Sunday, July 29, 2007

All Africa Games- Wrap Up

Aug. 5th: Had to be out for a while due to family medical emergency but had this already prepared to post, so for the sake of closure here it is.
Quick wrap-up on All Africa Games that concluded last weekend:

On Saturday July 21st, Ethiopia got another gold medal from Mestawot Tufa who won the 10000M in 31:26.05. Mestawot has been the best 10000M runner in the world in 2007 and it will be an interesting match up against Tirunesh Dibaba at the World Championships in August.

On Sunday July 22nd, the last day of competition, Gelete Burka brought another gold for Ethiopia winning the 1500M in 4:06.89 leading from gun to tape. Like Mestawot, Gelete has shown an excellent form running the 1500M and will be a medal contender in the Osaka if she competes in the event. Gelete is considering doing a double in 1500M/5000M.

In the men's 5000M, Tariku Bekele once again came short in the final meters of the race as he was overtaken by Ugandan Moses Kipsiro and Kenyan Menjo Kiprono with 30M to go. I like Tariku's guts in taking the race by the horn and running hard all the way but this is the third time in the last couple of months (Pre-Classic and Golden Spike Ostrava) where this strategy deprived him of a win in the final stages of the race. Tariku had the lead with 30M to go but was overtaken by Ugandan Moses Kipsiro and Kenyan Kiprono Menjo who took gold and silver. Tariku finished third to take the bronze in 13:13.43. Ethiopians Abraham Cherkose and Ali Abdosh took fourth and fifth place.

As the games conclude, Ethiopia's medal count in track and field stand at four gold, four silver, and five bronze medals for a total of thirteen medals.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Haile Gebrselassie: "We Won!"

Haile Gebrselassie yesterday won the most important race for Ethiopia. But as he himself said, he alone did not win, but "we all won."

This was not a race run on the track or on the roads. This was a much more important race run on the hearts and minds of all Ethiopians. And Haile's effort was instrumental in bringing a spirit of hope and reconciliation to the country through the release of high ranking leaders of Ethiopia's prominent opposition party who have been imprisoned for nearly two years. Haile was a
member of the the team of elders who have been working to secure the release of the prisoners considered by Amnesty International as Prisoners of Conscience.

After Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced yesterday the decision to release the prisoners, Haile was interviewed by Negash Mohammed of Deutsche Welle's Radio's Amharic Programme. Below is an unofficial translation of the interview:

Negash Mohammed: [Introduction] Many people view the release of these politicians, who have been imprisoned as the result of the crisis that followed the 2005 election, as a good step in the right direction . Among the team of elders who worked tirelessly to secure the release of these politicians that had been sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday, I have spoken with the leader of the team Professor Ephraim Isaac and a member of the team Athlete Haile Gebrselassie. I was able to reach and speak with Haile first so I will start with him.

NM: Haile, we have known you for winning races. Are you now telling us that you also won in mediation?

Haile Gebrselassie: Not that I won, but we all won. At this time what I would say is that all have won- the team of elders, all the people of Ethiopia have won.

NM: We know that you have worked very hard for this. Can you explain to us briefly what went on?

HG: This mediation effort has been ongoing for a very long period of time. As you may have followed the developments, it has been going for 18 months. When we began the mediation, we first went to His Excellency the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and he told us it is our right to initiate such effort as elders. He told us to proceed with the effort if we believed it could be successful. Based on that we went to the prisoners at the Kaliti prison. The prisoners also accepted our mediation effort and our work then began.

It was a difficult process that took a long time and was very tiring. But mediation is a process where it requires swallowing both the sweet and the bitter. The main aim of mediation is to put things back on the right track, even when mediating a quarrel between husband and wife. So our aim from the beginning was not just to get the prisoners released but to get Ethiopia back on track towards achieving things we think and dream about for our country.

So today this effort has become successful and today is a day of joy for all the people of Ethiopia. This is a huge step forward. It is a huge step to develop a tradition of mediation. One of the biggest gain that we have made out of this is that both the government and the opposition have accepted the mediation of local Ethiopian elders. We should all be proud, and particularly the elders, that our work has been accepted to this extent.

NM: I thank you Haile Gebrselassie.

All Africa Games- July 20

Deriba Merga, who had an outstanding season in 2006, continued to show great form in 2007 taking the gold medal in the Half-Marathon at All Africa Games with a winning time of 1:02:24. Deriba is a talented runner who has already achieved good results but has a promise of even greater future achievements.

In women's 3000M Steeplechase, Mekdes Bekele took the silver medal in 9:49.95 and Netsanet Achano won the bronze in 9:51.63. Both medals represent the first time Ethiopia has ever won a medal in this event in international competition.

All Africa Games- July 19

Zeresenay Tadesse won the 10000M gold medal making Eritrea the only nation other than Ethiopia and Kenya to ever win the 10000M in the 42 years of All Africa Games. Zersenay, the man who dethroned Kenenisa Bekele from the pinnacle of cross country racing in Mombasa, won the 10000M in 27:00.30. Ethiopia's Tadesse Tola and Gebre Gebremariam won the silver and bronze medal, respectively, shutting Kenya out of the medal podium.

In Women's Half-Marathon, Atsede Bayisa of Ethiopia won the silver medal in a time of 1:13:54. In women's 20km walk, Asnakech Ararsa won the bronze medal in a time of 1:49:29.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mike Long

Earlier this year in January, I had the opportunity to talk with Mike Long several times on the telephone. As the elite athlete coordinator for Arizona's Rock and Roll Marathon, he was the point of contact for my relative Tariku Aboset who came over from Ethiopia to take part in that marathon.

Mike was very pleasant to talk to each time I called his mobile phone, and he went out of his way several times to make sure Tariku was able to talk to me during his visit in Arizona. I knew that Mike hosted many athletes for the race so I wondered how he could manage to accommodate each one with this level of attention.

After the marathon was completed and Tariku returned back to Ethiopia, I meant to write a note to Mike Long to thank him for the excellent hospitality he provided. However, I never got around to it and after a while I felt it was too late to contact him regarding a race months ago. Few moments ago, I was sad to learn that Mike Long passed away yesterday.

May his soul rest in peace.
A memorial Service for Mike Long will be held
Friday, July 27th from 1:00pm to 4:00pm
Mission Point Park
San Diego, Ca.
In lieu of flowers, Mike's family requests that you honor his life by making a contribution to the Entoto Foundation at 5452 Oberlin Drive, San Diego, CA 92121.
Mike helped found the Entoto Foundation in 2006, and served on its Board of Directors. The Foundation helps deliver medical assistance to Ethiopians who do not have access to appropriate treatment or surgery. The Foundation will serve as a fitting legacy to Mike's love of East Africa and his compassionate nature in always thinking of others... more

All Africa Games- July 18

The Track and Field competition in the 9th All Africa Games** (no web presence!) got underway on Wenesday July 18th. In women's 5000M final, Meseret Defar retained her title from four years ago, winning the race in 15:02.72. Meselech Melkamu finished a close second taking the silver medal. In men's 3000M Steeplechase, Kenya took gold and silver, but Ethiopian Nahom Mesfin won the bronze with a time of 8:17.21... more

**At these games, Ethiopia is represented by more than 40 athletes competing in 14 sports including gymnastics.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gebrselassie lights up the day for Ethiopian orphans

Ethiopian distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie joined more than 1000 kids on a fun run on Saturday as he took a break from his racing commitments.

In an event organized by Right to Play (RTP) in collaboration with Worldwide Orphans (WWO) and UNICEF-Ethiopia, Gebrselassie, who is one of RTP’s national athlete ambassadors, led children from six different orphanages in a one-lap fun run at the Addis Ababa stadium and shared his lifetime achievements with the gathering.

“If you are strong and have self confidence, you can reach anywhere,” Gebrselassie said to the children... more

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Kenenisa is Back!!!

The Men’s 3000M at the Norwich Union British Grand Prix in Sheffield, England just concluded and Kenenisa came out a strong victor, answering all his critics and doubters including this writer. Kenenisa won the race in 7:26.69 which is a huge seven seconds improvement on the year’s best time up to now. The talkative Australian Craig Mottram was well beat into second place a good nine seconds behind Kenenisa. With this victory, Kenenisa also established a new stadium record.

At the starting line Kenenisa appeared somewhat nervous, but he still managed to smile and wave to the crowd. As the starter’s gun went off, Kenenisa immediately went to the front and settled right behind the two pace makers. Mottram followed by closely staying immediately behind Kenenisa. They continued to cruise in this position passing the first kilometer mark in 2:29.57. They continued on without much shuffling on the second kilometer, which turned out to be a little slower than the first, and passed the 2km mark in 5:02.72. Kenenisa had requested the pacemakers to pass through the 2km mark in 5:03 so everything appeared to be right on target for Kenenisa.

Right after passing the 2km mark, the second of the two pacemakers dropped out and the racing began in earnest. But it practically ended as soon as it started. In a brilliantly executed race plan, Kenenisa injected an unexpected punishing pace right at 2km mark and immediately pulled away from the rest of the field, quickly distancing himself by some 40-50 meters. The rest of the field, including the boastful Mottram (who had scoffed at Kenenisa’s request for a 5:03 pace for 2km as being slow) had no answer to Kenenisa and appeared to be running in slow motion as Kenenisa pulled away at will.

Kenenisa ran a controlled final kilometer of the race, accelerating in the last lap which he covered in 57 seconds. His split for the last kilometer was 2:24 which was faster than the first two kilometers. Kenenisa finished the race in 7:26.69 which is six seconds short of the world record. The time is strong enough to convert to a sub 8 minute two mile which only Daniel Komen has ever run. More importantly, Mottram had to stretch to even get a view of the back side of Kenenisa’s shirt and not as Mottram boasted that the Africans will only see him from the back.

Kenenisa has always shown he bounces back from adversity stronger than before which is the trademark of a true champion. Marvelous job, our Anbessa!!

Wolde Takes Bronze

In the final day of the 5th IAAF World Youth Championships, Dawit Wolde won the Bronze Medal in Boys 1500M, raising Ethiopia’s medal count to four. The Championships have now been concluded and Ethiopia has finished in 10th place with one Gold, one Silver, and two Bronze medals. It is encouraging to see that Ethiopia has up and coming young talents such as Dawit Wolde and Legese Lamisso who are performing well in events in which Ethiopians traditionally have not excelled.

Kenenisa Watch

Ever since the World Cross Country Championships in Kenya back in March, it has been hard to gauge how Kenenisa Bekele may fare through the rest of the 2007 season. We got a chance to see him win the Two Miles race at Thales FBK Games in Hengelo, Netherlands at the end of May. However, there was no serious competition in that race and the winning time was quite slow, so the race did not provide a good indication of Kenenisa’s fitness level.

The next chance to see Kenenisa was at the Pre Classic in Eugene, Oregon, USA. However, that never happened because
Kenenisa pulled out of the meet citing lack of fitness. His agent announced at the time that Kenenisa would compete next in Lausanne, Switzerland at Athletissima on July 10.

After anxiously waiting for several weeks, July 10th finally arrived but once again there was no Kenenisa at the meet. In fact, it looked like most of the Ethiopians scheduled to compete there had cancelled their appearance. Incidentally, Lausanne is the training base for Ethiopian born Bahraini Maryam Jamal (aka Zenebech Tola) and she had a nice victory in the 1500M in front of her home crowd. Anyway, there was no explanation as to why Kenenisa did not run the 5000M race as expected in Lausanne. Was he still feeling the lingering effect of the punishing race in Mombasa months ago?

Now Kenenisa is scheduled to run the 3000M TODAY at the
Norwich Union British Grand Prix in Sheffield, England. It is interesting that Kenenisa switched from a 5000M on July 10th to a 3000M on July 15th. It could be that he needed the extra few days of training or rest but I believe the switch was made for a different reason. The last lap of the race in Hengelo showed that Kenenisa still has a blistering finishing speed. But it is still questionable whether his overall strength is as good as it once was.

A loss for Kenenisa at 5000M (his specialty) would really bring his value down whereas a loss at 3000M (not his specialty) could easily be written off. In other words, the 3000M is a safe race for Kenenisa which may be an indication that his fitness is not quite there yet. The
3000M today has a strong field including Australian Craig Mottram and Kenyan Abraham Chebii. But Kenenisa himself has sounded very confident in his comments regarding the race:

“I relish the opportunity to run against a class field, like Craig Mottram and Mo Farah , it will help me with my World Championship preparation. My focus is now to have a great summer, starting with the Norwich Union British Grand Prix in Sheffield, where I know I will be competing with strong competitors. It will be my first race at the Don Valley stadium and I am really looking forward to it. I am feeling good and looking forward to the challenge.”

I stated earlier that the 3000M is a safe race for Kenenisa where he can gain more than he can lose. But based on the above comment, it could also be that he has complete confidence in his fitness and that he wants to avenge for his loss to Mottram at the World Cup last year, and Tariku’s (his younger brother) loss to Mottram at Pre Classic and at the Golden Spike in Ostrava.

Mottram himself is anticipating the face-off with Kenenisa also. He expects that Sileshi Sihine’s performance in the 5000M at the Rome Golden Gala would give him indication on Kenenisa’s fitness. Well, Sileshi won the 5000M in Rome on Friday in the fastest time of the year so far. Therefore, at least according to Mottram, it could be an indication that Kenenisa is fit.

I will be
eagerly watching this race (also the Women’s 3000M which Tirunesh Dibaba will be running) to see if Kenenisa comes out the victor over Mottram. Mottram is an undeniably talented athlete in his own right, however, his new found confidence in running has his mouth running as much as his feet. After beating Tariku Bekele two weeks ago in the 5000M race in Ostrava, this is what Mottram had to say after the race:

"And I felt (Tariku) Bekele come up with 650 to go I thought, ‘Ok, let's get it on.' I dropped his brother doing the same thing last year and figured he's not quite that good yet, I'll smash him too. I held him out. I didn't run great, and Bekele probably didn't run his best race either. But the world championship race might be like that. And you just have to make the most of the situation."
I doubt that Kenenisa’s fitness is back where it needs to be for the summer season, but I hope in the heat of competition he will find the strength somewhere to hand one back to the talking Aussie.
Update: Women's 3000M race has just got underway. Tirunesh Dibaba was NOT among the starters although she was expected to be. Perhaps she is continuing to have trouble in her training?
*Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya has won the race in 8:43.85. She led for almost the entire race and looked very smooth and confident throughout.
Update: Men's 3000M race has just started... Kenenisa in there. Appears nervous but trying to smile at the start. Click here for a complete update on the Men's 3000M.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Legese Strikes Gold!

In what has to be considered one of the biggest upset of the Championships so far, 17 year old Ethiopian Legese Lamiso has won the gold medal in the Steeplechase race at the 5th IAAF World Youth Championships. Legese handily beat his Kenyan and Moroccan opponents, and in the process established a new World Youth leading time. With this victory, Legese has also brought the first ever global Steeplechase title to Ethiopia. The great Eshetu Tura, who currently coaches the Ethiopian National Team, won the Bronze Medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Kenyans have had stranglehold in the Steeplechase event for decades, winning gold in every Olympic Games they have participated in starting 1968. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, Kenya took all three medals in the Steeplechase. The fact that Legese was able to easily outrun the Kenyans in their trademark event shows what a bright future he has ahead of him. Well done!

In other events, Mahlete Melese and Sule Ututra took Silver and Bronze in Girls 3000M. Henok Tesfaye nearly won Gold in the Boys 800M but a misstep on the curb during the last 200M caused him to drop down to seventh place.

Currently Ethiopia sits in 8th place on the Medal Table.

Friday, July 13, 2007

2012 Olympics Preview

In five years time, the Olympic Games will return to London, England after 64 years. Of course, Beijing Olympics will take place next year, so London may still seem far away. But some athletes, including Haile Gebrselassie, are already talking about competing in London in 2012.

Haile may or may not make it to London five years from now, but the likely stars of that Olympic are on display this week at the 5th IAAF World Youth Championships held in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The championships started yesterday and will go through Sunday (July 11-15).

Ethiopian athletes whose names may become household names by 2012 include Sule Utura, Mahlete Melese, Genzebe Dibaba (yep, that family), Abera Gutema, and Ayele Abshiro. It is worth remembering these names because past editions of these championships have produced our current stars including Kenenisa Bekele, Tariku Bekele, and Meseret Defar.

The ten member Ethiopian squad competing this week is led by the promising Sule Utura, who has recorded a meteoric rise in a short period of time. Day 2 of the Championships was concluded today and Ethiopia is currently tied for 11th place on the Medal Table with one Silver and one Bronze medal.

Best wishes for Ethiopia’s future stars.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mestewat Tufa- Let Her Run!

Although most of the news regarding Ethiopian athletes during the past couple of weeks has been about Haile Gebrselassie’s record breaking performance in Ostrava on June 27, there was a significant event that went under the radar just one day earlier. On June 26, in Valkenswaard, Netherlands, Mestewat Tufa ran the year’s fastest 10000M finishing in 31:00.27, which is five seconds faster than the previous year’s best.

With this performance, the unheralded Mestewat earned herself a spot on Ethiopia’s National Team that will compete at the World Championships in Osaka, Japan in August. Incidentally, it is worth noting that Mestewat took second place behind Meselech Melkamu earlier this year in February at the
24th Jan Meda Cross Country which served as Ethiopia’s qualifying meet for the World Cross Country meet held in Mombasa, Kenya in March.

Despite Mestewat’s spectacular result, there were some reports that the coaches dropped Mestewat Tufa from the Mombasa line-up just the night before the race and gave the spot to Ahaza Kiros, who finished fifth at the Jan Meda trial. This decision
caused a mutiny by Ethiopia’s men runners, who came to the defense of Mestewat, threatening to boycott the championship race on the following day unless Mestewat was reinstated. Mestewat herself was reportedly quite angry and took on matters literally in to her own hands, physically confronting one of the coaches. Eventually she was given back her spot and took part in the Senior Women’s race and finished 47th.

One can not help but wonder what may have initiated the coaches to undertake such a disruptive action at the last possible moment. Perhaps the heat and humidity was the least of all the problems Ethiopia’s athletes faced in Mombasa.

Now that Mestewat has once again earned herself a spot on the National Team, she should be allowed to run in Osaka without any interference. She has shown that she is the world’s best 10000M runner so far this year, and she deserves a chance to go for the gold in Osaka. Let her run!

Tirunesh in Trouble?

Leading up to last Friday’s Golden League meet in Paris, there were couple of upbeat write-ups on Tirunesh Dibaba that ranged from romance to richness. But, as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And Tirunesh did not show much in Paris even though she still got a comfortable win.

Despite the win, the slow time of 15:21 she turned in for the race has many (i.e. me) scratching their head. For perspective, Meseret Defar’s recent
record setting run in Oslo was more than a minute faster than Tirunesh’s run in Paris. In other words, Meseret would have finished more than a full lap ahead of Tirunesh. At the Paris meet last year, Tirunesh beat Meseret in a close race but this time Meseret looks to be a lap ahead and strong favorite for the gold in Osaka.

This is not exactly what we expected to see from the
Dueling D’s for the 2007 season! Duels aside, Tirunesh may be in serious trouble for the upcoming World Championships in Osaka. She has already announced that she will not race again until World Championships. She also has not run *any* 10000M race since her victory at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

Still, Tirunesh says she intends to defend both her 5000M and 10000M title in Osaka. For the time being, Meseret Defar and Mestewat Tufa appear to be the favorites for Osaka’s 5000M/10000M race.

Ambitious Haile

It seems like Haile Gebrselassie’s recent performance in Hengelo and Ostrava has put him on cloud nine. His confidence took a shot at the London Marathon in April but it looks to have restored fully… or, at least enough to take a very unusual and bold move of signing up for and making a big announcement about a marathon he plans to run after his next marathon in Berlin.

Haile is confident enough that he will be successful at Berlin and stay healthy enough to jump in the
million dollar chase at the Dubai Marathon in January 2008. His agent Jos Hermens says “Ideally, I’d like him [Haile] to break the World record a little in Berlin, then a lot in Dubai.” Haile himself says “My aims are to break the marathon World record, and win the Olympic Games marathon. I’d like to break the World record here in Dubai, and my training towards that begins tomorrow.” What about Berlin, Haile?

It appears that both Haile and Hermens have practically written off Berlin and are just looking forward to Dubai. Say what you may, I think this is a huge disrespect to the Berlin Marathon. If I were the organizers, I would ask for my money back from Haile/Hermens.