Mohammed Aman has smashed the stereotype. Well, sort of…
Hailing from the land of long distance greats Abebe Bikila, Miruts Yifter, Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, the slender but swift Mohammed Aman has proved Ethiopians can be equally as gifted over the two-lap distance.
A three-time world champion (two indoor and one outdoor), national record holder and the ninth quickest man in history for the 800m, the 21-year-old appears set for a career which could go on to match the very best of Ethiopian athletics royalty.
Yet Aman admits it took his compatriots some convincing.
“Everyone from my father to my old coach used to say ‘why waste your time running the 800m when you can run the 5km or 10km?’ but I always believed in myself, that I could make it in the 800m,” he explains.
Then again Aman’s story has always been a little different. Unlike many of his fellow East African runners he grew up in a town – Asella – only ten minutes walk not a lengthy run) from school and both his parents were not farmers but teachers.
A fleet-footed striker on the football pitch in his youth – “no-one could catch me on the football field” – his interest in athletics was first piqued after his pals registered for an under-15 athletics programme. Aman, a keen follower of Premier League giants Arsenal (coincidentally like rival David Rudisha) and FC Barcelona, was curious to test his credentials and he too signed up aged “12 or 13”.
The programme gave the youngster the chance to run every distance from the 100m to 1500m. He discovered an ability to run the 1500m, but with eye-catching speed in the 200m and 400m, he found 800m was his optimum distance.
National titles quickly followed and in 2010 he secured a first major international success, takingYouth Olympic Games gold over 1000m in Singapore. Buoyed by his success in south east Asia, he launched into training “every morning and afternoon, never taking a rest” and made staggering progress in 2011, demolishing his 800m personal best by a total of more than five seconds.
That “breakthrough” year as he describes it, Aman secured a silver medal at the World Youth Championships, placed eighth in the final of the Daegu world championships and posted an eye-popping national record and world youth record time of 1:43.37 in Rieti.
“I said to myself, nothing is impossible,” Aman recalls.
Training as part of the national middle-distance group under the coaching of Nigussie Gechamo, the success continued to flow when at the tender age of 18 he unleashed his trademark finishing kick to secure Ethiopia’s first ever global championship 800m gold at the 2012 World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.
Never one to lack confidence, he said “when I flew from Ethiopia to London [for the Olympic Games] I said to myself ‘I want to win gold for my country’.” His confidence did not appear misplaced as he qualified fastest for the final.
But in the greatest 800m race in history – in which David Rudisha struck gold with a stunning world record of 1:40.90 and five men running sub-1:43 – Aman finished back in sixth. He did earn the consolation of a national record time of 1:43.20, but was nonetheless “disappointed.”
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