Born to run: Ethiopia’s golden girl Dibaba

Tirunesh Dibaba (Photo: CNN.com)
Tirunesh Dibaba (Photo: CNN.com)

(CNN) — It could be the spartan living environment, or perhaps growing up in the thin air nearly 3,000 meters above sea level — or maybe it’s the influence of a legendary local coach.

Whatever its secret, a remote mountain town in Ethiopia has produced a string of world-beating distance runners.

Three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba is the current cream of a crop that has helped put Bekoji on the map. Like many from her area, she was clearly born to run.

“Running is for me my job, but also my source of entertainment,” the 27-year-old told CNN’s Human to Hero series.

“It’s because of running that I am well known around the world. For me, it’s the ultimate thing.”

Her elder sister Ejegayehu was an Olympic silver medalist in 2004, while younger sister Genzebe was the 2009 world junior cross country champion and a younger brother Dejene is a promising 800m runner.

Sporting excellence flows through the family genes: Dibaba is the cousin of double Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu, while she was also inspired by another cousin — Bekelu, who she often calls her sister, and was an international distance runner.

They all hail from Bekoji, a town of fewer than 20,000 people set high in the mountains of the Arsi province, but with a freakish record for track and field success.

“Bekoji has produced so many great athletes starting from Derartu. In Beijing, Kenenisa (Bekele) and I brought home two gold medals each,” Dibaba said.

“Bekoji has strong runners. Bekoji is great and can produce even greater athletes.”

It has echoes of Jamaica’s Trelawny district, another rugged rural setting which has produced a string of sprint champions, including six-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt.

Before Dibaba, the great Kenenisa Bekele — a three-time Olympic champion and double world record-holder in the 5,000 and 10,000m — was the most famous product of the area. Both were coached by Sentayehu Eshetu in their important formative years.

Inspiring coach

“Sentayehu knew that my cousin Derartu Tulu ran, he knows that my sisters ran too. That’s why he encouraged me to start running and used to tell me that I would be a great runner, he knew I would be a fast runner,” Dibaba said.

Source: CNN

 

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