Genzebe Dibaba in the 3000m at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot (Getty Images)
Genzebe Dibaba in the 3000m at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot (Getty Images)
  • COUNTRY Ethiopia Ethiopia
  • DATE OF BIRTH 8 FEB 1991
 

Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.

 

Updated 28 February 2014

GENZEBE Dibaba, Ethiopia (1500m, 3000m, 5000m, Cross Country)

Born: 8 February 1991, Chefe, near Bekoji, Arsi region, Ethiopia

Lives:  Addis Ababa

Club:  Muger Cement Factory

Manager: Jos Hermens (Global Sports Communication)

Coach: Jama Aden (personal); Yilma Berta, Hussein Shibo (national team)

Younger sister of 2004 Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Ejegayehu (b. 1982) and World and Olympic 10,000m Champion Tirunesh (b. 1985). Cousin of two-time Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu. Left school in the eighth grade.

 

Genzebe Dibaba’s indoor personal bests are all World records, all clocked in a whirlwind 15 days this February. She ran 3:55.17 for 1500m on 1 Feb., 8:16.60 for 3000m on Feb. 6 and then 9:00.48 for two miles on Feb 15, making her the overwhelming favorite in the 2014 World Indoor Championships 3000m, which she is contesting in Sopot instead of the 1500m in which she took gold two years ago.

 

Genzebe Dibaba is the younger sister of the three-time Olympic Champion Tirunesh, who followed her older sister Ejegayehu, the Athens Olympic 10,000m silver medalist, into athletics. A theme that runs through Genzebe’s young but thriving career is the constant presence of her sisters, but especially Tirunesh with whom her years of international racing overlap more than Ejegayehu. Whether she is setting an example, or by her side at championships, or encouraging from afar, Tirunesh has continually guided and supported her little sister.

 

Genzebe grew up in the family home outside the now famous town of Bekoji in the Arsi zone of central Ethiopia, south of the nation’s capital Addis Ababa. Bekoji-area natives in running include Olympic champions Fatuma Roba and Derartu Tulu, the Dibaba sisters’ cousin, as well as men’s double Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele.

 

Attending the same Bekoji Elementary School her sisters had gone to, Genzebe used to run in school races. “I used to beat everybody at school, and a teacher said to me, ‘Why don’t you pursue running like your sisters?’” she said. Taking this sound advice she eventually began to train with Sentayehu Eshetu, the same coach who had previously nurtured the young Tirunesh and Kenenisa. “He used to tell me, ‘OK now, be strong, be like your sisters, work hard’,” recalled Genzebe, who also hoped to emulate her siblings.

 

Genzebe represented Bekoji at a regional championship in Asela in early 2005 and placed third, making the team that would represent the Oromiya region in Addis Ababa at the national championships, where she was eighth. Her first international competition was a road relay race in China. In late 2005, Genzebe was recruited into the Muger Cement Factory athletic club of which Kenenisa is a member. The following year, she was third in the national championships 3000m in a hand-timed 9:26.0.

 

Genzebe’s first major international competition was the 2007 Mombasa World Cross Country Championships, for which she made the junior team after placing second at the national trials behind Sule Utura, who became a close friend and rival. The hot and humid conditions in coastal Kenya affected the entire Ethiopian team (the defending senior champion Tirunesh took second). “The weather was very uncomfortable and hot, plus we didn’t know the number of laps,” said Genzebe. “We had already stopped running laps when we started up again.”

 

Genzebe was in the lead pack that approached the start of the last lap, but Kenyan Pauline Korikwiang sprinted for home thinking it was the finish, everyone else followed, the announcer was himself confused and several girls - including Genzebe - stopped dead still, believing the race to be over. After they had been waved on, they never caught up to their original leading positions, and Korikwiang never finished the race, but Genzebe managed to take fifth behind a Kenyan sweep led by Linet Masai. “It was a race we should have won,” said Genzebe, a regret she carried with her until the following year.

 

She ran 15:52.46 in 10th place over 5000m in New York that summer behind Tirunesh’s 14:35.67 win. “It was my first major track race and I couldn’t manage,” said Genzebe.

 

When the 2008 Edinburgh World Cross Country Championships rolled around, after taking second again at the nationals, Genzebe was ready to make amends for Mombasa. “It drove me,” she said. Genzebe kicked past Kenyan Irene Cheptai on a steep climb with 400m to go, and clinched the junior title. “We worked hard, we prepared well and we took it,” said Genzebe. Tirunesh, who had been suffering from stomach pains since the previous year, watched her little sister with anxiety and pride; and when the pain resurfaced in the middle of her senior race, she clutched her abdomen, fell back, but all the same dug in to claw her way back to victory, inspired by Genzebe’s victorious performance. “I was happier for her than I was for myself,” said Tirunesh.

 

Genzebe ran on the track with Tirunesh again, taking third over 5000m in Rieti before clocking a PB of 15:02.41, running with both of her sisters in Oslo but finishing well behind - Tirunesh not only won but broke the World record, running 14:11.15. Genzebe ran 8:53.72 in her 3000m international debut, taking second place in Carson, California, and based on her World Cross title, she was selected for the July World Junior Championships 5000m, in Bydgoszcz. “The race was hard,” she said after taking silver in 16:16.75 behind Sule. “I had prepared well, but the competitors were tough.”

 

The Dibabas had a very eventful 2008, in which Tirunesh took 5000m and 10,000m gold at the Olympics, and her fiance Sileshi Sihine, the Athens Olympic silver medalist, repeated his performance in Beijing. Then, on October 26, the couple wed in a lavish ceremony in Addis Ababa. “I was a bridesmaid,” said Genzebe. “Tiruye and I took a break from our training,” she added, using an affectionate form of her sister’s name. Family members came from Bekoji, where the sisters had built a home for their parents in town, but their mother was already staying in Addis Ababa with her children. At the time, Genzebe was living with Tirunesh and Sileshi, while Ejigayehu lived nearby.

 

Genzebe and Sule continued a friendly rivalry in 2009, with Sule taking the Jan Meda national cross country junior title ahead of second-placed Genzebe, who was nursing a recurring knee injury, but Genzebe earned the big prize at the World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.

 

She traded the lead with Kenyan Mercy Cherono on the hilly course, but prevailed on the final climb 100m from the finish. “I’m happier even than last year, because this year’s race was extremely difficult,” said Genzebe, who had received encouragement from the absent Tirunesh, then undergoing treatment for injuries. “I felt as if she was by my side, because she called me on my mobile phone while I was warming up at the venue,” said Genzebe, who heard from Tirunesh right after the race as well. “She was very happy,” reported Genzebe.

 

The sisters were together in spirit in Amman, but planned to try and make the Berlin track championships together. “We have to run qualifying times, but if I do that, I would love to run with her,” said Genzebe, who won the national 5000m title in May in a sprint finish ahead of Sule. Recovering from her leg injury, Tirunesh ran the New York Grand Prix 5000m largely to help Genzebe run a competitive time below the entry standard in order to make the Ethiopian team. Tirunesh (14:40.93) suffered a defeat herself at the hands of Kenyan Linet Masai (14:35.39) and Genzebe missed cracking the 15-minute barrier, but placed third in 15:00.79. She broke through in a 14:55.52 in Oslo on 3 July behind Ethiopia’s then-defending World Champion, Meseret Defar, and Ejegayehu. At the African Junior Championships in Mauritius, Genzebe took gold ahead of Cherono and Sule, in what was a continuation of the rivalry with both young women, one that would have further chapters.

 

When not working with other members of a championships team, the Dibabas served as one another’s training partners. “We work together,” said Genzebe. “Tiruye, Ejegayehu and my brother Dereje.” It’s the girls who have been successful, though, as Dereje has not competed internationally. Though the defending 10,000m champion Tirunesh eventually did not compete due to injury, she and Genzebe travelled together to the Berlin World Championships, where Genzebe got through the 5000m heats and placed eighth in the final at her first track Worlds. She ended her year with a cross country win in Burgos, Spain, over Kenyan Iness Chenonge.

 

The 2010 season was the first Genzebe contested without “Tiruye” accompanying her on several races, as Tirunesh was mostly nursing injuries, but Genzebe navigated her way around the athletics world well after many years’ able guidance from her sister. Indoors, she ran PBs in taking second in 8:47.01 for 3000m behind compatriot Kalkidan Gezahegn’s 8:46.19 in Boston, and winning a 1500 in 4:04.80 in Gent.

 

After trying out for the senior cross country team headed to the Bydgoszcz World Championships and not making the cut, Genzebe was unprepared when the Ethiopian team asked her to run the junior race in her last year of eligibility, and she took 11th in Poland. Genzebe continued a season of 1500m success when she took the national title and clocked a 4:06.10 PB in the Doha Diamond League race, ahead of 2009 champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain.

 

The next chapter of Genzebe’s rivalry with Kenyan Cherono played out at the Moncton World Junior Championships, where Cherono led frequently but Genzebe followed and the pair traded surges in the last two laps. Cherono stumbled while in front on the home straight and Genzebe took the gold, feeling that she could have done so even without her rival’s misfortune. “I have better speed than her over the last 100m,” said Genzebe. Tirunesh’s parting words had accompanied Genzebe in Canada. “When I headed over here, she was fully confident that I would win,” said Genzebe, who ended the year with a 8:48.35 PB for 3000m in Padua and a repeat cross country win in Spain, this time over reigning World Cross Champion Emily Chebet of Kenya. Genzebe then ran in the senior race of the 2011 Punta Umbria World Cross Country Championships, placing ninth.

 

She made the 5000m team for the Daegu World Championships when, after a 14:46.55 fourth place in Hengelo behind countrywomen Meseret and Sentayehu Ejigu as well as Sule, she took third in the Oslo DL in a new personal best 14:37.56 behind the same top two women and ahead of Kenyan Priscah Cherono, with Meseret winning the rain-soaked five-way last lap contest in 14:37.32.

 

Genzebe’s pre-Championships training went well and she was first in her heat in Daegu. However, the new 10,000m and defending 5000m World Champion, Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, the 14:20.87 world leader, was the pre-race favorite for the final on 2 September, in which Genzebe stayed close to the front with her teammates Meseret and Sentayehu in the first half and made a move with 600m remaining. But Cheruiyot had moved into the lead some laps earlier and went on to duly collect her second gold of the Championships in 14:55.36, while Genzebe faded to eighth in 15:09.35.

 

After a 4:05.90 PB for 1500m in second place behind Kenyan Hellen Obiri in Rieti in September, Genzebe moved into new territory in 2012, contesting the distance indoors with spectacular results. She won ahead of Kenyans Pamela Jelimo and Obiri in Düsseldorf after following the pacemaker and overtaking her at 1000m, before pulling away from the field decisively in the penultimate lap - but all three top finishers were disqualified for cutting into the inner lanes from the outside too early, and Genzebe’s unofficial 4:01.97 failed to count. She showed that win was no fluke when she took the lead with three laps to go in Karlsruhe just two days later and smashed the 4:07.55 world lead with a 4:00.13 PB. Her time became the fifth-fastest ever at the time, behind sub-4:00 clockings that include World record-holder Elena Soboleva of Russia’s 3:58.28 and Ethiopian record-holder Gelete Burka’s 3:59.75.

 

Genzebe took another victory over the distance in Birmingham, clocking 4:01.33 to become the holder of the two fastest times of the year. The World Junior 5000m Champion Genzebe appeared to have perhaps found her calling in the shorter event in which she was the 2010 Ethiopian champion outdoors, and she entered the Istanbul World Indoor Championships 1500 favored to win.

 

The multiple Olympic and World gold medalist Tirunesh said long ago she thought her little sister Genzebe could be an even better runner than herself. Though Genzebe would have a long way to go to match that illustrious resume, 2012 proved to be the year she broke through to true excellence on the senior stage when she led from the second lap to the tape to take her first senior global title. “This is the first major victory in my career and the first gold for Ethiopia here,” she said. “I'm very happy.”

 

Genzebe's outdoor season featured equally impressive performances over her new distance, although she found a rival at home in newcomer Abeba Aregawi (who would go on to represent Sweden). Genzebe ran a national record 3:57.77 in the Shanghai DL to dominate and win, but in Rome she lost the race and record to Abeba's 3:56.54 victory.

 

Hopes for a championship face-off between the two and Genzebe's Olympic dreams ended when she suffered a hamstring injury in the first round of the London 2012 heats and had to be helped off the track. The Dibaba family medal count did grow, though, courtesy of Tirunesh’s 10,000m gold.

 

Genzebe continued her 1500m successes indoors in 2013, running the year's second-fastest time of 4:00.83 to win in Birmingham, with the new Swedish citizen Abeba having run the fastest (3:58.40) in Stockholm. But Genzebe's speed also put her ahead in the longer distances too, creating a dilemma for her and eventually Ethiopian outdoor Worlds team selectors as to which event should be her focus.

 

She took a world-leading and personal best 8:26.95 victory over 3000m indoors in Stockholm and then after running a 3:57.54 PB in Doha outdoors for her specialty of the past year, the 1500m, she outkicked the London Olympic 5000m champion Meseret at the Shanghai DL, to run 14:45.93. “That's when I decided to run the 5000m at the World Championships,” said Genzebe.

 

She was well-beaten by Meseret as well as Kenyan Viola Kibiwot in the 13 June Oslo DL 5000m (14:37.68 to Meseret's 14:26.90). “I ran one week after a race in Rome and was tired,” said Genzebe, but she was eventually slated by the national federation to run the Moscow 1500m instead, in which she would be the year's fastest Ethiopian and its best medal bet. “The 5000 is what I wanted to run and had set my heart on,” said Genzebe upon her arrival in Moscow. “I haven't prepared long enough for the 1500.”

 

Her World Championships 1500m heats appeared to support her apprehension, as she won her first round heat ahead of World Indoor Champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya in the fastest time of the first round, 4:06.78, but she barely made it into the automatic qualifications for the final when she ran 4:05.23 for 5th place. “I was really worried,” she said afterwards. “I thought I didn't make it. I found the race very tough.” Genzebe’s race in the 15 August final was similarly unspectacular, as she placed 8th while Sweden's favored world-leader Abeba took the title. Once again, Tirunesh maintained Dibaba family honor with a 10,000m title.

 

But Genzebe has been on a hot streak since the Olympics beginning with the Stockholm DL 3000m a week later, when she followed the new World Champion Meseret’s 8:29.30 world lead to a personal best of 8:37.00. Having not run the distance since 2010, Genzebe slashed over 12 seconds off her previous mark.

 

Genzebe has been training with middle-distance coach Jama Aden of Somalia, who trains Sudan’s former 800m World Champion Abubaker Kaki and Algeria’s Olympic 1500 Champion Taoufik Makhloufi, among others, and the specialized coaching appears to have paid off.

 

In the 2014 indoor season, Genzebe was not content with bettering her own records, as she set her sights on the world’s, starting with Russian Elena Soboleva’s 2006 mark of 3:58.28 in the 1500m, which Genzebe chased in Karlsruhe on 1 Feb. “I felt I was ready for a World record,” she told the IAAF website when, after being paced to a little over 800m, she clocked an intermediate split of 3:10.47 for 1200m, and sliced 3 seconds off the World Record to run 3:55.17, a nearly 5 second improvement of her 4:00.13 PB, and the fastest indoor or outdoor time since 1997. “I didn’t think I would run 3:55,” said Genzebe, who followed in her World 5000m Record-holder sister Tirunesh’s footsteps. “I’m extremely happy.”

 

Just five days later, Genzebe tackled the World 3000m Record in Stockholm, where she had missed it by 3 seconds a year ago. Running alone for the final 2000m, which she covered in 5:27.95, she slashed 7 seconds off Meseret’s 2007 mark of 8:23.72 to set an 8:16.60 World Record. She took 10 seconds off her own PB and this time, too, her finish eclipses any time anyone has clocked in years: the last time a faster outdoor women’s 3000 was run was in 1993.

 

But Genzebe wasn’t done, as in her first race ever over two miles, she attacked Meseret’s 2009 world best of 9:06.26 in Birmingham on 15 Feb. Genzebe was paced through the first half in 4:31.7 and with a 32.87 last lap, she clocked 9:00.48, taking over 5 seconds off the old mark. “To break three world records was what I’d planned,” she said, adding that the NIA stadium crowd helped her when she tired mid-race. “I was able to gain momentum and get the record.”

 

Genzebe’s choice of events at the World Indoor Championships opens or closes the door to a possible gold for women in her event, as she would be favored in either the Sopot 1500 or 3000. “I have a 1500m gold from last time, so this time I want the 3000m,” said Genzebe. “I’m hoping to win a gold again at the World Indoors, that’s the plan.” Given her form of late, few would bet against the five-time outdoor World Champion Tirunesh’s sister in the Sopot 3000m final.

 

Personal Bests

Outdoor

1500m:   3:57.54 (2013)

3000m:   8:37.00 (2014)

5000m: 14:37.56 (2011)

 

Indoor

1500m:   3:55.17 (2014) WR (1 Feb, Karlsruhe

3000m:   8:16.60 (2014) WR (6 Feb, Stockholm

2 miles:   9:00.48 (2014) WB (15 Feb, Birmingham)

 

Yearly Progression

1500/3000/5000:  2006 – 9:26.0/-; 2007 – -/15:53.46; 2008 – 8:53.72/15:02.41; 2009 – 8:50.48/14:55.52; 2010 – 4:04.80i, 4:06.10/8:47.01i, 8:48.35/15:08.06; 2011 – 4:05.90/-/14:37.56; 2012 – 3:57.77/-/-; 2013 – 3:57.54/8:26.95i, 8:37.00/14:37.68; 2014 – 3:55.17i/8:16.60i/-.

 

Career Highlights

2007

5th

World Cross Country Championships, junior race

2008

1st

World Cross Country Championships, junior race

2008

2nd

World Junior Championships, 5000m

2009

1st

World Cross Country Championships, junior race

2009

8th

World Championships, 5000m

2010

11th

World Cross Country Championships, junior race

2010

1st

World Junior Championships, 5000m

2011

9th

World Cross Country Championships, 8K

2012

1st

World Indoor Championships, 1500m

2013

8th

World Championships, 1500m

 

Note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name only, or first and second name together, the second name being the father's first name.

(The grandfather’s first name is sometimes added as a third name, and is optional in much the same way that a Western middle name is frequently omitted; however, it is mandatory on all new Ethiopian passports.)

 

Prepared by Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2011-2014.

Personal Best - Outdoor
Performance Wind Place Date
1500 Metres 3:57.54 Doha 10 MAY 2013
2000 Metres 5:27.50 Ostrava 17 JUN 2014
3000 Metres 8:26.21 Doha 09 MAY 2014
Two Miles 9:14.28 Birmingham (Alexander), GBR 24 AUG 2014
5000 Metres 14:28.88 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 18 JUL 2014
Personal Best - Indoor
Performance Wind Place Date
1500 Metres 3:55.17 Karlsruhe (Europahalle) 01 FEB 2014
3000 Metres 8:16.60 Stockholm (Globe Arena) 06 FEB 2014
Two Miles 9:00.48 Birmingham (NIA), GBR 15 FEB 2014
Progression - Outdoor showShow All Graphs
1500 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 4:01.00 Stockholm 21 AUG
2013 3:57.54 Doha 10 MAY
2012 3:57.77 Shanghai 19 MAY
2011 4:05.90 Rieti 10 SEP
2010 4:06.10 Doha 14 MAY
2000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 5:27.50 Ostrava 17 JUN
3000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 8:26.21 Doha 09 MAY
2013 8:37.00 Stockholm 22 AUG
2010 8:48.35 Padova 03 SEP
2009 8:50.48 New York, NY 30 MAY
2008 8:53.72 Carson, CA 18 MAY
2006 9:26.0 Addis Ababa 05 MAY
Two Miles Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 9:14.28 Birmingham (Alexander), GBR 24 AUG
5000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 14:28.88 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 18 JUL
2013 14:37.68 Oslo (Bislett) 13 JUN
2011 14:37.56 Oslo (Bislett) 09 JUN
2010 15:08.06 Moncton 21 JUL
2009 14:55.52 Oslo (Bislett) 03 JUL
2008 15:02.41 Oslo (Bislett) 06 JUN
2007 15:53.46 New York City, NY 02 JUN
Progression - Indoor showShow All Graphs
1500 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 3:55.17 Karlsruhe (Europahalle) 01 FEB
2013 4:00.83 Birmingham, GBR 16 FEB
2012 4:00.13 Karlsruhe 12 FEB
2010 4:04.80 Gent 14 FEB
3000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 8:16.60 Stockholm (Globe Arena) 06 FEB
2013 8:26.95 Stockholm 21 FEB
2010 8:47.01 Boston (Roxbury), MA 06 FEB
Two Miles Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 9:00.48 Birmingham (NIA), GBR 15 FEB
Honours - 1500 Metres
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
14th IAAF World Championships 8 4:05.99 Moskva (Luzhniki) 15 AUG 2013
The XXX Olympic Games 9h3 4:11.15 London (OP) 06 AUG 2012
IAAF World Indoor Championships 2012 1 4:05.78 Istanbul (Ataköy Arena) 10 MAR 2012
Honours - 3000 Metres
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
IAAF Continental Cup 2014 1 8:57.53 Marrakech (Le Grande Stade) 13 SEP 2014
IAAF World Indoor Championships 2014 1 8:55.04 Sopot (Ergo Arena) 09 MAR 2014
Honours - 5000 Metres
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 8 15:09.35 Daegu 02 SEP 2011
13th IAAF World Junior Championships 1 15:08.06 Moncton 21 JUL 2010
12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 8 15:11.12 Berlin (Olympiastadion) 22 AUG 2009
12th IAAF World Junior Championships 2 16:16.75 Bydgoszcz 08 JUL 2008
Honours - Senior Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
39th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 9 25:36 Punta Umbría 20 MAR 2011
Honours - Junior Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
38th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 11 19:21 Bydgoszcz 28 MAR 2010
37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 1 20:14 Amman 28 MAR 2009
36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 1 19:59 Edinburgh (Holyrood Park) 30 MAR 2008
35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 5 21:23 Mombasa 24 MAR 2007
 

Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.

 

Updated 28 February 2014

GENZEBE Dibaba, Ethiopia (1500m, 3000m, 5000m, Cross Country)

Born: 8 February 1991, Chefe, near Bekoji, Arsi region, Ethiopia

Lives:  Addis Ababa

Club:  Muger Cement Factory

Manager: Jos Hermens (Global Sports Communication)

Coach: Jama Aden (personal); Yilma Berta, Hussein Shibo (national team)

Younger sister of 2004 Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Ejegayehu (b. 1982) and World and Olympic 10,000m Champion Tirunesh (b. 1985). Cousin of two-time Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu. Left school in the eighth grade.

 

Genzebe Dibaba’s indoor personal bests are all World records, all clocked in a whirlwind 15 days this February. She ran 3:55.17 for 1500m on 1 Feb., 8:16.60 for 3000m on Feb. 6 and then 9:00.48 for two miles on Feb 15, making her the overwhelming favorite in the 2014 World Indoor Championships 3000m, which she is contesting in Sopot instead of the 1500m in which she took gold two years ago.

 

Genzebe Dibaba is the younger sister of the three-time Olympic Champion Tirunesh, who followed her older sister Ejegayehu, the Athens Olympic 10,000m silver medalist, into athletics. A theme that runs through Genzebe’s young but thriving career is the constant presence of her sisters, but especially Tirunesh with whom her years of international racing overlap more than Ejegayehu. Whether she is setting an example, or by her side at championships, or encouraging from afar, Tirunesh has continually guided and supported her little sister.

 

Genzebe grew up in the family home outside the now famous town of Bekoji in the Arsi zone of central Ethiopia, south of the nation’s capital Addis Ababa. Bekoji-area natives in running include Olympic champions Fatuma Roba and Derartu Tulu, the Dibaba sisters’ cousin, as well as men’s double Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele.

 

Attending the same Bekoji Elementary School her sisters had gone to, Genzebe used to run in school races. “I used to beat everybody at school, and a teacher said to me, ‘Why don’t you pursue running like your sisters?’” she said. Taking this sound advice she eventually began to train with Sentayehu Eshetu, the same coach who had previously nurtured the young Tirunesh and Kenenisa. “He used to tell me, ‘OK now, be strong, be like your sisters, work hard’,” recalled Genzebe, who also hoped to emulate her siblings.

 

Genzebe represented Bekoji at a regional championship in Asela in early 2005 and placed third, making the team that would represent the Oromiya region in Addis Ababa at the national championships, where she was eighth. Her first international competition was a road relay race in China. In late 2005, Genzebe was recruited into the Muger Cement Factory athletic club of which Kenenisa is a member. The following year, she was third in the national championships 3000m in a hand-timed 9:26.0.

 

Genzebe’s first major international competition was the 2007 Mombasa World Cross Country Championships, for which she made the junior team after placing second at the national trials behind Sule Utura, who became a close friend and rival. The hot and humid conditions in coastal Kenya affected the entire Ethiopian team (the defending senior champion Tirunesh took second). “The weather was very uncomfortable and hot, plus we didn’t know the number of laps,” said Genzebe. “We had already stopped running laps when we started up again.”

 

Genzebe was in the lead pack that approached the start of the last lap, but Kenyan Pauline Korikwiang sprinted for home thinking it was the finish, everyone else followed, the announcer was himself confused and several girls - including Genzebe - stopped dead still, believing the race to be over. After they had been waved on, they never caught up to their original leading positions, and Korikwiang never finished the race, but Genzebe managed to take fifth behind a Kenyan sweep led by Linet Masai. “It was a race we should have won,” said Genzebe, a regret she carried with her until the following year.

 

She ran 15:52.46 in 10th place over 5000m in New York that summer behind Tirunesh’s 14:35.67 win. “It was my first major track race and I couldn’t manage,” said Genzebe.

 

When the 2008 Edinburgh World Cross Country Championships rolled around, after taking second again at the nationals, Genzebe was ready to make amends for Mombasa. “It drove me,” she said. Genzebe kicked past Kenyan Irene Cheptai on a steep climb with 400m to go, and clinched the junior title. “We worked hard, we prepared well and we took it,” said Genzebe. Tirunesh, who had been suffering from stomach pains since the previous year, watched her little sister with anxiety and pride; and when the pain resurfaced in the middle of her senior race, she clutched her abdomen, fell back, but all the same dug in to claw her way back to victory, inspired by Genzebe’s victorious performance. “I was happier for her than I was for myself,” said Tirunesh.

 

Genzebe ran on the track with Tirunesh again, taking third over 5000m in Rieti before clocking a PB of 15:02.41, running with both of her sisters in Oslo but finishing well behind - Tirunesh not only won but broke the World record, running 14:11.15. Genzebe ran 8:53.72 in her 3000m international debut, taking second place in Carson, California, and based on her World Cross title, she was selected for the July World Junior Championships 5000m, in Bydgoszcz. “The race was hard,” she said after taking silver in 16:16.75 behind Sule. “I had prepared well, but the competitors were tough.”

 

The Dibabas had a very eventful 2008, in which Tirunesh took 5000m and 10,000m gold at the Olympics, and her fiance Sileshi Sihine, the Athens Olympic silver medalist, repeated his performance in Beijing. Then, on October 26, the couple wed in a lavish ceremony in Addis Ababa. “I was a bridesmaid,” said Genzebe. “Tiruye and I took a break from our training,” she added, using an affectionate form of her sister’s name. Family members came from Bekoji, where the sisters had built a home for their parents in town, but their mother was already staying in Addis Ababa with her children. At the time, Genzebe was living with Tirunesh and Sileshi, while Ejigayehu lived nearby.

 

Genzebe and Sule continued a friendly rivalry in 2009, with Sule taking the Jan Meda national cross country junior title ahead of second-placed Genzebe, who was nursing a recurring knee injury, but Genzebe earned the big prize at the World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.

 

She traded the lead with Kenyan Mercy Cherono on the hilly course, but prevailed on the final climb 100m from the finish. “I’m happier even than last year, because this year’s race was extremely difficult,” said Genzebe, who had received encouragement from the absent Tirunesh, then undergoing treatment for injuries. “I felt as if she was by my side, because she called me on my mobile phone while I was warming up at the venue,” said Genzebe, who heard from Tirunesh right after the race as well. “She was very happy,” reported Genzebe.

 

The sisters were together in spirit in Amman, but planned to try and make the Berlin track championships together. “We have to run qualifying times, but if I do that, I would love to run with her,” said Genzebe, who won the national 5000m title in May in a sprint finish ahead of Sule. Recovering from her leg injury, Tirunesh ran the New York Grand Prix 5000m largely to help Genzebe run a competitive time below the entry standard in order to make the Ethiopian team. Tirunesh (14:40.93) suffered a defeat herself at the hands of Kenyan Linet Masai (14:35.39) and Genzebe missed cracking the 15-minute barrier, but placed third in 15:00.79. She broke through in a 14:55.52 in Oslo on 3 July behind Ethiopia’s then-defending World Champion, Meseret Defar, and Ejegayehu. At the African Junior Championships in Mauritius, Genzebe took gold ahead of Cherono and Sule, in what was a continuation of the rivalry with both young women, one that would have further chapters.

 

When not working with other members of a championships team, the Dibabas served as one another’s training partners. “We work together,” said Genzebe. “Tiruye, Ejegayehu and my brother Dereje.” It’s the girls who have been successful, though, as Dereje has not competed internationally. Though the defending 10,000m champion Tirunesh eventually did not compete due to injury, she and Genzebe travelled together to the Berlin World Championships, where Genzebe got through the 5000m heats and placed eighth in the final at her first track Worlds. She ended her year with a cross country win in Burgos, Spain, over Kenyan Iness Chenonge.

 

The 2010 season was the first Genzebe contested without “Tiruye” accompanying her on several races, as Tirunesh was mostly nursing injuries, but Genzebe navigated her way around the athletics world well after many years’ able guidance from her sister. Indoors, she ran PBs in taking second in 8:47.01 for 3000m behind compatriot Kalkidan Gezahegn’s 8:46.19 in Boston, and winning a 1500 in 4:04.80 in Gent.

 

After trying out for the senior cross country team headed to the Bydgoszcz World Championships and not making the cut, Genzebe was unprepared when the Ethiopian team asked her to run the junior race in her last year of eligibility, and she took 11th in Poland. Genzebe continued a season of 1500m success when she took the national title and clocked a 4:06.10 PB in the Doha Diamond League race, ahead of 2009 champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain.

 

The next chapter of Genzebe’s rivalry with Kenyan Cherono played out at the Moncton World Junior Championships, where Cherono led frequently but Genzebe followed and the pair traded surges in the last two laps. Cherono stumbled while in front on the home straight and Genzebe took the gold, feeling that she could have done so even without her rival’s misfortune. “I have better speed than her over the last 100m,” said Genzebe. Tirunesh’s parting words had accompanied Genzebe in Canada. “When I headed over here, she was fully confident that I would win,” said Genzebe, who ended the year with a 8:48.35 PB for 3000m in Padua and a repeat cross country win in Spain, this time over reigning World Cross Champion Emily Chebet of Kenya. Genzebe then ran in the senior race of the 2011 Punta Umbria World Cross Country Championships, placing ninth.

 

She made the 5000m team for the Daegu World Championships when, after a 14:46.55 fourth place in Hengelo behind countrywomen Meseret and Sentayehu Ejigu as well as Sule, she took third in the Oslo DL in a new personal best 14:37.56 behind the same top two women and ahead of Kenyan Priscah Cherono, with Meseret winning the rain-soaked five-way last lap contest in 14:37.32.

 

Genzebe’s pre-Championships training went well and she was first in her heat in Daegu. However, the new 10,000m and defending 5000m World Champion, Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, the 14:20.87 world leader, was the pre-race favorite for the final on 2 September, in which Genzebe stayed close to the front with her teammates Meseret and Sentayehu in the first half and made a move with 600m remaining. But Cheruiyot had moved into the lead some laps earlier and went on to duly collect her second gold of the Championships in 14:55.36, while Genzebe faded to eighth in 15:09.35.

 

After a 4:05.90 PB for 1500m in second place behind Kenyan Hellen Obiri in Rieti in September, Genzebe moved into new territory in 2012, contesting the distance indoors with spectacular results. She won ahead of Kenyans Pamela Jelimo and Obiri in Düsseldorf after following the pacemaker and overtaking her at 1000m, before pulling away from the field decisively in the penultimate lap - but all three top finishers were disqualified for cutting into the inner lanes from the outside too early, and Genzebe’s unofficial 4:01.97 failed to count. She showed that win was no fluke when she took the lead with three laps to go in Karlsruhe just two days later and smashed the 4:07.55 world lead with a 4:00.13 PB. Her time became the fifth-fastest ever at the time, behind sub-4:00 clockings that include World record-holder Elena Soboleva of Russia’s 3:58.28 and Ethiopian record-holder Gelete Burka’s 3:59.75.

 

Genzebe took another victory over the distance in Birmingham, clocking 4:01.33 to become the holder of the two fastest times of the year. The World Junior 5000m Champion Genzebe appeared to have perhaps found her calling in the shorter event in which she was the 2010 Ethiopian champion outdoors, and she entered the Istanbul World Indoor Championships 1500 favored to win.

 

The multiple Olympic and World gold medalist Tirunesh said long ago she thought her little sister Genzebe could be an even better runner than herself. Though Genzebe would have a long way to go to match that illustrious resume, 2012 proved to be the year she broke through to true excellence on the senior stage when she led from the second lap to the tape to take her first senior global title. “This is the first major victory in my career and the first gold for Ethiopia here,” she said. “I'm very happy.”

 

Genzebe's outdoor season featured equally impressive performances over her new distance, although she found a rival at home in newcomer Abeba Aregawi (who would go on to represent Sweden). Genzebe ran a national record 3:57.77 in the Shanghai DL to dominate and win, but in Rome she lost the race and record to Abeba's 3:56.54 victory.

 

Hopes for a championship face-off between the two and Genzebe's Olympic dreams ended when she suffered a hamstring injury in the first round of the London 2012 heats and had to be helped off the track. The Dibaba family medal count did grow, though, courtesy of Tirunesh’s 10,000m gold.

 

Genzebe continued her 1500m successes indoors in 2013, running the year's second-fastest time of 4:00.83 to win in Birmingham, with the new Swedish citizen Abeba having run the fastest (3:58.40) in Stockholm. But Genzebe's speed also put her ahead in the longer distances too, creating a dilemma for her and eventually Ethiopian outdoor Worlds team selectors as to which event should be her focus.

 

She took a world-leading and personal best 8:26.95 victory over 3000m indoors in Stockholm and then after running a 3:57.54 PB in Doha outdoors for her specialty of the past year, the 1500m, she outkicked the London Olympic 5000m champion Meseret at the Shanghai DL, to run 14:45.93. “That's when I decided to run the 5000m at the World Championships,” said Genzebe.

 

She was well-beaten by Meseret as well as Kenyan Viola Kibiwot in the 13 June Oslo DL 5000m (14:37.68 to Meseret's 14:26.90). “I ran one week after a race in Rome and was tired,” said Genzebe, but she was eventually slated by the national federation to run the Moscow 1500m instead, in which she would be the year's fastest Ethiopian and its best medal bet. “The 5000 is what I wanted to run and had set my heart on,” said Genzebe upon her arrival in Moscow. “I haven't prepared long enough for the 1500.”

 

Her World Championships 1500m heats appeared to support her apprehension, as she won her first round heat ahead of World Indoor Champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya in the fastest time of the first round, 4:06.78, but she barely made it into the automatic qualifications for the final when she ran 4:05.23 for 5th place. “I was really worried,” she said afterwards. “I thought I didn't make it. I found the race very tough.” Genzebe’s race in the 15 August final was similarly unspectacular, as she placed 8th while Sweden's favored world-leader Abeba took the title. Once again, Tirunesh maintained Dibaba family honor with a 10,000m title.

 

But Genzebe has been on a hot streak since the Olympics beginning with the Stockholm DL 3000m a week later, when she followed the new World Champion Meseret’s 8:29.30 world lead to a personal best of 8:37.00. Having not run the distance since 2010, Genzebe slashed over 12 seconds off her previous mark.

 

Genzebe has been training with middle-distance coach Jama Aden of Somalia, who trains Sudan’s former 800m World Champion Abubaker Kaki and Algeria’s Olympic 1500 Champion Taoufik Makhloufi, among others, and the specialized coaching appears to have paid off.

 

In the 2014 indoor season, Genzebe was not content with bettering her own records, as she set her sights on the world’s, starting with Russian Elena Soboleva’s 2006 mark of 3:58.28 in the 1500m, which Genzebe chased in Karlsruhe on 1 Feb. “I felt I was ready for a World record,” she told the IAAF website when, after being paced to a little over 800m, she clocked an intermediate split of 3:10.47 for 1200m, and sliced 3 seconds off the World Record to run 3:55.17, a nearly 5 second improvement of her 4:00.13 PB, and the fastest indoor or outdoor time since 1997. “I didn’t think I would run 3:55,” said Genzebe, who followed in her World 5000m Record-holder sister Tirunesh’s footsteps. “I’m extremely happy.”

 

Just five days later, Genzebe tackled the World 3000m Record in Stockholm, where she had missed it by 3 seconds a year ago. Running alone for the final 2000m, which she covered in 5:27.95, she slashed 7 seconds off Meseret’s 2007 mark of 8:23.72 to set an 8:16.60 World Record. She took 10 seconds off her own PB and this time, too, her finish eclipses any time anyone has clocked in years: the last time a faster outdoor women’s 3000 was run was in 1993.

 

But Genzebe wasn’t done, as in her first race ever over two miles, she attacked Meseret’s 2009 world best of 9:06.26 in Birmingham on 15 Feb. Genzebe was paced through the first half in 4:31.7 and with a 32.87 last lap, she clocked 9:00.48, taking over 5 seconds off the old mark. “To break three world records was what I’d planned,” she said, adding that the NIA stadium crowd helped her when she tired mid-race. “I was able to gain momentum and get the record.”

 

Genzebe’s choice of events at the World Indoor Championships opens or closes the door to a possible gold for women in her event, as she would be favored in either the Sopot 1500 or 3000. “I have a 1500m gold from last time, so this time I want the 3000m,” said Genzebe. “I’m hoping to win a gold again at the World Indoors, that’s the plan.” Given her form of late, few would bet against the five-time outdoor World Champion Tirunesh’s sister in the Sopot 3000m final.

 

Personal Bests

Outdoor

1500m:   3:57.54 (2013)

3000m:   8:37.00 (2014)

5000m: 14:37.56 (2011)

 

Indoor

1500m:   3:55.17 (2014) WR (1 Feb, Karlsruhe

3000m:   8:16.60 (2014) WR (6 Feb, Stockholm

2 miles:   9:00.48 (2014) WB (15 Feb, Birmingham)

 

Yearly Progression

1500/3000/5000:  2006 – 9:26.0/-; 2007 – -/15:53.46; 2008 – 8:53.72/15:02.41; 2009 – 8:50.48/14:55.52; 2010 – 4:04.80i, 4:06.10/8:47.01i, 8:48.35/15:08.06; 2011 – 4:05.90/-/14:37.56; 2012 – 3:57.77/-/-; 2013 – 3:57.54/8:26.95i, 8:37.00/14:37.68; 2014 – 3:55.17i/8:16.60i/-.

 

Career Highlights

2007

5th

World Cross Country Championships, junior race

2008

1st

World Cross Country Championships, junior race

2008

2nd

World Junior Championships, 5000m

2009

1st

World Cross Country Championships, junior race

2009

8th

World Championships, 5000m

2010

11th

World Cross Country Championships, junior race

2010

1st

World Junior Championships, 5000m

2011

9th

World Cross Country Championships, 8K

2012

1st

World Indoor Championships, 1500m

2013

8th

World Championships, 1500m

 

Note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name only, or first and second name together, the second name being the father's first name.

(The grandfather’s first name is sometimes added as a third name, and is optional in much the same way that a Western middle name is frequently omitted; however, it is mandatory on all new Ethiopian passports.)

 

Prepared by Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2011-2014.