Ethiopian Business Review

“We could see her do something special in anything from 1,500m to 10,000m, but certainly in the 5,000m,” the legendary British athlete Paula Radcliff, commented on BBC sport, about Genzebe Dibaba, after she broke three world records within 15 days, last February.

Her victory also has been getting buzz in the international media and has been a discussion point in the local press. It inspired Ethiopian Athletics which has been a little bit quiet lately. 

Ethiopia is the land of accomplished world class athletes, from the legendary Abebe Bikila, who conquered Rome barefoot to Haile Gebresillasie dubbed as the ‘man from another planet’. Derartu Tulu, Kenenisa Bekele, Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba are some of the finest athletes the world has ever seen. The youngest sister of Tirunesh Dibaba and the cousin of Derartu Tulu, a.k.a. the smiling killer, Genzebe Dibaba is the new hope for Ethiopian athletics.

On February 1, 2014, in Karlsruhe, Germany, Genzebe Dibaba ran the 1,500m indoor event in 3:55.17 beating the previous indoor world record by over three seconds. Five days later, she improved the world indoor record in the 3,000 metres to 8:16.60 at the XL Galan meet in Stockholm, Sweden. In this race, she improved her own personal record by over thirty seconds, and the world record by almost seven seconds. Even though it was set on a shorter track indoors, her time was the fourth fastest ever in the distance.

In the middle of the month, just 15 days after her first world record breaking victory, Genzebe was able to break her third world record of the indoor two-mile at the Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix.She ran the race nine minutes and 0.48 seconds and shattered Meseret Defar’s previous record by six seconds.

Medal Record Representing Ethiopia
Event 1st 2nd 3rd
World Indoor
- 1 -
World Cross Country
- 2 -
World Junior
- 1 1
Total - 4 1
World Indoor Championships
Gold 2012 Istanbul 1,500m
World Junior Championships
Gold 2010 Moncton 5,000m
Silver 2008 Bydgoszcz 5,000m
World Cross Country Championships
Gold 2008 Edinburgh Junior race
Gold 2009 Amman Junior race
World Indoor Championships
Gold 2014 Sopot 3,000m

“In the middle of the race I felt a bit weak and tired,” Genzebe told journalists, “but with the help of the crowd and all the buzzing I was able to gain momentum and get the record. “ Radcliff who was commenting on the races for the BBC said “It was an outstanding run by Genzebe Dibaba and a world best achieved almost totally on her own. She definitely did tire but you’d expect that at the pace she was running.” And the legendary British athlete who ran and won from middle distances to Marathons added about Genzebe’s future saying “It all bodes well for the outdoor season, we just need to see what distance she comes out and races over, she will be special.” 

With these records Genzebe is now one of only three athletes in history to break three world records in three different events in two weeks, joining the American Jesse Owens and Jamaican thunder Usain Bolt. She stands alone as the only one to do this feat in three different cities and meets, and in all individual events under fully automatic time (FAT).

She is only 23 years old but acquired international experience by winning two junior world cross country titles and one world junior 5,000m gold medal. She has also competed twice at the World Championships in Athletics in 2009 and 2011.

After winning the 5,000m at the Ethiopian Athletics Championships, she was included in the Ethiopian squad for the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Championships. In Berlin she replaced Tirunesh, who withdrew due to injury, on Ethiopia’s 5,000m team. Genzebe ran an excellent heat, finishing fourth and qualifying for the final where, in her first major senior championship race, she finished in an impressive eighth position. She also won the 5,000m gold at the 2009 African Junior Athletics Championships.

IAAF on its website posted under a title “Dibaba and Aman carry Ethiopia’s hopes in Sopot – IAAF world indoor championships the outstanding gold medal favorite – not just for the Ethiopian team, but arguably of the whole championships – is Genzebe Dibaba”. 

Both Paula and the IAAF were right. Last week Genzebe Dibaba and Muhammad Aman won the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championship held in Sopot, Poland. Genzebe won the 3,000m race finishing over two seconds ahead of the defending Champion Hellen Onsand Obiri of Kenya. “I moved up with about eight laps to go but I couldn’t shake off them, I had to increase the pace with 800m to go, that was what we had discussed with my coach before the race,” she told reporters after her fourth victory in less than two months. 

Genzebe is content with what she achieved in the championship. “This year I have added the 3,000m World Champions gold to three world records and it has been a great year for me,” she said. She also heeds what her sister tells her to do. “My sister Tirunesh wanted me to focus on the gold and not the time. I know they will be very happy; I have done what they hoped and expected,” she told the international media. 

The reigning world indoor 1500m champion has been incredible this year, setting world indoor records in each of her three outings. But her energy and stamina doesn’t seem to be a temporary flash, we are likely to be hearing from her for a long time. Ethiopian athletes don’t have a history of shining for a season and fading away, they dominate the race they are good at for consecutive years, and Genzebe seems to have it all and is determined to do just that.

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