Day 3 in Doha was one for the books for multiple reasons. Ethiopia collected more medals, crowned a teenage phenom as a world champion, and concluded a very successful championships in Doha. The Ethiopian fans in the stand were again enthusiastic and loud in their support of their team.
Two events were on the card for team Ethiopia- Women's1500M featuring defending champion Gelete Burka and the new kid on the block Kalkidan Gezahegne, and Men's 3000M with Tariku Bekele and Dejen Gebremeskel.
After the heroic come back to win her heat on Friday, it seems Kalkidan Gezahegne has garnered the attention and respect of the running world, and as a result the final today was highly anticipated. Add to the mix the defending champion Gelete Burka and her nemesis Natalie Rodriguez of Spain (who pushed Gelete out and was DQed in Berlin), this race promised to showcase quite a battle. As it turned out, the race unfolded without much drama till the very end as medals appeared to be within grasp. Coming to the homestretch Kalkidan showed she had an extra gear to pass Gelete, who had always been at the front, and took the gold medal with a comfortable margin. Rodriguez, in what must be vindication for her disqualification in Berlin, was also able to catch and pass Gelete at the very end and took the silver medal. The defending champ Gelete who did a bit of work pushing the pace during most of the race had to settle for the bronze.
In winning the gold, 18 year old Kalkidan Gezahegne becomes the youngest world champion in history, and also retains both men and women's 1500M title for Ethiopia for the second indoor championship in a row. Kalkidan came to this meet ranked #1 in the world but still was a relative unknown in the larger athletic circle. That is now past history. She says "my career is just beginning" but thanks to her heroic come back win after falling down, and now becoming the youngest world champion, the bright spotlight is on her and her immense talent which must someday translate to world records and Olympic gold.
Ethiopia's historical weakness in global championships (with minor exception) has been in the shorter of the distance events- 3000M and 5000M. Not much success has been had recently, particularly in the absence of Kenenisa Bekele, in these events. Today was no different in Doha. At the end it was obvious that noone in the 3000M, not just the Ethiopians, was a match for the impressive Bernard Lagat who took an easy win with one move at the bell lap.
To their credit, both Tariku and Dejen employed the only feasible tactic against Lagat who is a 1500M specialist with a stinging kick at the end. Dejen's role appeared to be supporting Tariku to defend his title and did a good job but was obviously over his head with the pace as he had drop back during the last few laps and finished 10th. Tariku pushed the pace from the beginning knowing that Lagat's kick off a slow pace would simply be devastating as we saw in Osaka 2007. In the end, Tariku's push seemed not to have done anything to Lagat who took the win while making it look effortless. Tariku ran out of gas 100M short of the finish line and was passed by two other runners leaving him in fourth place and out of the medals.
Men's 3000M and 5000M are two events that the Ethiopian coaches need to go back to the drawing board to figure out a different training and racing strategy.
Team Ethiopia finished the indoor world championships with five medals- three gold and two bronze. This was good enough to finish in second place on the medal table, trailing only the United States in number of gold medals. With the possible exception of the 2000 Sydney Olympics (and not counting Cross-Country events), this championship must be the most successful ever for an Ethiopian team. Five of the eight Ethiopian athletes who participated earned a medal. This is absolutely amazing accomplishment and may place Ethiopia at the very top in terms of quality of athletes fielded.
Ethiopia won both the men and women 1500M title again, and this time in a much more convincing fashion. Ethiopia's focus has been in long distance events for more than 40 years but it is now obvious that we have talent to compete and win middle distance races too.
One final note that must not be overlooked is the strength of Ethiopian women athletes. All four women that competed in Doha won a medal while only one of the four men did. Something is going right with the way the women athletes are training and racing and it has just gotten even better with the addition of one Kalkidan Gezahegne to their ranks.
Well done Team Ethiopia! You have made us proud!!
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