If one fact was gleaned from the world of men’s steeplechasing in 2019 it was that Ethiopia is no longer prepared to play second fiddle to their great East African rivals Kenya.
For decades, Kenya has consistently swept up the medals on the global stage while the Ethiopians – despite their abundance of world-class endurance talent – have barely registered.
However, last year witnessed a significant sea change.
At the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Lamecha Girma claimed their first ever World Championship steeplechase medal as he set an Ethiopian record of 8:01.36 for silver – just 0.01 behind Conseslus Kipruto.
Meanwhile, in a further illustration of the rising strength of Ethiopian steeplechasing, Getnet Wale secured the Diamond League title and Ethiopians comprised three of the top 10 on the world list to match the same total as Kenya.
Dig a little deeper and it is perhaps little coincidence that both Girma and Wale belong to the same training group as Ethiopian steeplechase coach Teshome Kebede.
Yet while Girma earned most of the plaudits thanks to his breakout performance at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, Wale’s season was also seriously impressive as he set a pair of Ethiopian senior 3000m steeplechase records (plus three U20 marks) and boasted a 2-1 head-to-head record against his compatriot and training partner.
Born one of eight children in Sekela in south eastern Ethiopia, Wale’s foundation for future success was built on the daily 4km run to and from school and he proved a natural once he turned his hand to competitive athletics at school.
At the age of 13 he claimed provincial titles over 1500m and 3000m (flat) – a performance which earned him a huge opportunity to take the next step in his athletics journey.
“A coach from the Ethiopian Youth Sports Academy came to our school to select athletes,” explains Wale. “I won the 1500m and 3000m, the coach was interested in me and told me I have a bright future in athletics. He told me to get permission from my parents, collect my school release and come back with him to Addis Ababa.”
That coach was Kebede, who convinced Wale his future was in the steeplechase.
Read more at: World Athletics