Olympian runners train with amateurs at Ethiopian camp

By Addis Getachew, Abebech Tamene and Tufan Aktas


A simple Ethiopian athletics camp which is attracting elite runners from around the world has opened its doors to Anadolu Agency.

Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah is just one of the top-tier competitors using the facilities at Yaya Africa Athletics Village near the rural town of Sululta, 12 kilometers (7 miles) north of the capital Addis Ababa.

The athletics village — owned by Ethiopian legend and double Olympic gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie — was built five years ago.

Manager Lemmisa Bote told Anadolu Agency a long list of internationally renowned runners had come to them for training on its five-hectare site.

Among them was British runner and Olympic champion Mo Farah. Focused on training, Farah — recently knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II — declined to be interviewed but his presence revealed the elite-level quality of the training on offer.

“Most of these athletes are coming for one or two months of rigorous training and they seem to like it here,” fitness coach Ayenew Zergaw said.

Amateurs and professionals

It is a February morning and the atmosphere promises a good day ahead — not cloudy, not chilly but temperate with sunshine coming.

Just off a highway, past a paved drive there is a wide field. Two busses full of athletes pull over into the middle of the field.

Soon the athletes disembark one by one — young men and women, some internationally renowned some less so — forming groups which break into a light jog.

Soon the air is filled with the sound of panting and thuds plus occasional whistle blasts from coaches.

Among the hundreds of athletes training were Mare Dibaba and Lelisa Desisa — both hopefuls for the upcoming London Marathon in April.

Mare, who was born locally in Sululta, told Anadolu Agency: “I prefer to receive training in this open field because the landscape and the weather is suitable for training.

“I became an athlete inspired by the athletes Berhane Adere and Abebe Mekonnen, both of whom were born in this area and managed to win many races.”

A former World Championships gold medalist, Mare also won bronze in the 2016 Olympic women’s marathon in Rio. A former competitor for Azerbaijan, Mare also won the 2014 Chicago marathon.

Lelisa Desisa, another successful Ethiopian long-distance runner, said the village “is a wonderful place, embracing all the important things for training”.

“Here we have hills, forests, sufficient oxygen and flat land for training,” he added.

The 27-year-old won his first international medal at the 2009 African Junior Athletics Championships in Mauritius, where he took the 10,000-meters gold medal.

Lelisa is also known for winning the 2013 and 2015 Boston Marathons, a half-marathon at the 2011 All-Africa Games and the 2013 Dubai Marathon.

Settlers encroaching

However, Coach Zergaw is apprehensive about the rapid building of residential homes close to his training fields, just outside Yaya village.

“The construction of houses is increasingly expanding, diminishing the open field and this should be stopped by concerned authorities,” he said

According to him, the field — a site where both

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