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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 18:18 GMT
Running for Ethiopia
Ethiopian runners Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie and Sileshi Sihine
Great Ethiopian Run
Sunday 28 November
Highlights: Grandstand, Sunday 12 December, 1300

At this year's Athens Olympics it was almost inevitable that Ethiopia would dominate the middle-distance running events.

Ethiopia's men and women did not disappoint - winning a total of seven medals in the 5,000m and 10,000m.

But it was only in 2001 that a country with such a strong running pedigree could boast an event on home soil to match.

The Great Ethiopian Run was established as an attempt to stage Ethiopia's first-ever international mass-participation road race.

What started as the brainchild of former British athlete Richard Nerurkar and Ethiopian legend Haile Gebreselassie has now turned into Africa's biggest road race with more than 20,000 participants.

This Sunday the streets of Addis Ababa will turn into a sea of bright red t-shirts as the runners spill out of Meskel Square onto the 10km course.

Traditionally the square forms the stage for celebrating Ethiopia's major religious festivals, but for this one Sunday in the year religion takes second place to the nation's sporting passion.

"There was huge excitement in Ethiopia during the Olympics, particularly when Kenenisa Bekele won the 10,000m," Nerurkar told BBC Sport.

"Ethiopian athletics came to prominence in the early 1990s, and there is always great expectation whenever their athletes are competing.

"Everyone was glued to the TV and radio throughout those races - it really took over the country."

A massive crowd greeted the Ethiopian athletes on their return from Greece, with a special cheer reserved for Gebreselassie, who finished fifth in the 10,000m.

The diminutive runner is the most popular man in the country by some margin, and recently suggested he would one day run for President.

My biggest worry is that we have 5,000 extra runners at the start who haven't registered.
Richard Nerurkar

Gebreselassie will not be breaking sweat in the Great Run, as he has race-organizing responsibilities on the ground but he will start the race from the podium.

Sileshi Sihin and Ejigayehu Dibaba, both 10,000m silver medallists from the Athens Olympics will be taking part, and Nerurkar hopes that in years to come the event will also attract big names from overseas.

"Every year this event gets bigger, and we're obviously aiming to get more athletes from abroad involved," he said.

"People are keen because they see this country as the spiritual home of middle distance running.

"Competing here is like playing cricket in Mumbai or football in Brazil."

But his main hope is that for this year at least, the event doesn't become the victim of its own success.

Unlike other marathons or competitions around the world, the organisers don't bank on 10-15% of people pulling out - quite the opposite.

"People here want to be part of this event, and my biggest worry is that we have 5,000 extra runners at the start who haven't registered.

"We're already expecting a couple of hundred thousand spectators to line the streets, and an appearence from the Prime Minsister Meles Zenawi - it's a massive day for the whole country."

But if you believe that the 20,000 men and women lined up at the start are just there for fun - then think again.

Running in Ethiopia is a serious business.

As one fun runner commented after last year's race: "This was a race with 20,000 runners, 12,000 of whom seemed to think they were going to win."

  • Great Ethiopian Run: Highlights, Grandstand, Sunday 12 December, 1300


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    Country profile: Ethiopia
    09 Nov 04 |  Country profiles


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