The Magazine of Ethiopian Airlines
Feature

Going the Distance

Spotlighting the elite runners currently leading Ethiopia’s pack.

Ethiopia’s distance-running prowess traces its official roots back to 1960, when a shepherd’s son named Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Olympic marathon — with bare feet, no less. His astounding victory not only marked the first-ever Olympic gold medal for a sub-Saharan African, but it also seemed to fire the starting pistol for Ethiopia’s national obsession over the sport of long-distance running. 

From there, Abebe went on to defend his marathon title at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, smashing his own Olympic record while also becoming the first athlete in the world to garner back-to-back Olympic marathon victories. Ethiopia’s reputation as a producing grounds for running greatness was sealed.

Countless athletes have since followed in Abebe’s shoes, so to speak, and become household names both across Ethiopia and the wider world. Runners like Haile Gebrselassie, Tirunesh Dibaba, Kenenisa Bekele and Derartu Tulu have all taken their places time and again on the world’s top running podiums, gaining incredible amounts of acclaim for both themselves and their country. And more and more young Ethiopians stand at the ready to give a chance at running fame their best shot. 

Indeed, over the past three Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London, Ethiopian distance runners (namely, those running in the 5,000-meter, 10,000-m and marathon races) took home a total of 20 medals, nine of them golds. (For comparison’s sake, Kenya — the country’s main competitor in long-distance events — won 15 medals but only one gold during the same stretch.)

Much time and attention has been given to studying Ethiopia’s distance-running dominance over the years, in hopes of pinpointing some key factor that can account for continued success. But whether it’s due to the high altitude Ethiopian athletes are used to, a basis of physical strength they’ve gained from a lifestyle of working the land, the plethora of role models available to look up to — what have you — only one thing is for certain: Ethiopia’s distance-running legacy is here to stay. In the next few pages, we introduce you to only a handful of the country’s current top runners, many of whom we expect to see hitting the pavement in Rio de Janeiro this summer — and carrying the torch for a new generation of running heroes.





Almaz Ayana

Almaz reigns as the current world champion in the 5,000-m race, having won the 2015 World Championships in Beijing with a course-record-setting time of 14:26.83.

Distances

3,000 m
5,000 m

Born

Nov. 21, 1991

Coach

Soresa Fida




Genzebe Dibaba

The Dibabas come from an especially athletic family, which includes older sister Ejegayehu (the 2004 Olympic 10,000-m silver medalist) and cousin Derartu Tulu (two-time Olympic 10,000-m champion). Their younger brother, Dejene, is also a promising 800-m runner.

Tirunesh (nicknamed the “Baby-Faced Destroyer”) currently reigns as the World and Olympic 10,000-m champion. She holds three Olympic golds and five World Championship golds, and is known for her signature sprint finish.

Genzebe currently holds the world record for the 1,500 m (both indoor and outdoor), the indoor 3,000 m, the indoor 5,000 m, the indoor mile, and the indoor two mile. Over the course of 2015 alone, she set two of those world records; captured gold and bronze medals at the International Association of Athletics Federation’s World Championships; and received the honorary title of the IAAF 2015 “World Athlete of the Year.”

MAXISPORT / SHUTTERSTOCK

Distances

1,500 m
3,000 m
5,000 m

Born
Feb. 8, 1991 in Chefe, near Bekoji in Ethiopia’s Arsi region

Coach
Jama Aden (personal); Yilma Berta, Hussein Shibo (national team)


Personal Bests

Outdoor

1,500 m: 3:50:07 (World Record)

3,000 m: 8:26.21

5,000 m: 14:15.41

Indoor

1,500 m: 3:55.17 (World Record)

3,000 m: 8:16.60 (World Record)

5,000 m: 14:18.86 (World Record)

Mile: 4:13.31 (World Record)

2-mile: 9:00.48 (World Record)





Tirunesh Dibaba

Distances

5,000 m
10,000 m
Cross Country

Born
June 1, 1985 in Chefe, near Bekoji in Ethiopia’s Arsi region

Coach

Hussein Shibo (club)


Personal Bests

5,000m: 14:11.15 (World Record)

10,000 m: 29:54.66 (3rd fastest of all-time)

Marathon: 2:20:35 (2nd fastest debut of all-time)





Muktar Edris

MAXISPORT / SHUTTERSTOCK

Distances

3,000 m
5,000 m
10,000 m

Born

Jan. 14, 1994


Personal Bests

3,000 m: 7:47.99
5,000 m: 12:54.83
10,000 m: 27:17.18





Mare Dibaba

Though of no relation to Tirunesh or Genzebe, Mare is a force to reckon with in the long-distance world. Currently, she bears the title of reigning world champion in the marathon, having won the 2015 World Championships in Athletics in Beijing with a time of 2:27:35. That same year, she also took first place at the Xiamen Marathon in China with a time of 2:19:52 and second in Boston with 2:24:59.


Distances

Marathon

Born
Oct. 20, 1989 in Ethiopia’s Oromia region

Coach

Haji Adillo





Yomif Kejelcha

Distances

3,000 m
5,000 m

Born

Aug. 1, 1997


Personal Bests

2,000 m: 4:57.74i

3,000 m: 7:36.28

5,000 m: 12:53.98





Senbere Teferi

Distances

1,500 m
Cross Country

Born

May 3, 1995





Hiwot Ayalew

Distances3,000 m

5,000 m

Born
March 6, 1990 in Sekela Destrict, near Gish Abay in Ethiopia’s Amhara region





Mohammed Aman

Though Ethiopia may be best known for its long-distance runners, Mohammed Aman is doing his best to stake a claim for his country in the 800-m race. In 2012, he became the first Ethiopian to win a gold medal for a middle distance at a global athletics championship, namely the IAAF World Indoor Championships. A year and a half later, in August 2013, he also became Ethiopia’s first World Outdoor champion in the 800-m race. His current best time of 1:42.37 places him among the world’s top-10 male 800-m runners of all time.

Distances

800 m

Born
Jan. 10, 1994 in Assela, Arsi, in Ethiopia’s Oromia region

Coach

Negusse Gechamo


Personal Bests

800 m: 1:42.37

1,500 m: 3:43.52

Mile: 3:57.14