Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beijing 2008: Under the Weather

So far in Beijing, the Ethiopian team has won six medals from three athletes. The mass of Ethiopians gathered at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa to watch the races have been elated, and rightfully so. Olympics are serious business in Ethiopia and every medal is highly celebrated.

When we look a bit deeper into the performance of the team, it is hard to overlook the DNFs (drop outs) from Gete Wami, Berhane Adere, and Mestawot Tufa and the mediocre performances turned in by Meselech, Gelete, Ejegayehu and several of the other middle distance runners. I think a common thread to all that has gone wrong with the team is lack of proper acclimation to the humidity of Beijing.

It is noteworthy that there was a last minute decision by Ethiopian team officials to delay the travel of the athletes until it was near their competition time. Meseret Defar cited jet lag and weather as part of her difficulty in the 5000M. With only the men’s marathon remaining to be contested, there is a case study that could shed light on just how much the weather has been a factor.

In particular, watch these two athletes: Ryan Hall of USA and Deriba Merga of Ethiopia. Their lifetime record is comparable in the 2:05-2:06 range. Both ran 2:06 in London this year finishing 5th and 6th. Both are 25 years old and appear to be smart runners. Here is the big difference between Hall and Merga: Hall arrived in Beijing 2 ½ weeks ago to acclimate properly to the weather while Merga was among the last to arrive. Here is an entry from
Ryan Hall’s diary:

After settling into our spacious room I headed out for an easy shakeout jog. I have never sweat so much in my entire life. By the end of the 30-minute easy run I was dripping in sweat. I was glad that I was there 2 ½ weeks early to get used to the humidity. I had practiced in warm temperatures and over dressed in practice but there was nothing I could have done to totally prepare for this level of humidity besides getting over here early to make the adjustment. Now that I have been here for nearly two weeks, I am used to the humidity and theextra sweating that comes with it.

I have read that Deriba Merga is creative in his training and racing in different parts of Ethiopia. However, it is hard to imagine he has been able to shake free of the “team camp” over the last several weeks. Merga is definitely a talented runner with some impressive results in half and full marathons. I expect him to do well if the weather is good and do poorly if the weather is bad.

Finally, watch out for Yared Asmerom of Eritrea. He is definitely a dark horse in today’s race as he has done well previously in warm weather. He definitely has the potential to be Eritrea’s first ever gold medalist.

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