August 23, 2007

IAAF Osaka 2007: Top Oromo Athelets

TIRUNESH Dibaba (TI-roo-nesh dee-BAH-bah), Ethiopia (3000/5000m, cross country)

Born 1 June. 1985, Chefe, near Bekoji (hometown of Derartu Tulu), Arsi region, Ethiopia

Lives in Addis Ababa with sister and teammate Ejegayehu.

Manager: Mark Wetmore. Coach: Woldemeskel Kostre, Tolossa Kotu (national), Hussein Shebo (club).

Club: Corrections (Prison Police).

Fourth of six children. Older sister Ejegayehu (b. 1982) is 2004 Olympic silver medalist at 10,000m; younger brother Dejene (b. 1989) shows promise at 800m; younger sister Genzebe (b. 1990) is top regional cross country runner and placed 3rd over 3000m at the 2006 national track championships. Former Olympic champion Derartu Tulu is their cousin.

The Dibaba sisters grew up hearing about their cousin Derartu winning two Olympic gold medals and a World Championship at 10,000m, but their early athletic efforts were most directly inspired by another cousin, Bekelu Dibaba (whom they refer to as their sister), who was a moderately successful international runner and now lives in Belgium. Older sister Ejegayehu began running competitively in 1998; Tirunesh followed a year later.

Tirunesh moved to Addis Ababa in 2000 to live with her sister and cousin Bekelu while finishing high school. She arrived too late for school registration, however, and faced the choice of returning to Bekoji or finding something to do in the big city. With the help of Bekelu, already a member, she joined the Prisons Police Club and began training fulltime. Within a year she qualified for Ethiopia’s 2001 junior World Cross team and, not yet 16, finished a close 5th in the mud in Ostend.

In her first full year of international running, 2002, Tirunesh fell just short of the top spot in several major competitions. She was runner-up to Kenya's Viola Kibiwot in the Junior Women's race at the World Cross in Dublin, to Deena Drossin's world road best in the Carlsbad (California) 5 km, to her teammate Meseret Defar in the 5000m at the World Junior Championships in Jamaica, and to Werknesh Kidane (whom she had beaten at Carlsbad) in the Great Ethiopian Run.

The following year, she broke out of her rut in the most emphatic way, winning the 5000m at the 2003 Paris World Championships. Her victory was called the biggest upset of the competition, and she was indeed the youngest individual winner in the history of the championships. Yet for all her youth, Tirunesh’s performances earlier in 2003 showed that in the right sort of race she could beat much bigger names.
At Ethiopia’s 2003 World Cross trials, for example, she streaked past favored Werknesh to take the title at 4 km. The next month in Lausanne she strode away from Kenya’s Peninah Chepchumba to a clear win in the junior World Cross. In June, she stayed with Werknesh and their countrywoman Berhane Adere until the final half-lap of a 5000m world record attempt in Oslo, Tirunesh setting a World junior record (14:39.94) in the process. And in July she won the Ethiopian title at 5000 over a formidable field.

2004 was a year of mixed results. In early January, she whipped a top class field over the final 200m in Newcastle's Great North Cross Country, defeating cousin Derartu for the first time. There followed two fast indoor races in Boston (5000m) and Birmingham (3000m), in which she set two indoor World junior records (14:53.99 and 8:33.56) and was barely outsprinted by countrywoman Meseret. In the 4 km race at the World Cross in Brussels she had to settle for another 2nd, behind three-time champ Edith Masai of Kenya. And she was runner-up to her former countrywoman, Elvan Abeylegesse, in the Bislett GL 5000 when the now-Turkish runner set a new World record (14:24.68) and Tirunesh notched her second outdoor World junior mark (14:30.88).

That race helped assure her selection for Athens. In the Olympic 5000m final, Tirunesh followed Abeylegesse again as the Turkish woman boldly pushed the pace. When she faded, Kenya’s Isabella Ochichi took the lead, with Meseret and Tirunesh in tow. In the oppressive heat, Tirunesh couldn’t stick with Ochichi, and had to settle for 3rd as Meseret sprinted past the Kenyan with 200m to go. Tirunesh’s bronze made her the youngest ever Ethiopian Olympic medallist. She rounded out 2004 by anchoring an all-star Ethiopian team in yet another triumph at Japan’s Chiba Ekiden road relay.

Two months later she kicked off 2005 with an impressive win in the big Edinburgh international cross country, beating both Australia’s defending long course World cChampion Benita Johnson and sister Ejegayehu. Three weeks after that she smashed the World 5000m indoor record in Boston, her 14:32.93 taking nearly seven seconds off Berhane Adere’s previous mark. Back in Addis Ababa for the Ethiopian World Cross trials, she sprinted past Meselech Melkamu in a thrilling finish to take the 8 km title. Having finished 7th and 2nd in the 4K at her two prior World Cross outings as a senior, Tirunesh was named to both the short and long course teams in 2005 in view of her form, which she declared the best ever.

In France, facing warm conditions and a challenging course, Tirunesh ran with Werknesh behind Kenya’s Ochichi and Alice Timbilil in the long race, and kicked with 400m left to win ahead of Timbilil and Werknesh. The next day, she became the second woman after Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan in 1998 and the third athlete after her compatriot Kenenisa Bekele to take double gold when she left Werknesh and Ochichi in her wake, signalling that 2005 was to be her year.

One week later, Tirunesh won the Carlsbad 5000 where, pushed by Ochichi all the way, she matched Briton Paula Radcliffe’s recognised 5K road world best of 14:51, but she suffered a shock defeat in the May Ethiopian track championships 5000m when World junior Cross Country champion Gelete Burka sprinted past on the last lap. Tirunesh ran a world leading 14:32.42 in hot and humid weather in New York in June and beat former indoor world record holder Berhane and Olympic champion Meseret running 14:32.57 in the Rome GL.

At the Helsinki World Championships, Tirunesh eclipsed her own World Cross double by becoming the first woman to achieve distance double gold. She beat defending champion Berhane in a 58.53 last lap sprint and led her and her own sister Ejegayehu in a sweep of the 10,000m ahead of China’s Olympic champion Xing Huina, before spearheading a historic sweep of the top four places in the 5000m, this time outsprinting Meseret in a 58.19 last 400m, with Ejegayehu taking bronze and Meselech Melkamu fourth.

Suffering from a minor training injury, Tirunesh took second to Meseret at the September World Athletics Final; at the annual Gala she collected the IAAF award for the female Performance of the Year which her Championships efforts had secured. Later that month, Tirunesh was able to win an easy 5000m in Korea.

In January 2006, Tirunesh suffered another defeat at the hands of Gelete as well as Kenya’s Ochichi in the Edinburgh cross country meet following a harrowing overnight journey. A 28 January attempt on her own 5000m world indoor mark gave Tirunesh the second fastest time ever, 14:35.46, which she followed up with a 8:41.22 3000m win in Birmingham in February.

An attempt at a second golden World Cross Country double in Fukuoka being her season’s focus, she was named to both races at the Championships, without having to contest the nationals that serve as trials (at which Gelete Burka took the short course victory and 2004 World Junior Champion Meselech Melkamu the long). Illness cost Tirunesh three days’ training in the week before the Championships, and she suffered from stitches during the long course race in Fukuoka in which the Netherlands’ Lornah Kiplagat took the lead almost from the gun until the bell lap. But Tirunesh remained in contact and kicked ferociously on the final hill, successfully defending her title. The illness and loss of training caught up to her the next day, though, when she dropped out of the short race, and saw Gelete take the gold.

Tirunesh’s outdoor season was dominated by her bid for six Golden League wins and a share of the $1 million jackpot. She took a decisive victory over her sister and Masai in Oslo, winning the 5000m in a personal best 14:30.40 (even as her compatriot Kenenisa lost his first GL race there). But the women’s competition heated up when Meseret, fresh off a 14:28.53 World record run in New York on 3 June, joined the hunt for 5 GL wins and a share of half of the jackpot. Sparks flew in the last laps of each race, and Tirunesh prevailed in Paris (winning the 5000 by .06 seconds, in 14:54.30), Rome (with a more comfortable margin, 14:52.37 to 14:53.51) and Brussels (in 14:30.63, after a furious early pace dictated by Meseret), as well as winning in Zurich (14:45.73) in Meseret’s absence and remaining undefeated in 5 GL outings. Along the way, she also took wins over 3000m ahead of Berhane and Ejegayehu in Gateshead and in London, where her powerful finishing kick took her to an 8:29.55 personal best.

But at the African Championships in Mauritius, Tirunesh, recovering from illness, lost badly to Meseret over 5000m. And then, at the final GL meet in Berlin on 3 September, where Tirunesh was one of four athletes poised to take a share of the larger jackpot by pulling off a 6th win, Meseret’s last lap chase paid off. Her 56.4 bell lap and 15:02.51 finish gave her the edge over Tirunesh’s 56.9 and 15:02.87, depriving Tirunesh of an additional $125,000 a win could have netted her.

The pair battled two more times down the homestretch, at the World Athletics Final 3000m and 5000m. Tirunesh got her revenge over the longer distance on 9 September in a photo finish (16:04.77 to 16:04.78) that at first had Meseret celebrating on the line, but Meseret prevailed the following day, in 8:34.22 to Tirunesh’s 8:34.74.

Now, in the Athens World Cup 3000m, Tirunesh’s closest challenger looks to be Poland’s World Indoor bronze medalist Lidia Chojecka, whose best 2006 time outdoors is 8:36.60, leaving Tirunesh, the “baby-faced destroyer” as she has come to be described, favored to add World Cup champion to her growing list of honours.

Yearly Progression 3000/ 5000: 2002 - 8:41.86/ 14:49.90; 2003 – 8:50.20/ 14:39.94 (WJR); 2004 – 8:33.56i (WJR)/ 14:53.99i (WJR) 14:30.88 (WJR); 2005 – /14:32.93i (WR), 14:32.42; 2006 – 8:41.22i 8:29.55/14:35.46i 14:30.40.

Career Highlights

World Athletics Final 1st 5000m, 2nd 3000m
African Championships 2nd 5000m
World Cross Country Championships 1st 8K

World Championships 1st, 5000m/10,000m
World Cross Country Championships 1st 4K/8K
World Athletics Final 2nd 5000m

Olympic Games 3rd 5000m
World Cross Country Championships 2nd 4K

Afro-Asian Games 2nd 5000m
All-Africa Games 4th 5000m
World Championships 1st 5000m
World Cross Country Championships 1st junior

World Junior Championships 2nd 5000m
World Cross Country Championships 2nd junior

A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name only or first and second name together, the second name being the father's first name. (The grandfather’s first name is sometimes added as a third name, and is optional in much the same way that a Western middle name is frequently omitted.)

Prepared by Sabrina Yohannes, John Manners, and Elshadai Negash for the IAAF "Focus on Athletes" project. © 2003-2006 IAAF.


EJEGAYEHOU Dibaba (eh-jih-gay-YEH-hoo), Ethiopia (5000/10,000/cross country)

Born 21 March 1982, Chefe, near Bekoji (home of Derartu Tulu and Kenenisa Bekele), Arsi Province, Ethiopia

Lives in Addis Ababa with sister Tirunesh Dibaba.

Manager: Mark Wetmore. Coach: Dr. Woldemeskel Kostre. Club: Oromiya Prisons

Third of six children in a running family. Younger sister Tirunesh is reigning 5000m World Champion, 5000m indoor world record holder, and 5000m Olympic bronze medallist. Their cousin Derartu Tulu is a two-time Olympic 10000m champion. Another athletic cousin, Bekelu Dibaba, also inspired Ejegayehou and Tirunesh, and they encourage younger brother Dejene (b. 1989), who shows promise at 800m, and younger sister Genzebe (b. 1990), who is a top regional cross country runner.

As a 10-year old in Bekoji, Ejegayehou watched on TV as her cousin Derartu became the first Black African woman to win Olympic gold. But she continued to concentrate on her studies at the Bekoji elementary school (the same school attended by Derartu) until early in 1998, when a physical education teacher spotted her in one of his classes and urged her to run in the inter-school championships. Though she had hardly trained, she won easily and was selected for the Arsi Province team for the 1998 Oromiya Regional Championships. There she won the 8km junior race and caught the eye of selectors from the Oromiya Prisons Sports Club. She joined the club in May 1998.

By August 1999, she had moved to Addis Ababa to live with cousin Bekelu and continue her schooling, which she had stopped after sixth years, but running quickly took over. Less than a year after moving to Addis, she placed 4th at 10,000m in the Ethiopian Championships and attracted the interest of manager Wetmore. The following year, 2001, she ran cross country in Spain and Portugal and road races in North America, seldom finishing out of the top 5, and she represented Ethiopia at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane (6th at 10,000 in 32:24.20).

2002 saw more North American road races with few distinguished results, but a bronze at 5000m (15:56.02) in the African Championships in Tunisia. In 2003 her running moved up a level. She earned a spot on the Ethiopian World Cross team and finished 9th at 4 km in Lausanne. She then clocked an impressive 31:02.72 in the Palo Alto GP for 2nd behind Werknesh Kidane and took 3rd in the Ethiopian Championships 10,000m, earning another World Championships berth. In Paris, however, her PB 31:01.07 was only good for 9th in the greatest women’s 10,000 ever run (finishers 2 through 16 earned best-ever times for place), and family honors went to little sister Tirunesh, who sprinted to gold in the 5000.

Ejegayehou assuaged her disappointment in the autumn with three gold medals in quick succession: first at the 8th All-African Games in Nigeria, where she won the 10,000m (32:34.54), beating Werkinesh; next at the 1st Afro-Asian Games in India, where she also won the 10,000 (33:01.12), and then in Japan where she was part of Ethiopia’s winning team in the Chiba Ekiden road relay. She and her sister ended the year with a family 1-2 in the Great Ethiopian Run, Tirunesh crossing the line two seconds in front.

Ejegayehou began her 2004 cross country season with two wins in Spain and was named to both the short- and long-course teams for the World Cross in Bussels. She came away with a 2nd in the long race on the first day behind Australia’s Benita Johnson and an exhausted 10th in the short race the second day. Her track season was focused on Athens, but along the way she lowered her PBs at 5000 and 10,000 to such impressive marks (14:32.74 and 30:43.39) that she was initially selected for both events (though as a reserve in the 10,000).

As it turned out, when Berhane Adere was dropped from the squad shortly before the Games, Ejegayehou was drafted into the 10,000m and Meseret Defar took her place in the 5000m. The new lineup worked well for Ethiopia as Meseret won gold in the 5000m (Tirunesh taking bronze), while Ejegayehou recorded a new PB (30:24.98) for silver in the 10,000. She was disappointed not to have won, having shared the lead with her Ethiopian teammates Werknesh and Derartu over the last several laps, but she admits she was caught unawares by the finishing burst of gold medallist Xing Huina of China.

Ejegayehou’ closed out 2004 with a 3rd over 5000m at the IAAF World Athletics Final in Monaco and a share of yet another team title in the Chiba Ekiden.

Her form so far in 2005 has been less than dazzling. In mid-January, she could do no better than 7th in the Edinburgh International cross country, and two weeks later she trailed in 25 seconds behind Tirunesh’s world indoor 5000m record in Boston. But her close, comfortable 3rd in the 4 km at the Ethiopian World Cross trials shows she may be rounding into shape just in time for St. Etienne/St. Galmier.

Yearly Progression 5000/10,000: 2001 – 15:32.31/ 32:24.20; 2002 – 15:56.02/--; 2003 – 14:41.67/ 31:01.07; 2004 – 14:32.74/ 30:24.98; 2005 – 14:58.25i

A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name or first and second name together, the second name being the father’s first name.

Prepared by Elshadai Negash for the IAAF “Focus on Africans” Project © 2005.


MESERET Defar (MEH-seh-ret DEH-fahr), Ethiopia (3000m/5000m/cross country)

Born 19 November 1983, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Lives in Addis Ababa.

Club: Banks. Manager: Mark Wetmore

Father an auto mechanic. Three sisters, two brothers.

Engaged to former Banks club soccer player Teodros Hailu.

Meseret, whose last name means "bold" in Amharic, has been running since primary school, earning several double victories at 3000m and 5000m in Addis Ababa primary and secondary school competitions. In her first race outside Ethiopia, she took silver over 3000m at the 1999 World Youth Championships in Poland (9:02.08). The next year she picked up another silver at 5000m in the African Championships in Algiers (15:49.86) and yet another in the 5000m at the World Juniors in Chile (16:23.69).

Half a dozen races on the Grand Prix circuit in 2001 sharpened her skills, which she demonstrated the following summer with a double gold medal performance at 3000m and 5000m in the 2002 World Junior Championships in Jamaica (9:12.61 / 15:54.94). Over the longer distance, she outkicked the future double World 5000m and 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba, as she would later do in the Athens Olympics.

Meseret emerged at the senior level early in 2003, winning two big races on the US indoor circuit before settling for bronze at 3000m (8:42.58) behind World record holder Berhane Adere at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham. In her second appearance at the highly competitive Carlsbad 5km road race (she was 11th in 2002), she recorded a 40 second PB (15:19) to finish 5th. After picking up a 1st at 3000m and a 2nd (behind Tirunesh) at 5000m in Ethiopia’s 2003 national championships, she recorded five top-4 finishes in major Grand Prix races, including a PB at 5000m (14:40.34) in Rome—leading up to the World Championships in Paris in August.

Unfortunately, she fell ill before the 5000m heats and failed to qualify for the final. But after reaching this low point, she became practically unstoppable. Only partially recovered from her illness by the time of the World Athletics Final in September, she nevertheless recorded a PB 8:38.31 to take 4th in the hotly contested 3000m. The next month she picked up gold medals at 5000m in both the All-Africa and Afro-Asian Games, beating Tirunesh and such other notables as Kenya's three-time World Cross champion Edith Masai.

She then started 2004 with a red hot indoor season, beating Tirunesh and two-time Olympic champion Derartu Tulu in Boston in late January (14:53.14 for 5000m), besting both Tirunesh and Berhane in Birmingham three weeks later (PB 8:33.44 for 3000m), and finally outkicking defending champion Berhane in a tactical 3000m (9:11.22) at the World Indoors in Budapest.

After that, Meseret came off the boil somewhat. She finished a disappointing 3rd (15:23) behind Kenyan Isabella Ochichi’s world road best (14:53) at Carlsbad, and then struggled to secure a place on the Olympic team in two fiercely contested 5000m on the GP circuit—Bislett, where she finished 6th (14:58.79) behind former Ethiopian (now Turk) Elvan Abeylegesse’s World record (14:24.68) and four fellow Ethiopians; and Rome, where she was 3rd (14:44.81) behind Ethiopians Ejegayehu Dibaba and Werknesh Kidane, but ahead of Tirunesh and Edith Masai.

She had won the 3000m in the Ethiopian national championships, but her 5000m time was the season’s fourth-fastest among Ethiopian Olympic 5000m team hopefuls, and she was named the reserve member. Then in mid-August a controversial shakeup in the distance ranks dropped Berhane, placing Ejegayehu on the 10,000m team and making Meseret a confirmed member of the 5000m squad.

The move turned out well for the selectors. Perfectly healthy this time, Meseret qualified effortlessly for the final and then followed the pace set first by Abeylegesse and then Ochichi. With half a lap to go, Meseret cut loose with what might be described as the female equivalent of Haile Gebrselassie’s sprint of old, and Ochichi was left to defend her silver medal. With Olympic gold (14:45.65) in her pocket and still at the peak of fitness, Meseret won the World Athletics Final 3000m (8:36.46).

In 2005, she attacked Berhane’s three-year-old 8:29.15 World indoor 3000m record in Boston, but was blocked by lapped runners and missed it by under a second, running 8:30.05, the second-fastest ever. Another attempt in Birmingham was unsuccessful (8:33.05), and Meseret ended the season with a rare cross country appearance in Fukuoka, where her win led her to consider contesting the World Cross Country Championships there in 2006.

Outdoors in 2005, Meseret’s fiercest competitors were her compatriots, the year’s double World Cross Country champion Tirunesh Dibaba, Berhane, and World Junior Cross Country champion Gelete Burka, who defeated Meseret over 3000m at the Addis Ababa track championships. Meseret took 3000m wins in Doha (8:39.75), where she beat Berhane and Gelete, and New York (8:33.57); but over 5000m, her personal best 14:32.90 was only good enough for third behind Tirunesh and Berhane in the Rome Golden Gala meet.

In the 5000 at the Helsinki World Championships, she followed the pace set by Tirunesh (fresh from her 10,000m gold medal performance) and China’s distance duo Xing Huina and Sun Yingjie. But when Tirunesh took off at the bell, Meseret was unable to match her acceleration. Tirunesh (14:38.59, Ch record) became the first women’s distance doubler in World Championships history, and Meseret settled for silver in 14:39.54, as Ethiopians made an historic sweep of the top four places. Meseret felt she was in shape to have done better however, and she avenged her defeat with a series of strong wins. She outsprinted Berhane in an African record 14:28.98 for 5000m in the Brussels Golden League meet; scored a double victory of her own at the World Athletics Final in Monaco, ahead of Tirunesh and Berhane in the 5000m (14:45.87), and ahead of Gelete over 3000m (8:47.26) a day later. She closed her season with a 5000m victory (14:58.79) at the Shanghai grand prix in October.

Meseret went after the World indoor 3000m record again in 2006 and again narrowly missed it, running 8:30.94 in Boston (after mistakenly thinking she was ahead of the required pace mid-race) and then 8:30.72 in Stuttgart. Her near-record runs of the last two seasons were outdone, however, when Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova and Olesya Syreva ran 8:27.86 and 8:29.00 at the Russian championships on 17 February, slashing the record and clearly identifying Meseret’s challengers in her defense of her World Indoor 3000m crown in Moscow. But she was obviously unintimidated, executing her Moscow race perfectly. She remained in 3rd position behind the Russian pair until moving up to 2nd with about five laps left. With two to go, she took the lead, dropping the Russians with her sustained kick and final 200m of 27.46, and crossing the line in 8:38.80 more than three seconds clear, a two-time World champion.

Meseret enjoyed her experience in Fukuoka last year, when she won the international cross country, and she contemplated contesting the 2006 World Cross there, but she was not selected to the team and instead attacked the unofficial world 5K road best in Carlsbad, and succeeded in slashing 5 seconds off the 14:51 mark held jointly by Paula Radcliffe and Tirunesh. Then in May, after taking an easy 5000m win at the nationals ahead of double World Cross Country bronze medalist Meselech Melkamu, Ejegayehu and others, Meseret attacked Abeylegesse’s 14:24.68 World 5000m track record in Hengelo, but met with strong winds and ran a world leading 14:35.37. On 3 June, however, she succeeded in New York, running a 61-second last lap to clock 14:24.53 for her first world record.

She then set her sights on winning 5 Golden League races over 3000m/5000m for a share of the $500,000 jackpot on offer, setting up a thrilling season of duels with Tirunesh, who had won the first GL meet in Oslo in Meseret’s absence. A series of last lap sprint battles resulted in 2nd place for Meseret in Paris (14:54.30 to Tirunesh’s 14:54.24), Rome and Brussels behind a Tirunesh well on her way to a share of the $1 million jackpot to be shared among 5- and 6-time GL winners. Meseret took other honours in the form of a national record personal best 8:24.66 for 3000m in Stockholm, where the new stadium record earned her a diamond; and a win (in 15:56.00 to Tirunesh’s 15:56.04) at the African Championships in August, booking her berth to the World Cup. Then, as Tirunesh headed for the finish and her GL prize in Berlin, Meseret fought her over the last 250m, winning in 15:02.51 to Tirunesh’s 15:02.87, and denying Tirunesh $125,000 in additional prize money she could have earned as a 6-time GL champion.

Tirunesh avenged the defeat in the equally fiercely battled World Athletics Final 5000m and photo finish (16:04.77 to 16:04.76) in Stuttgart on 9 September, but Meseret had the last word in the 3000m the next day, kicking after the bell and holding Tirunesh off, finishing in 8:34.22 to her rival’s 8:34.74.

With no Tirunesh to challenge her when she serves as Africa’s sole representative in the Athens 5000m, Meseret enters the 16-17 September IAAF World Cup the clear favourite to win.

Yearly Progression 3000/5000: 1999 - 9:02.08/ -; 2000 - 8:59.90/15:08.36; 2001 - 8:52.47/15:08.65; 2002 - 8:40.28/15:26.45; 2003 - 8:38.31/14:40.34; 2004 - 8:33.44i/14:44.81; 2005 – 8:30.05i/14:28.98 (AR); 2006 – 8:24.66/ 14:24.53 (WR).

Career Highlights

World Athletics Final 1st 3000m; 2nd 5000m
African Championships 1st 5000m
World Indoor Championships 1st 3000m

World Athletics Final 1st 3000m/5000m
World Championships 2nd 5000m

World Athletics Final 1st 3000m
Olympic Games 1st 5000m
World Indoor Championships 3rd 3000m

All-Africa Games 1st 5000m
Afro-Asian Games 1st 5000m

World Junior Championships 1st 3000m/5000m

World Junior Championships 2nd 5000m
African Championships 2nd 5000m

World Youth Championships 2nd 3000m

A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name only or first and second name together, the second name being the father's first name.
(The grandfather’s first name is sometimes added as a third name, and is optional in much the same way that a Western middle name is frequently omitted.)

Prepared by Sabrina Yohannes and John Manners for the IAAF. © IAAF 2006.


Elfenesh Alemu (ELF-nesh ah-LEH-moo), Ethiopia (marathon)

Born 10 June 1975, Lemo Arya, Arsi Region, Ethiopia.

Married to Gezahegne Abera, winner of the 2000 Olympic, 2001 World Championships and 2003 London marathons. Lives in Addis Ababa

Coach: Yilma Berta, national marathon coach

Manager: Mark Wetmore

One of 11 children, five boys, six girls. Parents farmers. Younger sister Asnakech a former runner, married to three-time World Championship 10,000m finalist Habte Jifar (younger brother of 2001 New York City Marathon champion Tesfaye Jifar).

Elfenesh Alemu was born in the rural Arsi highlands not far from the town of Bekoji, which Olympic Champions Derartu Tulu, Fatuma Roba and Kenenisa Bekele, and World Champion Tirunesh Dibaba all name as their home town.

Elfenesh enjoyed sports in school and was encouraged by instructors to pursue distance running, which she did along with younger sister Asnakech. A few months after taking up the sport in 1993, both girls placed near the top in an Addis Ababa cross country race. Asnakech later abandoned running after marrying 27:06:45 10,000m runner Habte Jifar, and becoming a mother of two.

Elfenesh, however, is determined to combine marriage and running, after tying the knot in June 2003 with Gezahegne Abera in a massive Addis Ababa ceremony. The spectacular wedding, attended by some 25,000 people including President Girma Wolde-Giorgis, took place in the city stadium, where the bridal party included Derartu, Fatuma and Haile Gebrselassie. Elfenesh and her husband train together often and she hopes to emulate him by winning an Olympic marathon.

After running her first 26-miler in Ethiopia (2:57:32 at altitude) in 1993, Elfenesh became a prolific marathoner, and has run more than 25 to date, placing in the top six at least 21 times. She ran four marathons a year from 1997, when she earned her first major victory in Amsterdam (2:37:36), to 1999, when she placed 5th at the Seville World Championships (2:28:52).

In 2000, she clocked her first two (of six to date) sub-2:25 races, both in Japan, finishing 4th in Osaka (2:24:47) and winning Nagano (2:24:55), before placing 6th in the Sydney Olympics (2:26:54). The following year, she ran a PB 2:24:29 to place 5th in London and was 2nd behind Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba in Chicago (2:24:55).

Elfenesh was 3rd in Boston in 2002 (2:26:01) behind Kenyans Margaret Okayo and Ndereba. She discovered soon after that race that she had a bone abnormality near her left knee that had troubled her during the race, and continued to do so through the 2003 Paris World Championships, where she placed 6th (2:26:29).

After Paris, she had the problem surgically corrected, and it seems to have made quite a difference. In November she won the 2003 Tokyo Women’s Marathon (2:24:47) over Japan’s Olympic champion and former world record holder Naoko Takahashi. She next destroyed the Bermuda Half-Marathon course record in wet and windy weather (1:10:57), and clocked the fastest time (31:31) for her 10 km stage of the Yokohama ekiden, contributing to the Ethiopian team victory. All of which led up to a dramatic duel with Ndereba in warm and humid Boston in April, Ndereba winning by 16 seconds (2:24.27 to 2:24.43) and collapsing at the finish, and Elfenesh looking far fresher, and perhaps readier for Athens.

Yearly progression: 1993 – 2:57:32; 1994 – 3:08:05; 1995 – 2:40:04; 1996 – 2:36:29; 1997 – 2:37:37; 1998 – 2:30:19; 1999 – 2:28:52; 2000 – 2:24:47; 2001 – 2:24:29; 2002 – 2:26:01; 2003 – 2:24:47; 2004 – 2:24:43.

Note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name alone, or first and second name together, the second name being the father's first name.

Biography prepared by Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2004.


GELETE Burka (geh-leh-tay boor-kah), Ethiopia (1500m/3000m/5000m/cross)
a.k.a. Gelete Burka Bati

Born: 15 February 1986, Kofele, Arsi, Ethiopia.

Lives in Addis Ababa.

Manager: Jos Hermens Coach: Dr. Woldemeskel Kostre, Tolossa Kotu

Club: Corrections Police

Last year’s World Junior champion is now a senior, and she comes to Fukuoka as Ethiopia’s 2006 national 4K champion.

Gelete Burka (whose second name is sometimes misspelled ‘Burika’) began running in school in her native Kefele, and beginning in late 2001, blazed her way through a series of local and regional victories. She won the 3000m and 5000m in a Kofele schools competition and represented Kofele in the Arsi zone competition, where she again took two titles, this time over 1500m and 3000m. Represented Arsi in the Oromia region competition, she won the 3000m , and won again representing Oromia in an inter-region competition in Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia. “I fell in love with running then!” said Gelete, whose first name means “praise” in her mother tongue of Oromifa.

Going into the 2002/2003 cross country season, she began training with the Arsi team coach and again proved unstoppable, winning the junior race to represent Arsi in the Oromia competition, and then to represent Oromia in Addis Ababa. In her first race at a top national level, she placed 4th to book passage to the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne.

Gelete first drew international attention with her bronze medal performance in Lausanne. She then virtually disappeared from the international circuit until mid-2004 when she won the 800m at the Ethiopian Championships, beating, among others, world indoor 1500m champion Kutre Dulecha and 2004 World Cross junior bronze medallist Mestawot Tadesse. Sadly Gelete missed qualifying for the 1500m in the Athens Olympics by just 0.2 seconds.

A few 2004 Grand Prix races sharpened her tactical skills for the 2004/2005 cross country season, in which she fared well, winning the Brussels Cross Country International, beating compatriots Meselech Melkamu and Merima Denboba. She then put on an impressive display of front-running to win the junior race at the Ethiopian World Cross trials. At the World Championships in France, facing a strong Kenyan challenge without much support from her teammates, Gelete surged midway through the race followed only by Kenya’s Veronica Nyaruai, whom she beat by 27 seconds to bring Ethiopia its third straight junior women’s title, following those of Tirunesh Dibaba (Lausanne, 2003) and Meselech (Brussels, 2004).

On the track back in Ethiopia, Gelete shook the senior ranks, beating Olympic 5000m champion Meseret Defar over 3000m at the Addis Ababa municipal championships, and a week later completing a spectacular triple gold medal performance at the Ethiopian National Championships. She successfully defended her 1500m title ahead of Mestawot, and then charged past indoor world record-holder Tirunesh and 2003 World 10,000m silver medallist Werknesh Kidane in the bell lap of the 5000m, winning in 15:39.2 to better Gete Wami’s 15:44.63 stadium record. Gelete then anchored her Corrections police club’s 4x400 relay team to collect her third gold of the week.

Less than a week later, Gelete ran an 8:39.90 national junior record for 3000m in Doha, finishing third behind Meseret and Berhane Adere, and two weeks after that she won the Hengelo 1500m in 4:04.97. In July, she ran a personal best 14:51.47 at the Rome Golden Gala 5000m. Selected for the 1500 at the Helsinki World Championships, Gelete comfortably made the final but found herself boxed late in the race and finished 8th in 4:04.77. However, in a fast 1500m in Rieti on 28 August that was won in 3:56.79 by Ethiopian-born Bahraini Maryam Yusuf Jamal (also a casualty of the Russian team in Helsinki), Gelete ran a new personal best of 3:59.60 finishing 5th. At the World Athletic Final, Gelete placed 2nd in the 3000m (8:48.65) behind Meseret.

Gelete kicked off the 2005/2006 cross country season in December with a 15 second victory over France’s World 1500m bronze medallist Bouchra Benthami-Ghezielle, and took bigger scalps in Edinburgh in January, beating Tirunesh and Kenya’s Isabella Ochichi. At the National Cross Country Championships in Addis Ababa in February, Gelete won the 4K comfortably over national 8K champion Meselech and Bezunesh Bekele in the absence of double defending World Champion Tirunesh, whom Gelete will challenge in Fukuoka.

Personal bests: 1500m - 3:59.60 Rieti 2005; 3000m – 8:39.90 Doha 2005; 5000m – 14:51.47 Rome 2005.

A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name or first and second name together, the second name being the father’s first name.

Prepared by Elshadai Negash and Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF. © 2005-2006 IAAF.


Maryam Yusuf Jamal (Zenebech Tola), Bahrain (800 – 1500 – 3000 - 5000 m)

Born Zenebech Tola Kotu, 16 September 1984, Arsi province (Ethiopia)

Coach: Jean-François Pahud and Tareq Sabt Hasan (assistant)

It is no wonder that Zenebech Tola took to running at an early age : she was born in the same village as Haile Gebrselassie, her idol. "Like all boys and girls from Arsi, I wanted to emulate him. She developed her endurance qualities, walking daily to go to school. "With a few other children from the village we used to walk 16km everyday. Sometimes we had to run when we were late". Born in a family with five children (two older brothers and two younger), she was the only one to get attracted by athletics. She started at 15, for a school Trials held in her village. She competed in the 100m, 200m, and 400m, but was a distant finisher. A week later, she clinched her selection…in the high jump, when she cleared 1.45m. She then improved her mark by 8cm, placing 2nd at the inter-school meet.

Only a year later (2000) did she venture in middle-distance when she registered in Muger Club (Kenenisa Bekele is also a member) in Addis-Abeba. Her progress was monitored for a year by former champion turned coach Tolossa Kotu. He registered her for her first cross as a junior (6km) at the 2001 World Trials. She finished 9th, missing a place in the 6 available squad slots.

She overcame her disappointment with a third place in the 1500m (4:24) the following summer at the national junior championships. A result that drew the attention of a Switzerland-based manager, who invited her in his country to take part in a few races. She competed in a few road races, mountain races and three half-marathon, winning most of them.

For personal reasons, Zenebech (an Oromo) decided not to return to Ethiopia, fearing that she might not be allowed to travel abroad again. Feeling comfortable in her adoptive country, she filed for political asylum in May 2002. She then settled in Lausanne and joined the "Stade Lausanne Athlétisme" club. She also started to learn French to facilitate her integration.

By that time, she was convinced that she had no future on the track and didn't want to heart about it. Her partner Mnashu Taye, also an asylum seeker from Ethiopia (who became a Bahraini citizen at the same time as Zenebech and now called Tareq Sabt Hasan) eventually managed to convince her to compete in the 3000m in the 6-Cantons match organised in Lausanne in 2003. She took the victory with a modest time (9:29.13). Persuaded that she could do better, she had another try on the distance at the international Lausanne meet, Athletissima, where she finished a last 16th in 9:27.91. In September, she took part in a 1500m at a meet in Fribourg and won in 4:18.22.

In 2004, she ventured on 5000m at the national inter-club championships and won in 15:19.45. After clearing the 1500m Olympic standards at Luzern international meet (4:07.38), she asked the Ethiopian federation to include her in the team for Athens, with the support of the IOC. The negative answer prompted Zenebech to seek for Swiss citizenship. Her request was denied by the Swiss federal authorities, as the citizenship can't be granted before 12 years of residence in the country, whether being a sportsman or not. This disillusion didn't prevent her to record a great performance on August 6th 2004 at Zurich Weltklasse, where she finished second of the 3000m (8:40.32). As her refugee status prevented her to compete outside Switzerland, Zenebech still kept running a maximum of road races throughout the country to make a living and achieved, amongst other results 1:11:43 for the half-marathon in Zurich in 2004.

In 2005, with the help of Jacky Delapierre, director of Athletissima, the couple was looking for a solution which would allow Zenebech to run in international competitions. The kingdom of Bahrain proposed her to change citizenship. This is how Zenebech Tola became Maryam Yusuf Jamal in January 2005.

Two months later, she took part in the short race of the World Cross Country Championships in Saint-Etienne/Saint-Galmier, where she struggled to cross the finish line in 33rd place, being ill-prepared for that event. The track season was far better, with several world class times in a short span: 14:51.68 for the 5000m in Hengelo on May 29th, 1:59.69 in a solo run in Geneva on June 11th and a winning 3:59.13 in the 1500m in Athens on June 14th.

Her times show a wide range of endurance qualities and recovery abilities in this athlete who eventually decided to focus on the 1500m at the Helsinki world championships. An easy winner in her heat, Maryam was tipped as a favourite for the final. However she couldn't do better than 5th due to a severe jostling - with 250m to go - in which she was spiked twice under the right foot. She took her revenge with a victory at the IAAF World athletics final in Monaco and with a season's world best in Rieti on August 28th (3:56.79).

After her first international season on the tracks, her resume is impressive with 22 wins out of 26 races. She was ranked 19th in the top lists for the 800m, 19th in the 5000m (though she only had one attempt at the distance) and recorded world bests in the 1500m and 3000m.

Despite being a Bahrain representative, Maryam trains mostly in the Chalet-à-Gobet woods in Lausanne (altitude: 850-900m). Outside training, she enjoys watching football matches on TV, especially when Arsenal is playing . She likes Italian food and cheese fondue.

In the beginning of the year, she spent a month training in Potchefstroom (South Africa). On her return she won the 1500m in the indoor Valencia meet (4:01.82) without any specific training.

In Moscow, she clinched her first World Championships medal when placing third at 1500m during the Indoor Worlds. Just a few weeks later, she raced at the World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, but without sufficient training, she finished in a distant 37th.

Back to training in Europe, she focused mainly on the Golden League meetings at 1500m, but also raced at 800m in Athens and Zurich to improve her speed. Returning from an altitude training camp in Saint-Moritz (SWI) she won her first outdoor Grand Prix 1500m race in Stockholm, a month before bettering her personal best of 3:56.18 in Rieti, on a track she loves, having already set her previous best there in 2005.

The Bahraini then went on to confirm her great form with a clear victory at the IAAF World Athletics Final in Stuttgart dominating her Russian competitors in the last lap.

After the World Cup in Athens, she will prepare for her main goal of this season: the Asian Games that are to take place in Doha (Qatar) in December.

2003 800m: 2:07:59; 1500m: 4:18:22; 3000m: 9:27:91
2004 800m: 2:02:18; 1500m: 4:07:38; 3000m: 8:40:32; 5000m : 15:19:45
2005 800m : 1 :59.69; 1500m: 3 :56.79; 3000m: 8 :28.87; 5000m: 14 :51.68

Personal Bests
800 m 1:59:04 Athens 03.07.06
1500 m 3:56:18 Rieti 27.08.06
3000 m 08:28:87 Oslo 29.07.05
5000 m 14:51:68 Hengelo 29.05.05
5 km 15:24:8 Bern 13.06.04
10 km 32:29:8 Thun 05.09.04
15 km 49.52 Kerzers 20.03.04
10 mile 56:10 Bern 10.05.03
1/2 marathon 1:11:42 Uster 18.09.04

Career highlights

2006 1st World Athletics Final, Stuttgart
2006 3rd 1500m, World Indoor Championships, Moscow
2005 5th 1500m, World Championships, Helsinki
2005 1st 800m, 1500m, 5000m pan Arab Games, tunis

Prepared by Pierre-André Pasche for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. © IAAF 2006



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