Haile Bekele Embarks on Journey to Live up to his Namesakes

Telahun Haile Bekele
Telahun Haile Bekele in the 5000m at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 (Getty Images) © Copyright

If ever an athlete is showing all the signs of living up to his name, it is Telahun Haile Bekele.

Sharing the name of not one but two running Ethiopian icons in Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, it was perhaps always the destiny of the 20-year-old that he would one day run.

And after Bekele won a thrilling 5000m race at last month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome in a world-leading 12:52.98, he appears armed with the basic tools to one day have a half-decent stab at emulating the feats of two athletes who share five Olympic gold medals between them.

“I realised before I started running my name included that of two running legends,” explains Bekele. “I used to hear their names on television, so I used to dream that one day I’ll become like them because of their names. Yet my No.1 role model is Abebe Bikila (the 1960 and 1964 Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia). I grew up hearing of his story. He has proved a strong inspiration on my running career.”


Born and raised in the Southern Ethiopian district of Gurage – about 250km south of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa – Bekele grew up in a rural community with four brothers and one sister.

“My parents were farmers, although I didn’t practice farming,” explains Bekele. “My parents didn’t allow me to help them in farming; rather they encouraged me to focus on my education.”

His first sport was taekwondo but after his coach relocated to another area, Bekele sought an alternative outlet for his youthful exuberance.

A PE teacher recognised the youngster’s potential as a runner and selected Bekele to compete for the school in a local competition. He performed admirably, placing fourth in the 800m and third in the 1500m and was instantly hooked.

“After that race is when I began to see my future as a runner,” says Bekele.

Read more at: IAAF.org