Ethiopian Athletes impress on the roads- 2010 Review

The year 2010 was a non-major-championship year in athletics, but that did not stop Ethiopian athletes from taking part in continental and other top competitions, albeit with limited success.

Standout Performance

In a year of minor events, it is difficult to pick out the top performance by an Ethiopian, but Meseret Defar’s feat in winning a fourth successive world indoor 3000m title in Doha, Qatar must be the stand-out performance of a bumper year for the 27-year old. Three defeats throughout the course of the year meant that Defar did not maintain the aura of invincibility that had characterized her career in the last few years, but victory in the Qatar capital and a well-earned victory over the 3000m at the IAAF Continental Cup in Split, Croatia saw her become the only Ethiopian in the world’s top 10 list of athletes.

Injuries

While Defar enjoyed a successful year, Ethiopia’s other big three heavy-hitters- Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Sileshi Sihine– endured a miserable year with injuries. Of the three, Dibaba returned briefly in August to win Ethiopia’s only gold over the 10,000m at the 17th CAA African Athletics Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. The same competition saw Sihine, who had rallied back to action after spending eight months out injured, drop out of the men’s 10,000m race with an Achilles tendon injury that will now require surgery. And after a dominant season in 2009, Bekele managed to race only once in the entire 2010 season finishing fourth in a cross country race in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Emergence of Track Talent

Despite the unavailability of the country’s heavy-hitters, 2010 saw the emergence of track talent in the shape of Imane Merga, who won 5000m title in the newly-formed Samsung Diamond League; Sentayehu Ejigu, who won bronze medals at the world indoors, African championship 5000m, and finished second in the women’s 5000m diamond race behind Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot; and Kalkidan Gezhagne, who stunned compatriot Gelete Burka when winning the 1500m title at the world indoor championships and becoming the youngest individual gold medalist in the history of the biennial championships.

New Ground

A subdued track season was well compensated by an improved Ethiopian season over the roads. Three Ethiopians-Tsegaye Kebede, Getu Feleke, and Bezu Worku– broke new ground by running 2:06 in marathons held in London, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Tsegaye Kebede (London), Gebregziabher Gebremariam (New York), Tadesse Tola (Paris), Mamitu Daska (Dubai), Teyiba Erkesso (Boston), and Atsede Bayissa (Paris) were among the high profile winners of major marathons around the world.

Symbolic Victory

Siraj Gena’s win in the Rome Marathon and his symbolic delegation of his victory by running the last 200m of the race barefooted came exactly fifty years after Ethiopian legend Abebe Bikila became the first black African to win Olympic gold when running barefoot to victory in the 1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome.

Tragedy

While there was plenty of action of the track and roads, there was plenty of off-field news about Ethiopian athletes. Ethiopian athletics was shocked to hear of the death of marathon runner Dejene Berhanu, who committed suicide in August. The 29-year old was a 2:08 marathon runner and the national record holder for the 5km on the roads. That news came five months after another sad moment in Ethiopian athletics when marathon runner Shetaye Gemechu received a two-year ban for testing positive during an in-competition test in Luxembourg for EPO. And the bad news continued in September with no less than seven Ethiopian athletes changing allegiances to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey in time to compete in continental championships for their adopted countries.

Happy Times

On the other hand, there was plenty of happy news coming out of Ethiopian athletics in 2010. After a courtship that lasted more than two years, Tariku Bekele, the 2008 world indoor 3000m champion, tied the knot in a private ceremony in Addis Ababa in February. The year also saw new stars emerging in the running circuit with Azmeraw Bekele (winner of the 2010 Great Ethiopian Run), Alamirew Yenew (7.28 over the men’s 3000m), Bereket Desta (the first ever Ethiopian finalist over the 400m at the African Championships), Mekonnen Gebremedhin (men’s 1500m bronze medalist at the African Championships), and Bertukan Fente (women’s junior 3000m steeplechase world record) making their breakthrough this year.

Source: Great Ethiopian Run

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