London 2012: Team Ethiopia Middle Distance Events Preview

Could Aman, Magiso, and Aregawi create history?

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – In addition to stronghold events like the 5000m and 10000, Ethiopians have been competing over the sprints and middle distance events at junior and continental levels for years without making any inroads in major championships. This undesired statistic could be about to change this year.

Competing over the 400m for the first time since the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games is Bereket Desta who will make his Olympic debut in London. The 21-year old three-time national champion over the distance achieved the Olympic qualifying B standard earlier this year, though his hopes of even equaling Mamo Wolde’s Olympic final participation record looks remote given the high standard over the event.

Mohammed Aman and Fantu Magiso

But, in Mohammed Aman and Fantu Magiso, the country can look forward to London 2012 with two young and genuine medal contenders to challenge the top guns in the men’s and women’s 800m respectively.

After making his mark by winning gold over the 1000m at the 1st ever Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, Aman has consistently improved both his times and performances in major championships to rank among the major medal contenders in the men’s 800m. He will buoyed by the fact that he has already beaten the event’s marquee athlete, Kenya’s world champion and world record holder David Rudisha, during a rain-soaked evening in Milan last year and has proven his consistency over the track season this year including winning gold in the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey in March.

In contrast, the effervescent and bubbly Magiso is only in her first full season competing over the 800m, but what a season she is having! After initial success over the 200m and 400m at junior level, Magiso reached the semifinals over the 400m at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea last year before moving up the distance this year. The impact was instant. She started off with a fourth place finish at the world indoor before taking the summer by storm with a then-world leading time of 1:57.48 at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Rome, Italy. While her world leading time on the world list has since been overtaken by Kenyan Pamela Jelimo, the defending Olympic champion, Magiso’s powerful finishing and her refreshingly-easy going lifestyle on the track has made her a popular hit and a potential medal contender in London.

Genzebe Dibaba

As if the 800m is not enough, the women’s 1500m could be another medal destination for Ethiopian athletics fans this year. After a stellar junior career where she won two world cross country and one world junior 5000m titles and enduring a few senior years of trying to break into Ethiopia’s major championship teams over the 5000m with mixed results, Genzebe Dibaba, younger sister to double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, made a courageous decision in 2012 to switch to the 1500m with instant success. In March this year, she became only the second Ethiopian to win gold over the 1500m at the World Indoor Championships and broke the national 1500m record by running 3:57.77 in Shanghai, China in May.

But while Genzebe, whose name literally translates to ‘my money’ in Amharic, has since suffered a minor injury that has derailed her progress, the European track season saw the rise of Abebe Aregawi to the top of the Ethiopian ranks.

Abeba Aregawi

Coming off two mediocre seasons as an 800m/1500m specialist, Aregawi clocked 3:56.54 to further lower Genzebe’s national record and cement her position as a favorite for Olympic gold. Her rise though has also come with a blessing in disguise. Having spent large parts of her earlier career in Sweden living and training with her partner Henok Woldegebriel, Aregawi had applied for Swedish citizenship last year with her application queuing with others’ in immigration. However, her instant success this summer has meant that she was in the middle of a representation tag-of-war between her native and adopted home lands which now looks to have been won by Ethiopia. The 22-year old has been training with the Ethiopian Olympic team during the entire saga and will lead the nation’s charge in the 1500m in London. 

Mekonnen Gebremedhin

The situation with the men’s 1500m is remarkably different. The squad is led by Mekonnen Gebremedhin, who has continued his seasonal improvement over the event since making his international debut at the World Youth Championships in 2003. A combination of tactical errors and some questionable officiating meant that he could not reach the final in the 2009 and 2011 world championships, but after lowering his personal best to 3:31.45 this season, the 23-year old can finally hope for a place in the world championship final this time around.

Dawit Wolde, bronze medalist in the 2007 world youth championships, and Teshome Dersisa, ninth in the recently-completed world junior championships in Barcelona, complete the line-up with Aman Wote named as a reserve.

While the men’s 1500m might not provide a potential medal favorite, the women’s 3000m steeplechase will surely get the pulse of Ethiopian athletics’ fans racing with Sofia Assefa now considered one of the world’s leading athletes over the event. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia sport club athlete reduced her own national record by a whooping six seconds again this year when she ran 9:09.00 in Rome in June and is expected to improve on her sixth place finish from last year’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea.

She will be joined in the team by Hiwot Ayalew, the world junior record holder, and Etenesh Diro with Zemzem Ahmed, back in action after two years away due to maternity leave, only a reserve in the team.