Born in West Shoa, Alemgena Woreda, Tolosa Kotu in his young age participated in sports in Menen School in Addis Ababa. As an athlete he took part in Munich and Moscow Olympics. He took part only once in the World Athletics Championship representing Africa in early ages. As an athlete his contribution in the Moscow Olympics was immense. The team work gave an opportunity to Miruts Yifter to earn gold medal in 5,000 and 10,000 meters in 1980. For all his contribution he was awarded Gold Watch from His Majesty Emperor Haile-Selassie I, money prize and promotion in the armed forces from the rank of Lieutenant to Captain at the time of the military regime. He also received money prize from the Federal Republic of Ethiopia. In the wake of the 15th World Athletics Championship staged in the Chinese capital, Beijing, Tolosa discussed about the performance of Ethiopian athletes with Herald Sports.
Herald: How do you see the World Athletics Championship? Do you think the Ethiopians are in good form to go forward?
Tolosa Kotu: The World Championship is one of the toughest global competitions. For years Ethiopians are known in long distance races in particular in 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon. In our time, the women’s participation in big international meets was minimal. This time the women’s are doing fine but our brothers’ performance looks diminishing. As it was seen in Beijing we didn’t fare well in events like the men’s 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon. In particular our 10,000m performance was far below our expectation. But the victory in women’s marathon through Mare Dibaba and the 5,000m win by Almaz Ayana was pretty excellent. I also admire the spectacular win of Genzebe Dibaba in 1,500m. This shows that if we focus on that it is possible to have athletes even in 800m, 400m and 200m. As a coach we need to work hard to bring young talents in the middle and long distance men’s events.
Herald: Why do you think that the Ethiopian performance in the men’s 10,000m and marathon show decline?
Tolosa Kotu: Well, you have to always work hard to bring equally competent athletes. It was in our time that Ethiopia collected double gold medal in one Olympics but when we retired it was not possible to get strong athletes like us. When our generation that was famously called the ‘Green Flood’ got aged there was no immediate replacement. It was difficult to immediately substitute the gear shifter Miruts Yifter. Haile Gebre-Selassie emerged after so long. Haile is lucky because he was replaced by equally competent athletes such as Kenenisa Bekele and Sileshi Sehin. What happened after that? In short a vacuum has been created. What we need is a long period of preparation to screen, train and fill the vacuum to sustain our long tradition in the middle and long distance race.
Herald: Do you think that the problem in 10,000m will be resolved shortly?
Tolosa Kotu: Why not? Problems will not remain as they are. The point is to soberly sit down and discuss to identify the problems and prescribe the proper remedy. We don’t need the blame games. There are visible problems of bringing young talent. Our experience tells us that we have to go to different rural areas to look for young talent. Athletes Haile and Deratu came through the pilot programme. These days it is possible to organize local and school competitions in every community. These are places that produce young athletes. This means we should not wait until the athletes come to Addis Ababa. This is I think the time to discuss and reach a conclusive consensus towards our future. If we don’t react now in a proper way, surely danger lies ahead. Without doubt we have limited time to do all these things.
Herald: In Beijing Kenya had shown superior talent. We, time and again, say that Kenya is our neighbouring rival. But this time they are number one in the world while we are fifth.
Tolosa Kotu: The Kenyans made dramatic and spectacular improvements not only in long distance but also in short distance races. This time they got gold even in javelin throw. The difference between Kenya and Ethiopia is simply working methodology. We have the structure as they have but we don’t work at the grass roots level as they do. It must be binding to go the grass root level.
Herald: How do you evaluate the Ethiopian results in Beijing?
Tolosa Kotu: We have three gold medals, three silver and two bronze medals. This is a good achievement. Despite this there are disturbing scenarios. We need to have strong athletes who could go for gold in big meets like the World Championships and Olympics. We had Haile, Kenenisa and Derartu at one time. We were sure in advance that Kenenisa, Tirunesh or Meseret would get gold. That gives confidence to the squad. This time we lack an athlete with that charisma. We must also focus on the long distance. Marathon is highly interwoven with us due to the legendary Abebe Bikila, Mamo Wolde and recently Gezahegn Abera and Fatuma Roba. We have to keep that tradition
Herald: You are credited for upbringing big athletes such as Gezahegn, Kenenisa and Tesfaye Tola.
Tolosa Kotu: Oh yes. These are my boys and many more. I have worked as coach with Coffee Sports Club, Ground Forces (Mechal) and Muger Cements Sports clubs starting from 1984. All along, I had an opportunity to get young and successful athletes.
Herald: You served once as a national team coach but you were sacked. Following that you became an international coach.
Tolosa Kotu: For reasons I don’t know the federation made me a youth coach after serving the 10,000m national coach for three years when the Beijing Olympics approached. That dispute led me quit my job. I then went to Bahrain and served for five years. I am now back to my origin and ready to coach the young Ethiopian talent.
Source: Ethiopian Herald