Photo: Ethiopian Herald
Ethiopian prodigy Almaz Ayana took gold and three-time gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba took bronze.
Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia runs on her way to winning the women’s 5000m final of the athletics competition in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 22, 2008.
Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia competes during the men’s 5,000m final at the National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, during Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, Aug. 23, 2008.
Ethiopia collected one gold, two silver and five bronze medals in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. This result gave the country the third place in Africa next to the neighbouring Kenya and South Africa. Four years ago Ethiopia stood second next to South Africa and sending neighbouring Kenya to third.
In Rio the parade was dramatically changed. Kenya with six gold, six silver and two bronze medals overwhelmingly takes the African top spot while South Africa is second with a tally of two gold, six silver and two bronze medals.
To this day Ethiopia has won 53 Olympic medals, 22 of them gold, since the barefoot Abebe Bikila secured its first gold in the Rome in 1960. Nearly all of them were collected from just three events – the 5,000 and 10,000 metres and the marathon. The Moscow Olympics 3,000m steeplechase through Eshetu Tura and the London Olympic 3,000m steeplechase through Sofia Assefa are the exceptions.
In Rio the highly regarded Gernzebe Dibaba got silver medal in 1,500m, the first in the country’s history. Considering Genzebe’s excellent performance gold was within reach of Ethiopia but it was not to be so. That was indeed a day of frustration for most Ethiopians.
Back to square one in 24 years
Ethiopia returned from the Olympics with only one gold medal for the first time in the span of 24 years. In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Deratu Tulu got one gold medal in the women’s 10,000m setting a new record. After 24 years in Rio Almaz brought one gold medal in the women’s 10,000m breaking a record. The coincidence is amazing.
As bronze medals exceed, EOC gold and silver medals target falter
The Ethiopian Olympic Committee (EOC) set a target of four gold medals, four silver and four bronze medals to collect in Rio.
The Rio Olympics exceeded the EOC target in bronze: for the first time in the country’s Olympic history. Ethiopia collected five bronze medals, one higher than the target. The first bronze medal was earned through Tirunesh Dibaba in the women’s 10,000m. The second came in the women’s marathon through Mare Dibaba. Mare is not the family of Dibaba except the sharing of name. Almaz got the third medal. The other two medals were earned in the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 meters men’s event. Tamirat Tola in 10,000m while Hagos Gebrehiwot in 5,000m won third places.
But the target disastrously failed to bear fruit in gold and silver. The country got only one gold medal and two silver, far behind the EOC target.
Almaz earns the opener
When Almaz got the first gold in Rio it was indeed a day of jubilation. Her 10, 000m gold was collected on 12 August the opening day of athletics. That stunning and impressive with perfect finishing victory in the 10,000m final had provided a wonderful final act to “the Super Friday” for all Ethiopians.
Almaz brought gold in Olympics 10,000m smashing the world record at a time of 29 minutes and 17:45 seconds. She broke the previous record by 14 seconds. It was also seen as a good omen for the remaining events.
The second placed Kenya’s Vivian Cheriot clocked 29:32.53.The three-time Olympic gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba surged ahead to finish third in the last lap and managed to finish in a personal best time of 29:42:56.
For Almaz this was the second time to run in 10,000 meters. The World 5,000m champion Almaz Ayana stepped up to the 10,000m during the Ethiopian Olympic Trial race in Hengelo in July, 2016 and showed she has the potential to dominate that event in the same way she does her 5, 000m distance.
When Almaz won her first gold the journalist from the spot reported that what a moment. What a fantastic performance. What a privilege to see this woman get her first Olympic medal in style.
Well, Almaz is a treasure. In the eyes of many Ethiopian she is more than a national treasure.
Differences with London
Tirunesh Dibaba won the women’s gold medal in 10,000m in the opening day, 3 August 2012, of the athletics competition in London. After her victory other flying birds followed suit to collect gold.
Another Ethiopian big success was the women’s marathon gold medal win through Tiki Gelana who was little expected prior to that most gruelling 42 km and 195 meters long distance.
Ethiopia first collected marathon gold medal in Atlanta in 1996 through Fatuma Roba.
Again Meseret Defar brought gold in 5,000m to make the gold tally to three. But this time no gold was added in to the Ethiopian coffer.
An unexpected 5,000m women’s defeat
Many Ethiopian people had just assumed that Almaz Ayana would waltz her way to a second gold medal in similarly majestic fashion to the way she won the 10,000m in world record time a week ago, but Vivian Cheruiyot had other ideas.
Motivated by the fact that, despite Cheruiyot’s many career accomplishments, she was still missing an Olympic gold medal, the diminutive Kenyan produced one of the biggest shocks of an Olympic athletics programme which had already seen a plethora of upsets.
Overhauling Almaz with 600 metres to go, after the Ethiopian had attempted to run away with the race in what has become familiar fashion over the past two seasons, the five-time world champion on both the track and cross country showed a turn of speed that few suspected she still had at the age of 32, and Cheruiyot crossed the line in an Olympic record of 14:26.17.
Cheruiyot admitted: “Almaz is such a great athlete, we thought she would win again. She got ahead but then I thought, ‘She’s not moving’. I was working and I went past her.
Almaz visibly started to tire from the start of the penultimate lap and Cheruiyot, clearly feeling fresh, started to move away from Obiri.
Looking more weary than in any race since she was beaten over this distance at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris just over a year ago, Almaz was then passed by first Cheruiyot and then Obiri.
Almaz was forced to settle third behind the two Kenyans. That was a night of frustration for most Ethiopians in just seven days. As one man puts it joy and disappointment are always interchangeable.
Farah’s double-double, a disappointment to Ethiopians
Somalia-born Londoner Mo Farah completed his second consecutive Olympic double by successfully defending his 5,000m gold on Saturday, winning in 13:03.30.
Farah returned after winning the 10,000m almost exactly a week before, in the first stage of his double defence.
Before Farah, the “double double” had only been completed successfully by Finland’s Lasse Viren, who won memorably won both races in 1972 and 1976.
Behind him, though, hard-charging Chelimo picked off Hagos Gebrhiwet and moved through into the silver medal position in 13:03.90. Hagos took the bronze in 13:04.35.
“I’m happy with the medal,” said Hagos, “because four years ago in London I finished 11th.”
Chelimo’s medal was the first Olympic medal for the USA in the men’s 5,000m since 1964.
When Mo Farah gets four gold medals in two Olympics, Ethiopians are collecting bronze medals in both events. This was really disappointing.
Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba won her second gold medal as she took the women’s 5,000 meters gold medal at the Beijing Olympic Games. Tirunesh clocked 15 minutes 41.40 seconds for her second gold medal at the Games, following her win in the 10,000m.
At that time Ethiopian born Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse took the silver in 15:42.74 and another Ethiopian Meseret Defar, the defending champion, won the bronze in 15:44.12.
As if this was not enough, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele out sprinted his rivals with a stunning last lap to win the 5,000 meters to become the first man to complete the Olympic long-distance double since 1980.
Kenenisa who retained his 10,000 title a week earlier, raced home in an Olympic record time of 12 minutes 57.82 seconds to give Ethiopia a sweep of all four distance titles after Tirunesh Dibaba completed the women’s double.
By then Kenenisa said, “It’s very special for me. It’s not easy to achieve this for me. I got this after hard work, after so much effort.”
It was a first major 5,000m title for the world record-holder and matched the feat last achieved by his compatriot Miruts Yifter in Moscow 28 years ago and never managed by another Ethiopian great, Haile Gebre-Selassie.
Kenenisa or Mo Farah, the greatest of all time athlete?
After winning the double-double in Rio once again the BBC claimed that Mo Farah as the best 5,000m and 10,000m athlete of all time. Four years ago his American coach Alberto Salazar recommended Mo Farah to be regarded as the best 5,000m and 10,000m athlete of all time following his double gold medal-winning runs at the London 2012 Olympics.
But with any yardstick one set, the massive achievements of Kenenisa Bekele, dominating the 5,000m and 10,000m for years with world and Olympic records, makes him the best 5,000m and 10,000m athlete of all time.
Kenenisa was the sixth athlete to win the 5,000m and 10,000m titles at the same Olympics, in Beijing in 2008, joining a list of distance greats that includes Hannes Kolehmainen of Finland in 1912, Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia in 1952, Vladimir Kuts of the Soviet Union in 1956, Lasse Viren of Finland in 1972 and 1976 and Ethiopian Miruts Yifter in 1980.
Until the Rio Olympics the Finnish runner Viren is the only man to have done it twice, achieving the feat at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and then again four years later in Montreal Olympics. Mo Farah is now equal to him.
If we take winning four titles in two different Olympics as a single benchmark to select the best athlete of all time Lasse Viren of Finland and Mo Farah deserve that title. But our benchmark is not limited to winning four titles in two Olympics.
Keneisa won three gold medals in two Olympics. The Ethiopian wonder athlete Kenenisa had gold in Athens in 2004 in 10,000m. He is also a world record holder both in 5,000m and 10,000m. In the IAAF cross country championship Kenenisa is the only athlete who won five successive times. This makes him different from all others.
Ethiopia and Olympic marathon
Ethiopia is the only country that collected Olympic gold medal for the fourth time. Ethiopia is also the only country to take Olympic gold medal in marathon three times in a row: in 1960 Rome Olympics, 1964 in Tokyo and 1968 in Mexico. Following the Mexico Olympics, Ethiopia’s name was almost synonymous with marathon in the Olympics.
In the closing day of the Rio Olympics Ethiopian Feyisa Lelisa managed to finish second next to the Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge who clocked two hours, eight minutes and 44 seconds. Ethiopian Feyisa Lilesa came in 70 seconds later to take the silver, with American Galen Rupp collecting bronze.
Britain’s Callum Hawkins, 24, led midway through the race and the Scot finished ninth in a time of 2:11.52.
The result is good but for Ethiopian athletics fans who expect gold it was discouraging.
After boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles and the 1988 Seoul Olympics Ethiopia first participated in Barcelona in 1992. By then the country earned lone gold through Derartu Tulu. In 1996 Atlanta Olympics Ethiopia got two gold medals through Haile Gebre-Selassie and Fatuma Roba. In Sydney in 2000 the country managed to collect a record four gold medals through Deratu, Haile, Million Wolde and Gezahegn Abera. Ethiopia’s Gezahegn got his Olympic men’s marathon gold medal for the first time since 1968. In Athens Ethiopia had two gold medals through Keneisa and Meseret. Both are given the Greece citizenship due to that win. In Beijing Tirunesh and Kenenisa got double-double. We had three gold medals in London through Tirunesh, Tiki and Meseret.
It is sad to say that the Ethiopian gold production has dried up in Rio.
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