Athletics has a long history in Ethiopia. The nation is a staple in global championships. Looking deep inside the history, however, one would wonder whether skills in athletics are somehow defined by geography. This is suggested by trends in the history of Ethiopian athletics.

By Girma Feyissa |

Traditional Ethiopia had given running down to young errand boys or even canines. But modern Ethiopia scaled it up to school level.

I remember runners like Negussie Roba, Makonnen Dori, Hussien Roble, Ketebo Dissasa, Haile Boru and Belete Awoke were popular names often heard at the same old stadium during inter-school meets when I was a student at the Tafari Makonnen School. Abebe Bikla ran bare foot to win the Rome Marathon. None of us anticipated that such winnings meant little more than the national anthem and hoisting the national tricolour above others.

Economics came late over the years. Haile Gebreselassie made a name not only for himself but also made the “Great Run” an international event that greatly contributed to the positive image of Ethiopia. Having witnessed the results over the long years, I asked myself if athletics had to do with geography.

That ironic query comes to mind when one wonders why on a global level, winners of the competitions seem to polarise around African or Jamaican contestants depending on the distances. The latter excel in short sprints, while the former tend to be resilient in all distances.

I was even narrowing my mind to contemplate adding to the list locality and sex in the case of most races and Ethiopian winners. By some coincidence, it was the women contestants who won five of the six gold medals for Ethiopia in the 12th African Youth Athletics Championship held in Addis Abeba, between March 5 and 8, 2015. Again, the three Ethiopian half marathon contestants that won the race held in Paris, France, were all women.

It may well be argued that March 8, the day that marks women’s struggle for empowerment, has coincidentally squared up with what Ethiopian women athletes have proved both in Addis Abeba and in Paris. I see the 12th Championship meet from a slightly different angle other than winning trophies or medals.

As president Barack Obama once said, the future of Africa is in the hands of the youth. Ethiopia’s hosting over 370 participants from a total of 37 countries in Addis Abeba, the seat of African Union (AU), is not only symbolic and meaningful, but also the right action taken in good time. However, I could not read or listen to any sports media about our big competition. They seemed to be shunning away from middle or distant track races, particularly in those competitions requiring endurance. Such competitions have been gradually narrowed down to meets like the Boston, Berlin, London or New York marathons. In the Ethiopian case, though, locality seems to be the determinant. Of course, it does not mean that all the athletes were from a specific locality group. But men like Wami Biratu, Abebe Bikla, Mohammed Kedir, Tolossa Kotu, Negussie Roba, Husseien Robele, Kehebo Dissasa, Sora Jarso and many others happen to be only a few.

As far as women are concerned, Derartu Tulu, Gete Wami, Fatuma Roba and sisters Tirunesh Dibaba and Genzebe Dibaba are some of the leading athletes from the same locality. What is even more interesting in this line of thinking is that most of the medals winners of the 12th championship meet were also from the same region. They all trace their roots to the Bekoji area in Arsi Zone. But that is not the point here. What is really important that the youth are rightly engaged in sportsmanship rather than chewing chat, drinking alcohol or abusing other drugs.

The 12th African Championship was crowned with a special attendance by spectators with full carrying capacity of the Addis Abeba Stadium during its whole duration. That should go as a success story, especially among a society most interested in football. Such attendance is believed to signify Ethiopia’s commitment to consolidate the relationship among the youngsters of African countries aspiring to define their future together.

Incidentally, the athletes from Nigeria wore scarves adorned with the Ethiopian tricolour, an expression of deep respect for mutual interests. It must be noted that the national sports commentators, particularly the well-prepared Said Kiar and his colleague, need to be appreciated for their plausible reporting impromptu. Unlike the previous days of direct reporting from the provisional studio, every minute of the air time was utilized for reporting the events as well as the background data of the contestants, just like they do at the BBC Talk Sport show.

The next country to prepare for the 13th meet will be Algeria. Incidentally, the Algerian squad was reported to have lost the agreement documents for the next championship and 16,000 Euros, quite a fortune, in a bar where they were able to find it intact after two hours. They have expressed their gratitude.

One other important aspect of the show was the opening and closing ceremony involving thousands of spectators who were participating in the mass dancing, ululating, clapping hands and all sorts of animation. The fireworks at the closing ceremony were colourful and a source of deserved pride for the country.

I would like to express my hope that the young athletes of today will scale up their domain of participation especially in the short distance sprints, in javelin throwing, jumping and pole vaulting. We are seeing a number of encouraging efforts in new spheres of contest and we say, “Keep it up!”

Source: Addis Fortune


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