Sunday, August 23, 2009

Open Thread: Berlin Women's Marathon

UPDATE: This turned out to be an interesting race, but I have mixed feeling about the result of the Ethiopian team. Aselefech Mergia, who first came to prominence by winning the Great Ethiopian Run in Addis few years ago, turned in an outstanding performance. Aselefech won a bravely fought bronze medal running 2:25:32 which is only 30 seconds off of her PR. Considering it is very rare to run a PR in a championship race, it is clear that Aselefech ran to her full potential.

Now as for the rest of the team, one can at best say they underachieved, keeping with the ongoing pattern in Berlin for the week. Dire Tune fell down after 25K but was able toget up and continue with the run. It is not clear if she sustained injury that impacted her performance.

However, there must be a different explanation for subpar performance of the team as a whole.The coaches and administrators need to take an honest assessment of the entire program including themselves and work to root out the cause of such a mediocre result being turned in by young and talented runners. If anyone needs convincing that there is indeed a systemic problem with the Ethiopian program, simply review the result from today’s race: among the top 15 finishers, China placed FOUR runners, Russia and Japan had three each, USA had two, and Ethiopia had one.

This race is somewhat open as leading women marathoners Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain and Irina Mikitenko of Germany are out of the competition. Ethiopia brings a group of young marathoners who have won big city marathons but with little or no championship experience. Dire Tune, past winner at Boston and Houston, leads the group that includes Bezunesh Bekele, Atsede Bayisa, Aselefech Mergia, and Robe Guta. All of them have PRs in the low 2:20 range have the ability to win the race.

Look for Dire Tune and Bezunesh Bekele to lead the charge with their determined type of racing they showed in Boston this year. Tune actually passed out at the finish line of Boston having fought hard to the end and being beat right at the line. As the Ethiopian men yesterday, I have high hopes for this young group which are the future of Ethiopian marathoning. Ethiopian women so far have not fared well in Berlin and the marathon represents one of the last two opportunities to win gold in this final day of competition in Berlin.

Other runners to watch are Kara Goucher of USA, Chunxiu Zhou of China, and Yoka Shibui of Japan.

My picks: 1- Bezunesh Bekele 2- Dire Tune 3- Chunxiu Zhou

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Open Thread: Berlin Men's Marathon

UPDATE: Kenya 1-2-5 with Kiru, Mutai, Cheruiyot. Ethiopia 3-4 with Tsegaye Kebede and Yemane Tsegay. Good showing for Ethiopia. I really like the young Ethiopian marathoners who are disciplined enough to back off a hot pace and remain composed to work their way back to the front. Great work from both Tsegaye and Yemane. It looks like Deriba Merga blew up and dropped out.

The Ethiopian coach (Shambel Zelalem Desta, whom I met briefly in January 2007) says this year’s team, both men and women, is Ethiopia’s strongest ever and is talking of medal sweeps in both races. In my brief meeting of Shambel Zelalem, the man seemed completely normal but talk of medal sweep in any chmpionship marathon is simply insane! Digging a bit deeper into resumes of the five Ethiopians in the men’s race, it is easy to see that only Tsegaye Kebede and Deriba Merga have solid credentials. The other three only show 2-3 races under their belt with a 2:07-2:08 PR range. One must have an extraordinary day to jump from such credential to a World Championship medal. But then again, coach knows his runners best so I will wait to be proven wrong.

As for Deriba and Tsegaye, I give Tsegaye a very good chance of winning the race while Deriba, as always, is hard to prdict and could excel (Boston) or crash (Beijing). Besides, Deriba has already too many races this year and fatigue could be a factor.

Others to watch closely are Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco (he is due to win a race any day now), four time Boston champion Robert Cheruiyot, and my favorite dark horse Eritrean Yared Asmerom.

My picks: 1- Tsegaye Kebede 2- Robert Cheruiyot 3- Daniel Rono

Your picks? Discuss here.

P.S. IAAF Preview of men’s marathon is found here.

You can get a more frequent update by following Roocha on Twitter

Team Ethiopia in Berlin- Day 7

The only event for Team Ethiopia on day 7 was women’s 1500M semi-final and it had a very successful outcome. Get used to this name because you will be hearing it a lot: KALKIDAN GEZAHEGNE. As expected, Gelete Burka and Maryam Jamal (the Ethiopian-turned-Bahraini, formerly Zenebech Tola) advanced to the final comfortably. But the real story in this event belongs to Kalkidan Gezahegne.

Kalkidan is an 18 year old teenage sensation who bravely fought her way to getting an automatic qualifying spot in Sunday’s final. Her biography shows that she only began international competition in 2008 and that same year won the silver medal in the 1500M at the World Junior Championships. A mere one year later she has chopped 8 seconds away from her personal best, and now competing as a senior, earned a spot in the final of a World Championship race. Ladies and gentlemen, this is overachievement by any standard!

Whatever Kalkidan does in the final race will be icing on the cake since she has already performed way above any reasonable expectaion. In my first blog at the beginning of these championships, I wrote that “the results from Berlin will be more indicative of the future of Ethiopian athletics than its current status.” Kalkidan Gezahegne along with Imane Merga and Wude Ayalew are the new revelation for Ethiopian Athletics.

You can get a more frequent update by following Roocha on Twitter here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Team Ethiopia in Berlin- Day 5, 6

Women’s 5000M
Day 5 started with women’s 5000M qualification. Speculation of Tirunesh possibly competing in the 5000M as well as Mesert Defar’s withdrawal due to illness proved unfounded. The qualifying round for this event is almost unnecessary because 15 out of the 22 women would advance to the final.

All the Ethiopians have comfortably advanced to Saturday’s final. Sentayehu Ejigu looked very good winning the first heat with tired looking Meselech Melkamu also advancing with a third place finish. I am not sure what to expect from Sentayehu in the final. She has had some good races this year but her personal best is from five years ago. Meseret Defar won the second heat kicking strong in the final 100M as if it was the final. Perhaps she was exorcising the demons from the 10000M race, but it was unnecessary expenditure of energy. Genzebe Dibaba also advanced to the finals from the same heat as well as Alemitu Bekele who runs for Turkey (kudos for keeping your name).

Men’s 5000M
In my opinion, this was the low point for Team Ethiopia at the Berlin World Championships so far. The pain felt by the loss of the women 10000M race was enhanced by the outcome of the men’s 5000M race. At the end of the two heats, Kenenisa was the only Ethiopian to advance to Sunday’s final. Bekana Daba finished 6th in the second heat while Ali Abdosh finished 13th in the first heat.

I could not fathom the concept of only one Ethiopian in a global 5000M championship race: USA advanced three runners, Kenya and Morocco had two each, but Ethiopia had only one, as did Spain and Great Britain! This was rectified at the end of day yesterday when Ali Abdosh was reinstated back in the final based on appeal filed. Apparently, Ali was spiked early on in the qualifying race causing him to lose a shoe and fell some 200M back in his attempt to recover his shoe. Big kudos go to Ali for finishing the race and for making the appeal possible. There is a lesson in there for athletes who take a DNF at the slightest unraveling of their race plan.

Sunday’s final should be quite interesting. Bernard Lagat was unhappy about finishing third in the 1500M final and vowed “revenge” in the 5000M. Lagat went further to promise his fans “I will run strong and win it for us.” Will Lagat beat Kenenisa or will Kenenisa get the first ever 5000/10000 double in world championship history? Will Eliud Kipchoge beat them both?

Men’s 1500M
If the men’s 5000M qualifying was the lowest point so far, men’s 1500M final has to be the highest. Ethiopia did not win this race, and in fact has not ever won this race in any World Championship. Then again, Ethiopia has never won the 5000M in any World Championship either, so winning is not the point here, at least from my perspective. The point is the tactical brilliance and the raw talent Deresse Mekonnen displayed to execute his plan to near perfection. The 1500M is a very tough physical (and mental) race where the slightest mistake in tactic or lapse in concentration could be the difference between a gold medal and fourth place. Deresse’s plan to stay out of trouble for the first three laps, then take the lead at the bell and push like there is no tomorrow was so on target that it delivered him a silver medal while the Kenyan pre-race favorite Kiprop finished fourth.

Now, to be fair, Deresse did not just appear out of nowhere on to the Berlin podium. He is the reigning World Indoor Champion in 1500M. He also won the Dream Mile in Oslo few weeks ago setting a new Ethiopian national record. However, an indoor race is very different from outdoor, and a meet in Oslo is a far cry from a World Championship final race. This time all the big guns were present having done their best preparation to claim the title. And Deresse beat all of them but one. Ethiopia was so written off in the 1500M that Deresse was not even mentioned in IAAF preview of the 1500M race.

Deresse’s performance hints at an untapped potential and possible bright future for Ethiopia in middle distance races. Kenya, Morocco, and Algeria have been there for decades. Is it time Ethiopia claims some territory? Success in middle distance races has been a developing theme for Ethiopian runners this season and Deresse’s race to the silver medal in Berlin may represent a defining moment for Ethiopian athletics- if it is understood by those who call the shots. We can no longer rely on superstars and must branch out and “diversify” to other distances where we see evidence of talent to compete with Kenya at the same level.

The message is simple: stop the bleeding (i.e. coach of the Bahraini gold medal winner is a transplanted Ethiopian) and start diversifying (i.e. take results such as silver in the 1500M and develop more runners.) After all, isn’t that how this whole thing started in the marathon and 10000M back in the 1960’s??

You can get a more frequent update by following Roocha on Twitter here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Team Ethiopia in Berlin- Day 2-3-4…

I hope the 2013 World Champs will be hosted in the Americas (2011 already given to Daegu, South Korea, so too late for that). Besides may be getting a chance to watch the action in person, the TV schedule will be much easier to deal with. The past few days have been challenging to watch the events on tape delay at night, while staying away from hearing the results during the day. Of course, as it has been obvious here, that left no time for writing blog updates…

Anyway, luckily or unluckily, there was not overwhelming amount of action from Team Ethiopia to write home about.

Men’s 3000M Steeplechase
On day 2 (Sunday), the men’s 3000M Steeplechase qualifying round saw Yacob Jarso and Roba Gary advance to the final which was run on Day 4 (Tuesday). In the finals, status quo was kept with Kenya taking the title and three of the top four places, with Yacob and Roba in 5th and 6th place, respectively. Yacob posted a personal best (by small margin), and Roba also came close to his PB indicating both performed close to their top form. What is notable is the Kenyan winner finished 12 seconds ahead of the Ethiopians- a good 75-80 meter margin. Both Yacob and Roba said they had sufficient endurance to stay with the winner all the way but lacked the hurdling techniques. Yacob went even further to say that he is “now thinking of switching events if the coaches do not help us with [jumping] technique."

Women’s 3000M Steeplechase
On day 3 (Monday), it was the women’s turn for the 3000M Steeplechase. Both Sofia Assefa and Zemzem Ahmed had qualified comfortably from the heats on day 1. Since the 3000M SC is still a relatively young event, there was hope for a good showing for both ladies who had posted good times this season. However, the final in Berlin failed far below expectation as the Ethiopians finished in 10th and 13th place, both more than 10 seconds off their season best time. Unlike the men, lack of technique can not be the culprit for the poor performance. This was one event where Ethiopian Athletics had an opportunity to show progress into a new territory but it simply did not happen.

Men’s 10000M
With the exception of Edmonton in 2001, Ethiopia (well, Haile and Kenenisa) have owned this event since 1993. There was not much doubt that Kenenisa would get his 4th world title to match Haile from the 1990’s. The only question was in what fashion and who would claim the bottom two spots on the podium.

Sure enough Kenenisa won but I was impressed by how Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese pushed the pace all the way to the last lap when Kenenisa simply sprinted by. With Sileshi Sihine out with injury, Kenenisa had to run alone as Abebe Dinkesa dropped out of the race and the World Cross Country Champion Gebre Gebremariam could only finish 10th. Similar to Wude Ayalew in the women’s 10000M, the bright spot for Ethiopia was 20 year old Imane Merga who finished in fourth place. He ran a personal best to go along with the 3000M and 5000M personal best he set earlier this year. But at this time, there is no heir-apparent to Kenenisa, who took over from Haile in 2003.

One final item to note: Kenenisa won the 10000M in a convincing fashion while setting a world championship record. His dominance in the 10000M is no less than Usain Bolt’s in the 100M. This was my own initial observation (on Twitter) after watching the race on Tuesday. I was pleased to read today a piece in the New York Times expressing the same sentiment, and in a much more articulate fashion. Read the article here.

You can get a more frequent update by following Roocha on Twitter here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Team Ethiopia in Berlin- Day 1

The one bit of downside to having a dynasty is that the ending is always painful. End of a dynasty pretty much describes fate of Team Ethiopia on Day 1 in Berlin, and perhaps the entire meet. Please forgive my grumpy attitude but Roocha has always questioned the viability of an entire national athletic program resting on a shoulder of superstars you can count on half of one hand, especially when a large talent pool is available to develop.

Starting from the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Spain, Ethiopia has won ALL the gold medals in the Women’s 10000M race… until yesterday. The house built by the likes of Derartu Tulu, Gete Wami, Berhane Adere, and Tirunesh Dibaba had no keeper in Berlin and it was ransacked! Now the winner, Kenya’s Linet Masai, is deserving of the victory and currently is one of my favorite Kenyan runners. She strides beautifully and came very close to winning the World Cross-Country Champs back in March. But still, having watched yesterday’s race twice, I still can not figure out what happened to our Ethiopian ladies. The pace was slow enough that Meseret Defar should not have ran out of gas in the last 30 meters, but she clearly did by her own admission. Meselech Melkamu was so focused on beating Meseret that she was caught thinking victory over Meseret to be equivalent to victory over all. Meselech claims in the post-race press conference that she is personally pleased with her result but it is a bit hard to believe.
I am very, very disappointed. For myself personally, I am pleased because this is my first time running this event at the world championships, so I'm happy I got a medal. But I would have been happy if Meseret (Defar) had got the gold. I was expecting her to win. I never saw the Kenyan."
Wude Ayalew is the only runner in my opinion that achieved her full potential. She was happy to carry the flag in celebration while the others looked very hesitant.

In other events of the day, two of the three entrants in women’s 3000M Steeplechase have advanced to the next round. Sofia Assefa finished third in heat 1 while Zemzem Ahmed won heat 3. Zemzem’s heat was much slower than Sofia’s so she should have plenty energy in the final on Monday.

In men’s 1500M, Deresse Mekonnen posted the fastest qualifying time of all the heats advancing to the second round. Henok Legesse has also made it to the next round while Mekonnen Gebremedhin failed to advance. Deresse worked a bit hard for a first round race but I hope he has enough to continue on. A gold medal from him will go a long way to ease the pain of the loss in the women’s 10000M.
You can get a more frequent update by following Roocha on Twitter here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Open Thread: Berlin Women's 10000M

With Tirunesh Dibaba, two time defending World Champion and reigining Olympic Champion, out of the race, the question is who will take the most advantage of Tirunesh's absence. Meseret Defar will be interested to put her stake down on a new territory, but Meselech Melkamu with her recent second all-time fastest 10000M outing will be looking to step up to the top podium also. The Kenyans led by Linet Masai will be there as well as Elvan Abeylegesse the Olympic silver medalist.

My bet will be on Meseret Defar as she has a score to settle from Beijing last year. A loss of the gold to another country will be a bitter pill for Ethiopians on first day of competition. Any thoughts?

Beijing to Berlin

One year ago today, all the attention of the world was focused on Beijing Olympics, and Track & Field took center stage with Women’s 10000M final. Who can forget the riveting performance Tirunesh Dibaba turned in that day while dueling Elvan Abeylegesse and the hot weather of Beijing!!

Well, we are a year of time and a continent of a distance removed from that superhuman perofrmance by Tirunesh, but we meet back in Berlin to write another chapter in the history of Track & Field. The 12th IAAF World Chamionships in Athletics have already gotten underway this morning in Berlin and in a short time (1:25PM EDT) the women 10000M final will be contested once again. As hard as it may sound, this time the two time defending champ Tirunesh will not be in the race due to a recent injury. It is not hard to imagine the outcome of the women’s 10000M will set the tone for the rest of competition Team Ethiopia will be participating in for the rest of the week.

Now, speaking of
Team Ethiopia, it is no accident that I started the piece by talking about Tirunesh rather than the whole team: the tri-color of Ethiopian athletics stands and falls with the three superstars of Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar. Losing anyone of these three is a huge blow and the results from Berlin will be more indicative of the future of Ethiopian athletics than its current status. Is there anyone waiting in the wings to take the proverbial baton and run with it?

Ethiopian runners are entered in 1500M, 3000M Steeplechase, 5000M, 10000M, and Marathon for both men and women. Given that we have historically had locks on women’s 5000M and Men’s 10000M, what I am looking for this time is noteable performances in the other events, particularly the 1500M and 3000M SC. The revelation of the season so far has been the improved performance of Ethiopians in middle distance races with national records set in men’s 1500M and women’s 800M. Can Deresse Mekonnen and Mekonnen Gebremedhin deliver in the 1500M in a big meet? Will Zemzem Ahmed and Sofia Assefa make a breakthrough in the women 3000M SC?

Surely, there will be other interesting story lines to watch including:

-whether Meselech Melkamu can maintain her early summer form (African 10000M record) and upset the staus quo of Tirunesh and Meseret

-whether Tsegaye Kebede can bring back the gold in men’s marathon

-whether Dire Tune can bring first women’s marathon gold (in a major meet) since Fatuma Roba

One final piece of item to note is how the former Ethiopians Elvan Abeylegesse and Maryam Jamal fare in Berlin. Should they win gold (for Turkey or Bahrain) at the expense of an Ethiopian runner in second place, the discussion of why they switched nationality will certainly be revived.

You can get a more frequent update by following Roocha on Twitter here.
You can find US TV Schedule for the World Champs
Universal Sports is providing live internet stream of the meet

In Addis

I happen to be in Addis and I am finding it quite a challenge to blog. Now I am feeling like there is nothing like having broadband at home. Second there is nothing like having reliable electric service. Right now power is on on alternating days. On the days you are supposed to have power you may or may not have power. Any help with blogging on this site will be much appreciated.

There was a neat program on the radio in the taxi this morning that talked about the day's events and there were some spontaneous conversations and disappointment that Tirunesh is not running. There is a little bit of excitement but more excitement about the up coming Premier League soccer opening this weekend.

I will try to post when I have good Internet access and if I happen to have electricity.

As for today's event's...

I think the Women's 10,000 will be very interesting. Meseret vs Elvan? Am I over looking Meselech?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Roocha on Twitter

Long time no post. It's been a bit difficult trying to find the time to write a regular blog, but micro-blogging has come to the rescue. Roocha, the blog, will be revived this coming week, in time for the World Championships from Berlin. In the meantime, Roocha has been up on Twitter for several weeks so please follow by clicking here.

There are several tweets there today including the following:

  • No respect? Deresse Mekonnen of #Ethiopia, winner in Oslo with new Ethiopian record of 3:48 doesn't even get a mention in the 1500M preview!