Journey to the Throne

Gudaf Tsegay, Tigist Assefa’s BID for World Athlete of the Year Title

Tigist Assefa, who won the 2023 Berlin Marathon in a stunning finish, is the distance record holder. She is nominated for World Female Athlete of the Year accolade. Similarly, 5000-meter World Record holder and reigning 10000-meter World Champion Gudaf Tsegay competes for the same title. The World will know the winner on December 11 in a colourful event in Monaco. Meseret Defar in 2007, Genezebe Dibaba in 2015, and Almaz Ayana in 2016 are previous female award winners of this prestigious title from Ethiopia. Haile Gebresillase (1998) and Kenenis Bekele (2004, 2005) have accomplished this feat in the male category. Tigist or Gudaf, who have raised the profile of Ethiopian athletes on the world stage, will be hoping to join this exclusive club. EBR’s Dr. Brook Genene closely examines how these two athletes reached this point.

Tigist Assefa and Gudaf Tsegay, two of Ethiopia’s most successful runners, have been nominated for the 2023 World Athletics Women’s Athlete of the Year award. The award will be given to the female athlete who has achieved the most outstanding results in track and field over the past year on December 11 in Monaco.

Tigist, a 26-year-old marathon runner, made history in September 2023 when she won the Berlin Marathon in a world record time of 2:11:53. Her performance was remarkable, considering that she had only run three marathons before Berlin.

Tigist began her running career as an 800-meter specialist. She had a promising early career, winning a bronze medal in the 800 meters at the 2016 World Junior Championships in Poland. However, she was forced to switch to the marathon in 2021 after suffering several injuries.

Her transition to the marathon took much work. She struggled to finish her first two marathons, but she persevered. Her hard work paid off in Berlin, where she shattered the world record. Shen finished in 2:11:53, improving on the previous world record by more than 2 minutes.

Gudaf Tsegaye, a 25-year-old middle-distance runner, also had a stellar year in 2023. She won the gold medal in the 10,000 meters at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, and she also set a world record in the 5,000 meters with a time of 14:00.21, winning the Diamond League finals at Eugene, Oregon.

Gudaf’s victory in the 10,000 meters was awe-inspiring. She defeated a field that included some of the best distance runners in the world, including Sifan Hassan, who stumbled in the race, and the 2022 10,000 world champion — Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey.

Gudaf’s world record in the 5,000 meters was even more remarkable. She broke the previous record by five seconds, a significant margin in distance running. She was only 21 microseconds away from being the first woman to finish the race in below 14 minutes. Her performance was spectacular and garnered a massive accolade from stadium spectators and commentators reporting the race live.

Tigist and Gudaf are first-time World Athlete of the Year nominees. They will face stiff competition from Kenyan Faith Kipyegon, the reigning world champion in 1,500 and 5,000 meters. However, their accomplishments in 2023 make them worthy contenders for the award.

These athletes are both role models for Ethiopian youth. They have shown that it is possible to achieve great things, even if they come from a humble background.

Tigist’s victory in the Berlin Marathon was particularly inspiring for young Ethiopian girls. She showed that Ethiopian women can succeed in the marathon, a traditionally male-dominated sport in Ethiopia.

Tigist’s historic marathon triumph was a joyous moment for her and the entire Ethiopian public. How she reached that point makes her story even more impressive and inspiring.

Tigist used to be an 800-meter specialist. As a 17-year-old Tigist ran a personal best of 1:59.24 at the Lausanne Diamond League, coming in under the 2-minute mark. She succeeded in this race until something unexpected happened. Following her participation in the 800 meters in 2016, an injury to her Achilles tendon prevented her from running in spikes, the shoes used in track races.

“She kept trying to participate in 800 meters and even took part in a half marathon, but she was unable to finish the races,” her coach, Gemedu Dedefo, told EBR. Her doctors informed her that another ligament proximal to her leg was injured, according to her coach, and she encountered a hard time recovering from this setback.

Tigist managed to find her feet in the marathon races after the dark times. She has run three marathon races and looks forward to participating in the London marathon. She also eyes the Paris Olympics. Her participation in the London Marathon is yet to be confirmed as discussions with the organizers are ongoing. Tigist will be looking forward to the Paris Olympics, but “it all depends on the Ethiopian Athletics Federation who will be responsible for selecting the athletes for the competition,” said Gemdedu.

There has been much discussion about the shoes Tigist wore during her record-breaking run. The Adidas Pro EVO 1, which only weighs 136 grams, is considered comfortable for running. Tigist believes higher emphasis shouldn’t be given to the shoe than the athlete. At the same time, she agrees that the boots are comfortable and don’t make her muscles suffer.

The skinny girl from Addis Ababa who loved running has realized her dream and hopes for more. Tigist wants to be an Olympic medalist. She also wants to break the marathon record once again. The next big question regarding the female marathon is the possibility of finishing in less than two hours and ten minutes (2:10). Tigist strongly believes it is possible and has echoed her target in several interviews. Adding a female athlete of the year award will be the cherry on top for the 26-year-old.

Gudaf Tsegay’s story is similar to Tigist’s, as the current 5000-meter record holder was also a middle-distance runner at one point. Gudaf had a successful year, bringing gold in the 10,000-meter Budapest World Athletics Championships. Her success is also inspiring. She has shown that it is possible to achieve your dreams, even if you face challenges along the way.

Among the nine races Gudaf participated in, she only lost one in the year. The 5000 meters in Budapest was a tough challenge for her because she had pain and swelling in her feet, which affected her performance. But she used that as motivation to go after the 5000-meter world record, and she smashed Faith Kepyegon’s record by five seconds, clocking in at 14:00.21.

After her fantastic success, Gudaf said she would try to run the 10000-meter under 29 minutes and improve her 5000-meter record by running below 14 minutes. Despite her numerous accomplishments, she remains ambitious and determined. She also said that the US has been a place where she has been successful at different tournaments. During Gudaf’s return from Eugene, her coach and husband, Hluf Yihdego, said she would break the 5000-meter record. He was even expecting her to run a time of around 13:53.

The athlete from Tigray has passed through difficult moments in the past couple of years. She was unable to communicate with her family for 18 months because of the war in the region. Hluf described her as a symbol of heroism and resilience in a Facebook post dated October 30.

Gudaf has won a bronze medal in the 5000-meter at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. She also has two Gold medals in the 5000 and 10,000 meters at World Championships. Her success in the 1500 meters is also worth mentioning, as she got silver in Doha 2019 and Eugene 2022 World Athletics Championships. World Indoor Championships, Diamond League, and World Junior Championships are also tournaments in which Gudaf shined. Gudaf has now set her sights on the upcoming Paris Olympics and wants to win an Olympic Gold medal for the first time.

Both Tigist and Gudaf have shown their incredible talent throughout the year. That’s why they truly deserve the nomination. But winning the prestigious reward will be challenging as Kenyan Faith Kipyegon will offer a stern challenge. She is considered the favourite by many experts after she set the world record for 1500 meters in 2023.

Tigist Assefa and Gudaf Tsegay are two of the most exciting athletes in the world today. They are both incredibly talented and have achieved great things in their careers. Tigist and Gudaf are role models for young Ethiopian athletes, and they have raised the profile of Ethiopian athletes on the world stage.

It will be interesting to see what Tigist and Gudaf can achieve in the future. They are both still young, and they have the potential to dominate their respective distances for many years to come.

The other athletes who have been nominated for the award are Femke Bol from the Netherlands, 400m/400m hurdles (World 400m hurdles champion and World indoor 400m record), Shericka Jackson from Jamaica, 100m/200m (World 200m champion and 100m silver medallist, Diamond League 100m and 200m champion), Haruka Kitaguchi, from Japan, javelin (World champion, Diamond League champion), Yaroslava Mahuchikh, from Ukraine, high jump (World champion, Diamond League champion), Maria Perez, from Spain, race walk ( World 20km and 35km race walk world champion, World record at 35km race walk), Sha’Carri Richardson, from USA, 100m/200m (World champion at 100m, World bronze medallist at 200m), Yulimar Rojas, from Venezuela, triple jump (World champion, Diamond league champion), Winfred Yavi, from Bahrain, 3000m steeplechase (World champion, Diamond League champion with world lead).

While the World Athletics Council and the World Athletics Family cast their votes via e-mail, fans also have the opportunity to participate in the voting process using social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. A like on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube will be considered one vote. The same applies to a retweet on X. Ethiopian sports fans are also playing their role in casting their vote. EBR

12th Year • Nov 16 – December 15 2023 • No. 123


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