Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ethiopians driven to be the next Gebrselassie as they prepare to stop Farah taking 5,000m gold

Ethiopia has won 38 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, since the barefoot Abebe Bikila secured its first gold in the Rome marathon in 1960.
All have come from putting one foot in front of the other quickly, all but one from just three events - the 5,000 and 10,000 metres and the marathon.
The odd one came from the 3,000m steeplechase. Mo Farah may hunger for Olympic medals. Ethiopians run because it may lift them out of the deprivation of a country where nearly two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line.
The 90million Ethiopians have few advantages in life but they do have two key ones if they embark on a running career: the harshness of their life hardens them to the grind of training and living at high altitude improves their blood's oxygen-carrying capacity.
This is what Farah has to contend with tonight when he takes on three Ethiopians - Dejen Gebremeskel, Hagos Gebrhiwet and Yenew Alamirew - in the 5,000m final. Nine out of 10 of their elite runners come, like Haile Gebrselassie, from farming backgrounds in the highlands of Arsi province.
Like him, they probably ran six miles to school and back every day. He said: 'The place where we're training is perfect for longdistance running. It's between 2,500 and 3,000m above sea level.
'We train there and when we come here to London it's very easy.'
The likes of Gebrselassie are role models. 'Since I became successful around the world, many athletes see the difference it has made to my life, the difference between Haile before and now. And everybody says, "Oh, let me be like him",' said Gebrselassie.
He did not own a pair of shoes until he was 14. Now his house, on a hill looking over the shacks that make up much of Addis Ababa, is a stunning monument to the riches running can bring in his country, lit by chandeliers and with its own swimming pool and gymnasium.
He said: 'I started because of one of our legends, Miruts Yifter (double gold medallist in 1980). Kenenisa Bekele (double Olympic champion in 2008) started when I won in Atlanta. That is how it is, from generation to generation.'