- a professional runner from Ethiopia, now in Colorado, seeking political asylum. He says he has a personal best of 2:12 in the marathon. He also says he was imprisoned and tortured by the Ethiopian government... watch a video clip here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Back to the Familiar

In a few hours, Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie will be running in the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games (aka Thales FBK Games, named for "The Flying Housewife") in Hengelo, Netherlands. Kenenisa will be running the 2 mile race, originally billed as a world record attempt, and Haile will be doing the 10000M race. Both will be in familiar territory, but only as far as venue is concerned. It is unlikely that either one will come anywhere close to world record setting form they displayed in past years at this very same meet. In fact, I just hope that they will avoid the disaster they met in their most recent outings in Mombasa and London.

I suspect both Kenenisa and Haile have chosen to compete in Hengelo because it is a familiar place to both. Haile has set three world records in Hengelo: 5000M record in 1994, and two 10000M records in 1995 and 1998. Kenenisa broke the 5000M record in Hengelo in 2004. However, both have met some rough roads in recent competition and their performance in Hengelo will be quite telling as to how they will fare in upcoming competitions for the rest of 2007.

Recent news on Kenenisa regarding his ongoing difficulties following the disaster in Mombasa has been troubling, to say the least. Although the story is carried by Kenyan media (with vested interest in seeing Kenenisa's demise), what is reported is most shocking. Other reports state that Kenenisa suffered knee injury in Mombasa, which the Ethiopian Athletic Federation has been concerned about. Kenenisa has faced adversity in the past, including the unexpected loss of his fiancee, and he has managed to rise back to the top. I hope that Hengelo (and Pre Classic two weeks later) will put him back on the right track towards 2007 World Chamionships in Osaka and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

As for Haile, his appearance in Hengelo is most puzzling. He had said that his days of track running have come to an end following the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. He was at last concentrating on the Marathon which he said was his ultimate goal through all his years of running. Haile had a successful 2006 marathon season but he had to drop out of the London Marathon last month where he had a high expectation of winning against a strong field that was assembled. Unfortunately, Haile had to drop out after 30 kilometers.

In an interview that I heard several days after London's race, Haile said he encountered sudden difficulty in breathing, which his doctors have later on told him was due to pollen allergy. The unusual warm weather in London had resulted in high level of pollen in the air. Haile said he was very confident of winning as he passed the 25 km mark but his race was unexpectedly over 15 minutes later. Third time was definitely not a charm for Haile in London. Even before the race, I was disappointed to read the defending champion openly stating that he does not fear Haile and that Haile's aura is gone.

Immediately after the news of Haile's DNF in London, many Ethiopians started commenting on internet discussion boards calling on him to gracefully retire from running. These were similar remarks heard after Haile's shocking loss at the 2001 World Championship 10000M race in Edmonton, Canada. This time, however, even Haile's manager Jos Hermens admitted that Haile himself has for the first time talked about retiring after his DNF in London.

Just before this year's London Marathon, Haile had confidently talked about his desire to run until the 2012 London Olympics. Only few days later there was talk of retirement. Haile said that people that he respects have even come to him privately to suggest retirement but it looks his retirement is still far off. Haile says that some will be disappointed if he does not retire and others will be disappointed if he does retire. I just hope that he will get a farewell tour he so deserves when it is time to retire, rather than be forced to walk away with injury or series of embarrassing defeats.

In light of the above, it is quite concerning that Haile has decided to return to track racing in attempts of recapturing glory from yesteryear. I think his decision to run 10000M in Hengelo will be questioned by many if he can not manage to run a 27:30 or faster time and finish in the top three. Haile seems to have ruled out running in the world championships in August but says 2008 Beijing Olympics is a must and will do anything to get ready.

At best, Haile seems to not be thinking clearly, vacillating between retirement and more Olympics, and between marathon and track. He also seems to be distracted by his activities off the track including his business, political mediation, the Millennium Run, and various other VIP appearances. It is great that Haile has all these things that he can focus his attention on after he hangs up his running shoes, but at this time, they may very well be enough of a distraction to prevent him from performing at his best.

Other Ethiopians competing in the 10000M race are Sileshi Sihin and Gebregziabher Gebremariam. On the women's side Gelete Burka (4th in Mombasa) and Mestawot Tufa will face Lornah Kiplagat (1st in Mombasa) and the former Ethiopian Maryam Yusuf Jamal over 5000M.

Best wishes to all. You can watch the race live here.

Men's 10000M: Several Ethiopians started the race- Haile, Sileshi Sihine, Gebregziabher Gebremariam, Deriba Merga, and Ali Abdosh. Haile was all smiles and enjoying himself at the start line, chatting it up with Sileshi. Haile kept up with the leaders and the pace all through the whole race staying in 4th and 5th place. As the bell rang for the final lap, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge was in the lead with Sileshi, Gebre, and Haile right on his heels. Kipchoge upped the pace immediately and Haile was dropped off along with Gebre. Coming to the last 100 meter, Kipchoge was still in the lead with SIleshi in second and another Kenyan, Moses Mosop (2nd in Mombasa), in third place. Sileshi pushed hard and he overtook Kipchoge in the last 25 meters to take the win with the smallest of margins. Sileshi ran a very fast time of 26:49 and it looked like Mosop in third, Gebre in fourth, and Haile in fifth, all inside of 27:00. I believe Haile justified his entry in the race by running a very fast time but it is clear that he is nowhere close to winning a championship medal in 10000M. On the flip side, with Haile past his prime and Kenenisa having other difficulties, Sileshi's time to come out of the shadow may finally have arrived and he may be collecting Gold Medals in upcoming championship races.

Women's 5000M : Gelete Burka has won the race in 14:38 with a very dominaing performance. She looked very, very good. She will be a challenge to Tirunesh, Meseret, and Meselech. Gelete barely missed Meseret Defar's meet record from last year. Mestawot Tufa finished fourth and Belaynesh Fekadu finished fifth.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gebrselassie to return to the track in Hengelo

Hengelo, The Netherlands - The Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebrselassie will pay tribute to his name as ‘Mr. Hengelo’ by returning to the track to contest the 10,000m at the 25th edition of the THALES FBK-Games on Saturday 26 May.

Gebrselassie, who after the 2005 World Championship said he would never again run on the track, had a change of heart for a simple reason... more

[You can watch this race from Hengelo, Netherlands live by registering here.]

Monday, May 21, 2007

Kenenisa fails to recover from Mombasa

Daily Nation Online

Story by ELIAS MAKORI in Addis Ababa
Publication Date: 5/20/2007

Has the world seen the last of Kenenisa Bekele’s powerful running in the middle and long distance races? Is this the end of an era?

A couple of months ago, these would hardly have been questions to ask. I for one could never have imagined that the stocky Kenenisa could blow his turbo so soon before the World Championships in Osaka this summer, or next year’s Olympics in Beijing.

But on Friday evening, the Olympic and world champion made a startling revelation: that he has never recovered from the disastrous 12-kilometre race at the 35th World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa in March, leading to the big question of whether or not we have seen the last of Ethiopia’s “pocket rocket.”

In an interview at one of his residences near the embassy of Gabon in Addis Ababa, Kenenisa almost broke into tears as he narrated how he has unsuccessfully tried to pull himself together since falling off in the last lap of the Mombasa race and losing his world title to Eritrean rival, Zersanay Tadesse.

Loss of form

Kenenisa is so off-form that he even doubts his chances of competing at the World Championships in Osaka in August. He has ruled out an assault on the 10,000m and 5,000m double in the Japan meet should he miraculously bounce back.

So low was his morale that as this interview dragged into his 4pm training time, he sat on, pensively, without any sense of urgency. Instead, it was his brother, Tariku, who begged to leave on time for the afternoon run on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, perhaps with an increasing awareness that sooner rather than later the weight of an expectant nation will shift from Kenenisa’s hitherto strong shoulders onto his young, inexperienced ones.

The Sunday Nation also spoke to Kenenisa’s father, 82-year-old Bekele Bayicha, brother Tariku, coach Woldemeskel Kostre and his distance running mentor, Haile Gebrselassie. And all of them were at a loss of words over Bekele’s sudden loss of form.

Bad dream

Not even frequent trips to the doctor have revealed the source of Kenenisa’s loss of the power that endeared him to many fans and made him the athlete to beat in distance running.

As he spoke on Friday evening, everyone around him, including his brother Tariku and his house helps, fought off tears. The story did not seem real. It was like a bad dream.

A combination of the Kenyan coast’s heat and humidity, a bad game plan on his part, knee injury and lack of a lap counter at the Mombasa Golf Course all contributed to the fall of one of the world’s greatest athletes ever.

Throughout the interview on Friday, six words he uttered stood out and summed up his feelings: “I have no power any more.”

Kenenisa’s training plans have never been able to get off the ground since the Mombasa championships, and the man from Bekoji in the Oromiya region, Ethiopia’s athletics breadbasket, is devastated.

“After Mombasa, my leg muscles felt like they were arm muscles,” Kenenisa told his sad tale.

“I felt dizzy, and two weeks later I had pain in my knee. I did not know that when I was running in Mombasa I hurt my knee. I have gone to see many doctors and they say it was a muscle tissue injury, which will get better through massage.

“I have seen many doctors but they all tell me that I’m not ill. But I feel I have no power any more.

“Previously, for example, I was able to lift this table (coffee table in his living room) but now I struggle to do this. I have no power any more?

“When I do hard training sometimes I have this pain in my head which I cannot resist? I don’t have power in my body any more?. sometimes I train well one day and the next day I cannot train well? I need time to recover.”

It was at this point of the interview that the room fell silent as Kenenisa almost broke down.

But he came around and pointed out that his physical condition was so bad that he would have to drastically scale down his international competitions.

“Normally, I run 16 competitions a year but this year I think I will run only five,” he said. “After the World Championships (in Osaka) I will probably run only three.”

He will be only 25 on June 13, but Kenenisa’s international resume reads as though he has been in top flight athletics for the last 20 years.

Sample this: 2001 world junior cross country champion; 2001 world short course cross country silver medallist; 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 double world short and long course cross country champion; 1999 world youth 3,000m silver medalist; 2000 world junior 5,000m bronze medalist; 2003,2005 world 10,000m champion; 2003 world championships 5,000m silver medalist and 2003 All Africa Games 5,000m champion.

The list goes on: 2004 Olympic 10,000m champion; 2004 Olympic 5,000m silver medalist; 2006 world indoor 3,000m champion and 2006 African 5,000m champion.

Before the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenenisa, who runs for the Muger Cement Club in Addis Ababa and is managed by Dutchman Jos Hermens, had not lost a cross country race since December 2001.

Could his sudden loss of form be a burnout, a result of running too fast too soon?

He doesn’t think so: “My schedule in the last four or five years has not changed. Moreover, this is only the beginning of the 2007 season. After a break from 2006, how can I lose power at this time?”

However, the soft-spoken king of distance running said he was happy with the Kenyan crowd at the Mombasa championships, but observed that the lack of a lap counter in the 12km race was partly to blame for his loss to Eritrea’s Zersanay Tadesse.

“There was no lap counter, it was too hot and the opposition was strong. With such weather and conditions, how did they (organisers) expect us to know the number of laps without a lap counter,” he wondered.

“After finishing four laps, I thought I was going for the final lap only to be told at the bell that there was one more lap! I could not control my body any more and I could not afford another kick to the finish and that’s why I dropped off with a few metres to go – I just could not control my body.

“But I was happy with the Kenyans. Wherever I went, in the hotel and everywhere else, they were happy to see me and said I had added value to the championships by coming.

“I love the Kenyan people but I was not happy with the radio announcements and some internet articles that said I was a bad loser in Mombasa. I always try my best to compete. Sport is not only about winning and I will always respect the Kenyan people,” he said.

Like his brother, Tariku also did not finish the 12km race in Mombasa due to the heat and humidity.

“We have never seen conditions like this before,” Tariku said. “It was too hot and I could not finish the race.”

“But although I dropped out in the early laps, I could not believe my eyes when Kenenisa dropped out? I have no words to say how I felt? the course was also very hard, it was like running on a motor racing track!”

Kenenisa and Tariku’s father, Bayicha Bekele, lives with his third wife, mother of the two stars, in Bekoji town, some 200 kilometres outside Addis Ababa in a house Kenenisa built for him.

When the Sunday Nation caught up with him midweek, he read malice in the decision to have the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa. A deliberate ploy to have his son dethroned.

“The weather was terrible! I could not believe my son dropped out of the race,” he said. “I think having the race under such conditions was deliberate. But its God’s will and God sees everything.”


Woldemeskel Kostre, Ethiopia’s award-winning coach of the middle and long distance races, was also unable to explain what happened in Mombasa.

But what has shocked him most is the fact that Bekele has never recovered. “He needs support to get his form back. But from the way I see it, it will take time.”
The sentiments are shared by Haile Gebrselassie, arguably the world’s best ever long distance runner.

“Kenenisa learnt a lot from me and I have also learnt a lot from him. What happened in Mombasa was unbelievable. But I’m sure he will be back,” Gebrselassie said in his eighth floor office of the eight storey Alem Building that he built from his track earnings and named after his wife.

He added: “Kenenisa has achieved a lot. But sometimes when you grow older you lose speed and when the youngsters come up, it is difficult to challenge them.”

The exact extent of Kenenisa’s loss of form and power will be clearer in 10 days’ time when he competes in the 3,000 metres, his first race of the track season, in Hengelo, The Netherlands, at a meeting organised by his manager Hermens.

Maybe only then will the world know whether this is really the beginning of the end of Kenenisa Bekele’s illustrious running career.

But as it stands, Kenenisa is not the same “pocket rocket” that the world knew. His turbo seems to have blown.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

On the Home Front

The Great Bahir Dar Run 10K, staged by the Great Ethiopian Run, took place in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia today. It took a sprint finish to decide the men’s race, won by Yetwal Kandie in 29:14.07, while a barefoot Genet Talew won the women’s division by a huge margin in a time of 34:13.78. You can read more on this race here

It was great to see Ethiopian athletes do well in competitions in Europe and America over the weekend. But nothing makes me happier than reading about my beloved sport of roocha taking a foot hold (no pun intended) back home with grass root level participation races across the country, such as the Great Bahir Dar Run. And this is entirely due to the work done by the
Great Ethiopian Run organization, which was founded in 2001, and whose Chairman of the Board is none other than the great Haile Gebrselassie.

The GER organization lists as
its aim “the betterment of life in Ethiopia by (i) giving the public opportunity to participate in the country’s national sport (ii) serving as a platform for publicising important health messages, in particular AIDS prevention messages and (iii) contributing to much-needed imaging building for the country.”

These goals are as noble as any listed by any organization working on behalf of Ethiopia and its people. And considering the success of the different races GER has hosted since 2001, and the international renown some of these races have achieved, it is clear that GER is meeting and passing its goals by leaps and bounds.

Although the annual Great Ethiopian Run 10K held in Addis Ababa in November is the
most popular race hosted by GER, the organization stages several other races throughout the year. Last month, GER hosted Confidence Women’s First 5K, which is a race only for women, with as many as 8000 participants. It is truly amazing that the organizers are able to get such a large turnout of women for a mass participation road race in a country where women traditionally are not given the lime light and face difficult issues such as violence without much support. The main message of the 5K to “Stop Violence Against Women” is a very important message that needs to be understood by all parts of our society.

This particular message, and the 5K race, could not have happened at a more appropriate time considering the
horrific attack carried out on a 21 year old woman Kamilat Mehdi. As senseless and unimaginable as this attack on Kamilat was, it was also wonderful that GER was able to provide support to Kamilat to help pay for transportation and medical expenses for treatment abroad. In addition to support given to Kamilat Mehdi, proceeds from the Women’s First 5K were used to provide scholarship funds for three women.

Considering that GER has successfully hosted many mass participation races across Ethiopia, and in the process have attracted
international athletes as well as international television media, and considering GER has used this forum to disseminate important health and social messages, a GREAT KUDOS is in order for everyone associated with the Great Ethiopian Run organization. Well done, indeed!

Stay tuned for GER’s next race: Great Adama Run on June 17, 2007 in Nazareth, Ethiopia.

Speedy Mezzy

Earlier this afternoon I watched Meseret “Mezzy” Defar on live TV break the 2 Mile World Record in the Adidas Track Classic in Carson, California. Meseret won the race in 9:10.47, improving the old record of 9:11.97 held by Regina Jacobs of USA. It is worth noting that Regina Jacobs was banned from track and field few years ago for using banned performance enhancing substances and all her records have been viewed with suspicion as a result. It is nice to have Meseret “clean” that record.

Meseret ran most of the race by herself and her margin of victory appeared to be no less than 150 meters. She was simply in a league of her own and she would probably have run even faster if she had close competition. This is the third world record Meseret has set in a space of one year. In June 2006 she set an outdoor
5000M World Record in New York, and this year in early February she set an indoor 3000M World Record in Stuttgart, Germany.

It was great to see a sizeable contingent of flag waving Ethiopian supporters cheering on Meseret to a new World Record. She returned the favor by going to the crowd immediately after crossing the finish line. The camera showed Meseret blowing kisses to her fans and yelling back ewedachualehu [I love you].

The only other race that Ethiopians participated in at this meet was the women’s 1500M. Meskerem Legesse finished 7th in 4:09.29 and Mestawot Tadesse finished 9th in 4:09.80.

Unheralded Ethiopians Impress

Ethiopian athletes may not be dominant at events such as the men’s 1500m or the 3000m steeplechase but last night’s (19) ‘Gran Premio de Andalucía’ - EAA Permit - held in Herrera (100km east of Seville) on a warm but windy day, witnessed what well could be the rising to the crème of two previously unknown Ethiopians … more

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Ageless Distance Runner

Care to guess who that might be??
When I wrote the last entry on May 15 , about May 15, I did not know that date was also Miruts "Yifter the Shifter" birthday. Supposedly it was his 63rd birthday, but it is not known for sure, and he is not telling. Instead, Miruts gives a great quote:

"Men may steal my chickens; men may steal my sheep. But no man can steal my age."

Most people remember Miruts for his double gold medal at 5000M and 10000M at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. But he also won a bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics, eight years before achieving stardom in Moscow. He was also supposed to compete in the 5000M in Munich, but he is said to have missed the race due to confusion created by poor communication. Of course, he did not compete in the 1976 Montreal Olympics because of Ethiopia's boycott, which may have robbed him of a unique distinction of winning a double-double: 5000M/10000M victory in back-to-back Olympics, which Lasse Viren of Finland managed to achieve in Munich and Montreal, in Miruts' absence.

Here is a summary of Miruts' career as presented by the Olympic Movement. There is also a must watch vintage video of Miruts (with great afro and all) running in the 5000/10000 in Moscow alongside of the great Mohammed Kedir, who sacrificed himself for Miruts in the 5000, and Tolossa Kotu, who is currently an Assistant Coach of the Ethiopian National Team.

If you are interested to read more about Miruts, including his life in the recent past, check out this article from 2004.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Day 45 and May 15

Back in February, I wrote an entry about streakers and asked if anyone would like to join me in attempting a streak. Sad to say, noone accepted and my own plan got derailed before it even started after a slip and fall on ice which resulted in a fractured elbow.

On April 1, with almost no training, I ran the 2007 Cherry Blossom 10 mile run. Though it was absolutely exhausting, that run was a huge confidence builder. In fact, it was such an unexpected achievement to finish that run that I decided it would be a good start for another attempt at streaking.

Today, May 15, 2007, marks day 45 of the streak I started on April 1. I now have run as many days as my previous longest streak of 45 days in 2006. So far, the biggest challenges have been weather and lack of sleep. With the exception of two days last month when winds of 30-40 mph forced me to do my run on a treadmill at home, I did all my runs outdoors in early morning before work. This morning was particularly early because I had an early morning work appointment. So I had to roll out of bed at 4:45AM to get ready and go out on a run. It was nice to log in a 4 mile run even before the high school students of the neighborhood got on their bus at 6:30AM.

So, I plan to continue my daily run until "circumstance beyond my control" brings it to a stop. Although I have not had much chance to add a blog entry for the past month, rest assured it is not due to running taking the back seat. It is just that the entries were being written on the streets...

Many things to catch up on, so we will soon pick up from where we left off. Till then, here is another milestone reached on May 15, infinitely more significant than a trivial running streak.