Bekoji, tiny town that breeds Olympic champions

Coach Sentayehu Eshetu (Photo:
Coach Sentayehu Eshetu (Photo:

Bekoji, Ethiopia (CNN) — It might be many miles away from the usual sporting capitals of the world, but when it comes to long-distance running there’s one tiny place that’s setting the pace.

Nestled amidst rolling farmlands on the green hills of southern central Ethiopia, Bekoji is a sleepy town of less than 20,000 people, most of whom are farmers and herders.

But apart from the wheat and maize growing on Bekoji’s fertile soil, this small town a few hours south from capital Addis Ababa is also the breeding ground for some of the best track and field athletes in the world.

Set at about 2,800 meters above sea level, Bekoji has produced a string of Olympic champions and world-beating long-distance runners, including multiple Olympic gold medal winners Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele.

Sentayehu Eshetu, the legendary coach who has so far trained four of Bekoji’s Olympic gold winners, says that a winning mix of thin air, lean diet and different terrains has helped the town’s rich crop of runners stand out in recent years. Read more