Sunday, September 30, 2007


I think it is now beyond debate that Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia is the greatest distance runner of all time...

BERLIN (AFP) — Double Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie broke the world marathon record with an unofficial time of 2hr 4min 26sec in winning the 34th Berlin Marathon on Sunday.

The 34-year-old Ethiopian, who won 10,000m gold at Atlanta in 1996 and at Sydney four years later, bettered Kenyan Paul Tergat's record of 2hr 4min and 55sec set in 2003 also in the German capital... more

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In Flight With Golden Athletes

By Tariku Taye
Jan 8 2004

As the British airways flight 6565 landed at the Bole International Airport in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, there was a sigh of relief for the two internationally known athletes who were unfortunately traveling with the rest of us in the economy class. These athletes are returning from an athletics competition in Europe. He from England, she from Spain, both having just won gold medals in their respective field.

Although their look and body structure speaks volume about their profession, these athletes were not recognized by most of the passengers in the aircraft. On this flight, my seat was located at the stern of the plane, Triple seats are located on each side of the plane. My wife and I were sitting on one side with out having another passenger with us, while the seat on the other side was fully occupied and a young beautiful girl was sitting at the edge with two white males.

I looked at this young girl and wondered where I knew her. Her braided hair and her Nubian dark complexion reminded me of someone I know somewhere. For several minutes, I was browsing my memory file searching for her identity. Suddenly, as if I found the reat mystery of the cosmos, I was eager to ask her if she was Tirunesh Dibaba, the young athlete who won the 5000m competition in France. I remembered how, on that day, I jumped out of my seat when she crossed the finishing line. Fear of embarrassment kept me hesitating to ask if she is not whom I thought she was. I decided to wait until I found the right moment.

A few seats further ahead of us, a young man was kneeling and leaning on the seat and looking back ward towards us, It seems that he is searching for a reason to come and sit beside the young girl. After meals were served, this young man came and stood by her side. He looks like a very polite and down to earth person. Since I found a reason to talk to him, I asked him if he wants to sit beside me. He said no thank you. I told him politely to consider the offer again but his answer is still no, no thank you. Since we started a conversation, I took this opportunity to ask them if they are athletes, He answered right away, "Yes, yes, I am Sileshi Sihine and she is Egigayehu Dibaba." Although my first assumption was wrong about the young girl, my excitement grew as I kept on talking to them. I asked him if he was the one who came third in Paris, first in Addis run and first in LAGOS. He said yes, yes and yes. I told him how I'm honored to have him sit beside me. I coaxed him almost to take the seat. With two hands between his legs, he burrowed his head between his shoulders and dragged his feet to take the seat. For a man of his status, this kind of behavior could be considered bizarre by many, but for an Ethiopian it is a polite gesture.

The name Egigayehu didn't strike me at first but the last name's resemblance with Tirunesh Dibaba excited me more to ask her if they are sisters. Her snowflake white teeth with a perfect smile glowed in the blurred light of the airplane and her nocturnal eye glanced at me and confirmed my assumption with a nod.

Sileshi become extremely happy, sitting with someone who has extensive knowledge of the names and history of Ethiopian athletes and their professional achievements. He asked how I came to collect immense knowledge on Ethiopian athletes. I told him that several years of continuous harassment of my country by its leaders and western media made me turn my face to look for role models and good citizens who once again could bring my country Ethiopia to the spotlight of the world and to show some of our good side. Where I live, I found the only good news coming out of that country were the great achievements of our athletes in the world stage. I walk with pride whenever I see our young, energetic and bold athletes rise to the podium to receive their medals. For those of us living in Diaspora you are our shining stars, that's why I follow up your stories.

I looked at Egigayehu and told her about the great achievements of her sister in the Paris competition, and how happy and proud I was the day she won the race, "You are going to be the golden family if you keep on winning", I said. To my excitement, she added that Derartu Tulu is her aunt. My excitement grew as I heard the name Derartu who is one of the greatest athletes in the world, the queen of long distance, and the double medal winner of the Olympic. With Derartu on their side, Ethiopia is blessed to have such a wonderful, internationally recognized family. They are the real jewel of
the country.

These very well mannered athletes grew up poor in a peasant family. Sileshi Sihine grew up in a small town called Sheno a few kilometers away from a town called Debre Birhan. "My father was a peasant who did grow enough food for the family. It was a struggle to survive in such a harsh condition but I used to go to elementary school in Sheno before I moved to Addis Ababa to pursue my career in athletics." he said.

"While I was continuing my high school study, I was searching for athletics clubs to support me in my career. I came to Addis Ababa with two of my friends, with the hope of becoming great athletes. Because of the extreme cost of living, my friends quit and went back to their village while I stayed on to fulfill my hope. If it was not for my elementary gymnastic teacher, who encouraged me a lot to become an athlete, and my role model Haile Gebreselassie whom I admire and respect, I might have probably gone back to my home town and become a peasant rather than an athlete. I kept on practicing everyday without losing hope."

"One day I was accepted to run with big athletes like Haile and Kennenisa Bekele. I proved that I can run and Paris was the highlight of my life, I become third after Kennenisa and Haile in the ten thousand meter athletic competition. Since then I have been running many great runs in Europe and Africa, I've been winning and winning and winning. Today I came from another competition in England, the great North run with another gold medal and few thousand dollars in my pocket. I've the news paper clips with me." he said with passion.

As he stood up to bring the news paper clips he brought with him, Egigayehu told me her part of the story. She also got a gold medal in Barcelona, Spain and showed me the Spanish newspaper clip with her picture in the front page wearing the gold medal on her neck.

In one weekend, three Ethiopians in women's and men's competition won gold medals in Europe. As Sileshi brought me the news paper clip, I saw Egigayehu's other sister, Tirunesh Dibaba, who was also another winner in the women competition in the Great North Run.

These athletes compete with the best of the world and are writing history with golden ink. These proud son and daughters of mother Ethiopia are the only hope to repair her tarnished image, while the educated and the the well off are running away from the country for a better world. For a country whose pride in the past is going down the drain and has become known as the poorest of the poor and worst place to live, such amazing people are the ones who bring her name to the high podium of achievers in the world stage of sports.

Sport is one of the measurements of strength in a society. A healthy society is one which takes the courage to participate in sports and have healthy well-built citizens. In today's Ethiopia, an early morning trip out of the capital proves that the future generation will dominate the world stage of running. Many young athletes are coming up to show the world our strength in sports. Hard work and continuous training is the way to prevail over poverty. We will learn more from our athletes about how to become successful than from our politicians and so-called elites.

That's why I love Roocha.

Mil gracias to our dear reader and contributor Tariku Taye not to be confused with Tariku Bekele or our favorite runner Tariku Aboset

Thursday, September 20, 2007

1992 Clip - Haile Whacked

If you haven't already seen this clip, it is a must see. This has to be one of the strangest finishes.

In 1992, Josephat Machuka gave Haile Gebrselassie a solid whack as Haile pulled ahead of him at the finish of the World Junior Championships 10,000 M race. For a long time I had heard about the hit Haile Gebrselassie took. Now, thanks to YouTube I get to see it.

Haile had been shadowing the Kenyans the whole race without leading. Needless to say the Kenyans thought that was unfair. Machuka lost his cool and was of course disqualified.

As a junior runner, Machuka was an outstanding athlete. He would have placed second in the 1992 World Junior Championships had he kept his fist to himself. He finished third behind Haile in the 1992 World Junior Cross Country Championships. Machuka went on to be a solid runner but never managed to win a big event.

Also impressive was how a young Haile was baffled but calm.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Osaka Recap: What We Got Wrong

The disappointing Men’s 5000M performance was a sour finale to Osaka. One week later I am still a bit sour. That said, let’s get this wrap up done.

First off was this World Championship a Success? The chart below should answer that question.

Clearly, Osaka was a big step back, the worst result since 1997. The Ethiopian Athletics Federation needs to take note. The medal count is unimpressive. Even less impressive is how these medals were won, brute force.

So what did we get wrong?

Poor Preparation
It has been obvious for a while that the hot weather preparation Ethiopian athletes have been doing is not working. In 2004, the touted Athens Olympics Marathon preparation was a farce when only two of the men managed to finish. The guys finished in 15th and 46th place. That was on the heal of the 1st and 3rd place finishes just four years earlier at Sydney. Earlier this year, before Mombasa the Federation confidently boasted about hot weather preparations. Mombasa was a total disaster. Obviously the preparation is not working. What did the team do different for Osaka? Nothing. Same old preparation same old result in the Marathon. I feel like yelling: what ever you do please do not use the same hot weather preparation before Beijing. It won’t work!

Team Selection
Tactical running has become a lost art among Ethiopian runners. It seems like in the Haile Marathon era, tactical marathon running is not appreciated much. Gezahenge Abera was not a fastest runner but he sure knew how to run tactical races and win. Runners that do well in hot weather generally are going to have slower times than those that do well on fast courses. The present selection process favors fast runners. Why select a cold weather speedster when you know the marathon in Beijing is going to be a hot weather tactical race? Coaches should look at selecting runners that are tactical runners.

Old Superstars Opted Out
Gete, Berehane and Haile opted out of the World Championships. All thee are former tack runners that are speedster marathoners. I am pretty sure they would have taken a good licking had they ran Marathons. However, if they have plans to be part of the Beijing squad they should have taken their lessons in Osaka rather than show up unprepared for the Olympics. The conditions are going to be similar.

Slow Races
Enough said on this topic.

Slow Middle Distance Development
The Ethiopian Athletics Federation is not moving into the 1500M and 800M races aggressively.

At the 1999 World Championships Kutre Dulecha won a bronze medal in the Women’s 1500M. At the 2000 Olympics Kutre finished 4th in the 1500M, while Wendimu Mulugeta was a finalist in the Men's 1500M and Alemu Berhanu was a semi-finalist in the Men's 800M. For a while it looks like things were going to blossom.

Sadly, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation has not built on these successes. Ethiopia is loaded with 1500M talent that needs to be harvested. Former Ethiopian and 1500M World Champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal has shown that.

Only two men and one woman were entered in the 1500M. The 800M has been totally abandoned.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Osaka Recap: What We did Right

The Great Ones Came Through
Ethiopia had three great Athletes that were overwhelming favorites. Tirunesh, Meseret and Kenenisa. All there delivered. Sileshi also belongs in that category. I actually think Sileshi was the best runner in the men's 10000M race. He just did not run the best race. All Ethiopian medals were won on account of superior talent. There were no upsets.

Men's 10,000M Good Team Work
Not the best team work but good team work. Tadesse Tola unselfishly tried to slow down the pace. Later Gebre-egziaber also did his part to tire out Zarsenay Tadese. Mostly these two made sure that a gap did not open up. The work done by these two fellows set Sileshi and Kenenisa for the finish. When Mathathi made a move and Kenenisa was struggling, he signaled Sileshi to responded. Sileshi took off with Mathathi and Kenenisa caught up. They ran as teammates till it was just the two of them. This is nice to see.

3000 Steeplechase Mens
Decent performance reaching the finals. Roba Gari finished 10th while Nahom Mesfin finished 12th in the finals. Good showing for two young fellows.

I can't think of much else. Anything you want to add?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Osaka Recap: China Watch

I start looking forward to Beijing I noticed something did not add up.
Last December, I blogged about 17 year-old Xue Fei of China who had put on an impressive display at the Asian Games. I found it curios that Xue Fie was not in Osaka. Add to that the absence of reigning 10000M Olympic Champion Xing Huina. In fact, China did not enter a Women’s 5000M or 10000M squad. The Authorities claim that Xing Huina is injured. But that does not prevent them from entering other athletes.

China is historically competitive the Women’s 5000M and 10000M. The world championship is an important step in any Track and Field athlete’s preparation for the Olympics. So why in the world would China decide no to enter a single athlete in the 5000M and 10000M? Not entering a squad in the World Championship’s almost always is the result of country not having athletes that can compete in that event or not having the budget. In this case we know China has the budget and the athletes. Not having experienced athletes is like conceding the Olympics. As a strategy, this defies logic.

Last December I quoted an article that basically said that Chinese officials declared themselves dissatisfied despite winning 316 medals at the Asian games. China finished second to the USA at the Olympics in 2004 but has set its sights on finishing first at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The article says that officials are under intense pressure to deliver after a massive financial and personnel investment from the Chinese government.

To meet such lofty goals China needs to medal in every event it can. So how can such goals be met while conceding the Women’s 5000M and 10000M? Clearly Chiana will not concede these event. Will China spring a surprise like the one in 1993 when Junxia Wang who appeared from no where to set a world record that has been untouchable? Just keep your eye open.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Osaka: Day Nine - Closing Day

There are two events of interest, the Women's Marathon and the Mens 5000M. A medal is not guaranteed in either event.

The Women's marathon starts are 7:00AM Osaka time. Considering the weather at 4:00 am in Osaka was 79F degrees (26c) with humidity, it is a long shot for an Ethiopian runner to come through. In addition, the leading ladies in this event Gete Wami and Berhane Adere are sitting out this one. The experienced Shitaye Gemechu leads the Ethiopian pack. Shitaye has run the three previous World Championships, 7th in Edmonton, 10th in Paris, 22nd in Helsinki. The squad includes Askale Magarsa , winner of the 2007 Paris Marathon, Dire Tune winner of the 2007 Houston Marathon, and Adanech Zekiros winner of the 2007 P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon. This is a talented squal. Lets hope youth can prevail.

I don't hold high hopes for the the Men's 5000M. Tariku showed confidence and poise as he controlled the pace of his qualifying heat. But, I very much doubt he can do the same in the final. With just two Ethiopians running in this race it will be difficult to use team tactics. The failure of Bekana Daba to qualify is costly because he could have been a great rabbit. The Ethiopians need a fast race but not an all-out-sprint-start-to-finish. Basically the race has got to be fast enough to eliminate all the 1500 specialist but not too fast such that it favors fast- even runners. If the pace is just right Tariku and Abraham can then use their kick to destroy the weakend 1500M runners and the slower 10000M type of runners. Setting the right pace will be hard work. While both Abraham and Tariku can medal I will be tickled with one medal. Any color will do.

Marathon (Women):They Melted Away
It was a hot day and the race pace was dictated by Japanese and Chinese women. the Top Ethiopian finisher Askale Megersa Tafa finished 22nd. Early in the race, Askale and eventual winner Catherine Ndereba were dropped by the lead pack. Askale did her best to stay in contact with the lead pack. Then, when Ndereba made a slow surge to rejoin the lead pack, Askale tried to keep up with Ndereba but was unable to do so. Askale was physically hurting by the time she hit the 30km mark. What I liked about her run was that she was not afraid to take punishment. Adanech Zekiros finished 47th. Robe Tola needs a mention for her leisurely 3:26:45, coming in almost one hour after the winner was in. Dire Tune Arissi did not finish. Veteran Shitay Gemechu did not start this race. This was another disaster. Poor result and in both the Men's and Women's marathon show poor preparation or team selection. It's time to start pointing fingers at the coaching staff.

5000 Meters (Men):Same Tactics, Same Poor Results
Tariku finished 5th and Abraham Cherkos finished 8th. Of all the distance tack events them Men's 5000M is the one event that has not been dominated by Ethiopians. Two failures are this distance by Kenenisa should have proven out what works and what does not. You would think Ethiopian coaches would learn from experience and adjust. But NO. Tariku and Abraham were content sitting in the pack as if they were running a 10000M race. Who do these guys think they are going to out-kick? Lagat the 1500M Champ? The coaches have to stop this silliness.

My supicion is that instead of coaching the next time around the coaches will try to pressure Kenenisa and Sileshi to run in this event. The trick they play is that if Kenenisa can't win it's not a coaching problem it becomes a Kenenisa problem.

Kenya's Success: Congratulation to Kenya! On Sunday Kenya won 3 more medals (2 Gold Medal, and 1 Silver.) Kenya has won a total of 13 medals. Ethiopia just 4. They have done a great job! We have been out classed. More on that later.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Millennium Placard

Meseret Defar is the latest to display this placard.

Osaka: DayEight - Women's 5000 M Final

5000 Meters (Women):Meseret Defar Wins a Slow Race
Meseret Defar forced the pace during the last two laps to win. In what has to be a disappointment, Meselech Melkamu finished 6th
and Gelete Burika finished 10th. Gelete was off the pace by 9 seconds. Kenya took the next three spots and increased its already impressive medal haul. Kenya is not done yet. With possible medals in the Women’s Marathon and Men’s 5,000M, it could end up with a huge pile of medals. The most impressive phenomena at this World Championship is the quite revival of Kenyan Athletics. More on that later.
Regarding the race tactic, Meselech Melkamu was quoted as saying:

“We had hoped to take first through third, but we did not succeed. We were aiming to break away with two laps to go, and we tried, but I could not keep up with the speed.”

Running a slow race and counting on out-kicking your opponent is dangerous in the 5000M. By slwoing the pace you risk turning marginal runners or runners who don't specialize in that event into contenders. All they have to do is hang-on for the last lap. Tell that to Ali Saidi-Sief of Algeria, who slowed down the men’s 5000M finals in the 2000 Olympic. With a lap to go he went on a sprint. To his big surprise, a relatively unknown kid by the name of Million Wolde was still hanging on with 200M to go. This was not supposed to happen. Ali Saidi-Sief ran out of gas and Million Wolde went on to win a gold. Million was lucky that day but was not able to replicate that victory. He was very content with bronze in Edmonton 2001 and faded after that.

The 5000M race is too dangerous to play the out-kicking game unless you are a great 1500M runner. My suspicion is that Meserte probably would have been a dominant 1500M if she had started her career a 1500M runner. She is maybe the only one that can pull this off consistently. Some would argue Tirunesh but I doubt this she could have out sprinted Meseret. I hope the men don't fall in this trap. Tariku is no Meseret.