Saturday, October 27, 2012

Marathon revolution in Ethiopia


PHOTO | VICTAH SAILE From left: Ethiopia’s defending champion Mamitu Daska, Meselech Melkamu and Bezunesh Bekele at a photo shoot at the Movenpick Hotel ahead of the BMW Frankfurt Marathon to be held on October 28, 2012.  PHOTORUN

IN SUMMARY


  • Meselech and Zemzem (Ethiopians are traditionally referred to by their first names) represent a growing group of Ethiopian women runners who are elevating their quest for success from the track onto the marathon
  • Meselech and Bezunesh are, along with Zemzem, in a quartet of Ethiopian runners challenging for compatriot Mamitu Daska’s course record in the German financial capital on Sunday
  • It seems that there is no stopping the surge in Ethiopia’s women’s marathon running
  • This year alone, Ethiopian women have outshone their Kenyan rivals in big city marathons



When Ethiopia’s ulta-conservative former Africa 10,000 metres champion Meselech Melkamu strolled in to the Movenpick Hotel in downtown Frankfurt on Thursday afternoon, her hair dyed in golden colour, one could eerily sense a revolution sweeping through in Ethiopian athletics.

The shy, humble, pretty and respectable 27-year-old, who was born to a former military man - marathon runner Melkamu Haileyesus - in Debre Markos, some 360 kilometres outside Addis, is the second fastest woman over 10,000m (29 minutes, 53.80 seconds) behind China’s world record holder Wang Junxia (29:31.78).



She will be following in her father’s footsteps by plunging into the 42-kilometre distance when she debuts at Sunday’s BMW Frankfurt Marathon, alongside compatriot Zemzem Ahmed who has also taken a leap of faith from her 3,000m steeplechase speciality in which she was Africa champion in 2008.

New breed of runners

Meselech and Zemzem (Ethiopians are traditionally referred to by their first names) represent a growing group of Ethiopian women runners who are elevating their quest for success from the track onto the marathon and following in the footsteps of a handful of predecessors, most notably former World Marathon Majors series champion Gete Wami and 2009 New York Marathon champ Derartu Tulu.

“There are many women maturing from the track now and taking up marathon running,” Meselech, whose hitherto longest distance on the road is in the 5km, said in Frankfurt. “I have never run a marathon or half marathon before but I have been training well and I believe I will do well on Sunday (tomorrow) in my first marathon.”

Meselech’s training partner, Bezunesh Bekele, is already an experienced marathoner, her latest success being a personal best 2:20.30 for fourth place at this year’s Dubai Marathon. She won the emirate race in 2009 (2:24.02).

Meselech and Bezunesh are, along with Zemzem, in a quartet of Ethiopian runners challenging for compatriot Mamitu Daska’s course record in the German financial capital on Sunday, an impressive 2:21.59 run here last year. Daska is the fourth Ethiopian here, and she has raised the bar in a title defence bid.

“If the conditions are good I want to run a 2:18 Ethiopian record,” she warns. Meselech and Zemzem are among the growing list of Ethiopian women moving up to the marathon, with another big name hitting the road being multiple world and Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba.

Tirunesh, the “Baby-faced Destroyer”, made her half marathon debut at last month’s Bupa Great North Run which she won in 1:07.35.

Common trend

It seems that there is no stopping the surge in Ethiopia’s women’s marathon running. In August, Tiki Gelana won Ethiopia’s first marathon gold medal at the Olympics and only last week, Meseret Hailu, added the Amsterdam Marathon title to the World Half Marathon gold she won in Kavarna, Bulgaria, a month ago, slicing over six minutes off the previous course record – held by Tiki Gelana – winning in 2:21.09.

This year alone, Ethiopian women have outshone their Kenyan rivals in big city marathons. The Kenyan challenge for the Ethiopian girls on the rise will be spearheaded by Georgina Rono, the winner of last year’s Hannover (2:31.19) and Eindhoven (2:24.33) marathons and third in Boston (2:33.09) this year.

Rono is familiar with the Frankfurt course as she was sixth here in 2009 in 2:31.49. Also listed is Agnes Jeruto Barsosio who won on her marathon debut in Dusseldorf (2:25.49) this year. Kenyan will be watching carefully, with bated breath, the rise of Ethiopia’s marathon women.

Meselech believes there’s a great future on the road for the Ethiopian women legion. “We are all encouraged to take up marathon running now and if there is anyone who will break Paula Radcliffe’s women’s marathon world record (2:15.25), then it is Tirunesh,” Meselech predicted.

As for her golden coloured hair, Meselech says the fashion statement signals victory on her marathon debut on Sunday.
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