Werknesh Kidane (Getty Images)
Werknesh Kidane (Getty Images)
  • COUNTRY Ethiopia Ethiopia
  • DATE OF BIRTH 7 JAN 1981


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 2 August 2012

Werknesh Kidane, Ethiopia

(5000m/10,000m, Half Marathon, Marathon)

a.k.a. Worknesh Kidane

Born: 21 November 1981, Mayshie district (near Axum), Tigray region, Ethiopia

Height: 1.58m   Weight: 41kg

Lives in Addis Ababa

Manager: Mark Wetmore

Club: Commercial Bank (formerly Ethiopian Banks)

Coach: Hussein Shibo (national)

Married 2009 World Cross Country Champion and 2004 double silver-medalist Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam in 2006. Has two sons, Nathaniel and Muse.


The diminutive 2003 World Cross Country long course Champion Werknesh Kidane moved from the northern region of Tigray where she was raised to the capital city of Addis Ababa to live with her uncle Kidane Demoz, a soldier, when she was a young teenager. A believer in physical fitness, he encouraged Werknesh to run, and set her on what became her life’s path.

She began international competition at the 1997 World Cross Country Championships where she placed 13th in the junior race. She won bronze in the same race the next year and in 1999 took the junior title, as well as a 4th at 5000m in the Johannesburg All-Africa Games. She slipped to 9th in the 2000 World Cross junior race, but later that year, in the Sydney Olympic 5000m, she came home a creditable 7th (14:47.40). In 2001, as a senior in the World Cross, she finished 5th in the 4K race, and in 2002 earned silver in the same event. But it was not until 2003 that she really came into her own.

She started by winning the 8K at Ethiopia's World Cross trials by more than 10 seconds over a strong field, then coming back the next day for 2nd in the 4K race behind future World 5000m Champion Tirunesh Dibaba. Werknesh went on to duplicate the double feat at the World Cross in Lausanne, taking gold in the long race by nine seconds and coming in a close 2nd (this time to Kenya's defending champion Edith Masai) in the short race the next day.

Her 2003 international track season kicked off with a 20 second victory at 10,000m in the Palo Alto GPII (PB 30:41.40). She went on to notch two more PBs in major competitions, 14:33.04 at 5000 in the Oslo GL (the #2 time in 2003) and 8:39.51 in the Paris GL, before returning to Paris for the World Championships. There, on the opening night of the Championships, Werknesh was one of a quartet who pushed each other to new heights in one of the greatest women's 10,000m ever run. She took silver in 30:07.15 (then history's fourth fastest time), three seconds behind countrywoman Berhane Adere and ahead of Sun Yingjie of China and Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands. “We put up a good fight and prevailed, thank God,” said Werknesh, who was very pleased with her silver. “The Chinese runner really accelerated the pace, but that was good for us, because it gives you a better chance than if we had all remained bunched up. When Berhane took off with 200 metres remaining, since I know that she has a very good finishing kick and I’m not as strong, I knew she was going to win.”

After missing the 2003 Afro-Asian Games while visiting her father, who was ill, in Axum, Werknesh took 3rd at the Great Ethiopian Run 10K. Despite losing some time due to a minor injury, she began her 2004 season on a high note, claiming five straight dominating cross country victories—three in Spain, where her winning margin averaged 27 seconds, and then a big double win at the Ethiopian Championships. At the World Cross in Brussels, she couldn’t quite match her gold/silver double from 2003, but turned in a valuable 3rd in the 8K and 4th in the 4K, contributing to two Ethiopian team triumphs.

On the track she raced sparingly, first at Hengelo with a 4th at 5000m (15:04.34) behind Kenya’s future Olympic silver medalist Isabella Ochichi, but ahead of a couple of fellow Ethiopian Olympic team aspirants. Werknesh then staked her claim for a trip to Athens with a brilliant 14:38.05 for 2nd in the Rome 5000m behind Ejegayehu Dibaba. “I led for many laps,” she said later, “so I was very pleased I was able to finish that well.”

Ethiopian Olympic selectors ultimately put Ejegayehu and Werknesh on the team in the 10,000m, along with two-time Olympic gold medallist Derartu Tulu. The choice was controversial because the 2003 World Champion, Berhane, who had set an indoor World record at 5000m that January, was dropped shortly before the start of the Games, and didn’t take it quietly. The result in Athens was not altogether to the Ethiopians’ liking. The gold and silver from Paris shifted down a notch to silver and bronze (Ejegayehu and Derartu, with Werknesh 4th in 30:28.30) as the country’s streak of four straight global gold medals in the women’s 10,000m was broken by China’s fast-finishing Xing Huina. Werknesh ended her 2004 track season with a 5th in the 5000m at the World Athletics Final, in September.

The following year was a very solid one for Werknesh, who notched a couple of impressive doubles, although they were overshadowed by the 2005 cross country and track double World Champion Tirunesh’s stellar feats. Werknesh was again impressive on the European cross country circuit in 2005, taking two wins in Spain, but she paid dearly for her busy European schedule at the Ethiopian trials, where she finished a tired 6th in the 8K, recovering a day later to finish 4th in the 4K and booking a place on both teams for St. Etienne/St. Galmier.

Weighing only 41kgs and standing at 1.58m, Werknesh may have looked too frail to handle mud, but she had shown in the past that she possessed the stamina to double even in heavy going.  She medaled at both World Cross distances behind Tirunesh, taking silver in the short course and bronze in the long.

Three days after taking the national 10,000m title, in May, she took 5000m silver behind Gelete Burka and Tirunesh, with whom she was given the same hand-timed clocking. Werknesh ran a 3000 PB of 8:36.39 placing 2nd to Meseret Defar in the New York Reebok Grand Prix and clinched a World Championships 10,000m berth with a 30:19.39 win in Stanford. At the Helsinki Worlds she was 6th. She then won her debut half marathon, the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll, in 69:48 ahead of Kenyan Salina Kosgei, but improved that to 68:09 for 2nd at the Great North Run two weeks later.

Marriage and childbirth claimed the next couple of years of Werknesh’s resume. She wed the 2004 double World Cross Country silver medalist Gebre-egziabher (often written as one word, Gebregziabher, and abbreviated Gebre) Gebremariam in 2006 and they had two sons, Nathaniel and Muse.

She resumed competition in late 2008, running the Great North Run (72:07) in September and a cross country race before returning to a sub-70 clocking of 69:59 for 4th at the Prague half marathon on 28 March 2009. The very same day Gebre-egziabher made his team proud by winning the World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.

Werknesh ran 31:19.00 for 10,000m in Stockholm in May behind Meseret (31:07.34) and returned to the top spot of a Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon, in Las Vegas this time, in 70:55 in December. In her first 2010 outing, Werknesh qualified for a berth on the Bydgoszcz World Cross Country Championships team by remaining in the lead pack through the half-way point of the 21 February national trials in Addis Ababa and placing third behind 2009 World Cross bronze-medalist Meselech Melkamu and Dubai Marathon champion Mamitu Deska.

Werknesh returned to the World Cross Country Championships after a five-year absence and some things had changed while others hadn’t. She accompanied Gebre-egziabher, then her fiancé, now her husband and the father of their two sons, for the first time since 2004 (as he missed the 2005 edition). And in the women’s race, Tirunesh was still a favorite.

Werknesh was 9th in Bygdoszcz and felt her return to competition after the interrupted years was progressing somewhat satisfactorily though she was disappointed in Ethiopia’s overall performance and preparation as a team, from which only Meselech medaled, while Tirunesh was 4th. Werknesh’s progress picked up over the rest of the year, when she had three podium finishes on the road: a 10km win in Manchester in 31:19 followed by a 31:18 PB in New York in third place, behind the World 10,000m and Cross Country Champions Linet Masai and Emily Chebet and ahead of Lornah Kiplagat; and a third place in the Philadelphia half marathon in 68:31 behind Meseret’s win in 67:45.

Werknesh planned to make her marathon debut alongside her husband in New York that November, but was not feeling fit and stayed behind in Addis Ababa, watching on TV instead as he carried all the way to the top of the podium the hopes Ethiopia had placed in Haile Gebrselassie, who dropped out.

Werknesh debuted in the marathon in Dubai instead in January, running 2:27:15 for 8th place, and running 2:26:15 in April in Boston, where she was 7th and Gebre (as he is usually known in the US) was third in 2:04:53 in the men’s race (though those Boston clockings with a tailwind and unidirectional course are not recognized for various record purposes*). “She will be back to her old form within the year,” he predicted.

After a 31:23 win at the Atlanta Peachtree 10km, Werknesh made a late bid for the 2011 Daegu World Championships 10,000m team, and actually ran one of the three fastest Ethiopian times of the year, but the team had already been selected and been preparing for Daegu, and she was very disappointed about not being added. Her 31:08.92 win at the British championships on 30 July was faster than the season bests at the time of Ethiopia’s former African champion Meselech (31:14.83), national champion Beleynesh (or Belaynesh) Oljira (31:17.80) and Tigist Kiros (31:20.38), who were on the Daegu team. Werknesh’s absence was perhaps underscored when Meseret, who doubled in the 5000 and 10,000, dropped out of the longer event and Kenya swept the podium, with Meselech in 5th place.

Werknesh took her form to the Philadelphia half marathon, challenging New Zealand’s Kim Smith when she ran a U.S. all-comer’s record 67:11 to win with Werknesh 2nd in 67:28.

In a sense, Werknesh’s 2012 year has played out similarly to 2011 but with a crucial difference, in that she made the London Olympic 10,000m team this time. After only managing 13th in 2:33:08 in the 6 November 2011 New York marathon, she turned her focus to the 10,000m again.

Her build-up road races were very promising. In April, she was a runner-up in 15:13 to the Beijing double Olympic champion Tirunesh at the Carlsbad 5000, and she won the BAA 5km in a 15:12 PB ahead of Aheza Kiros and Smith. On June 1, seven Ethiopian women including Tirunesh and Werknesh lined up in the Eugene 10,000 in search of fast times for London selection. When Tirunesh won in a world-leading 30:24.39, Kenyan Florence Kiplagat (30:24.85), and Ethiopians Beleynesh (30:26.70) and Werknesh (30:50.16) were her runners-up. “I’m happy, but in case anyone else runs a faster time, I might run again, maybe in England,” said Werknesh, who was not taking any chances of being left off the team again.

On 23 June, she did indeed run again at the UK trials in Birmingham -- where Gebre made the Olympic team in the men’s 10,000m – but her win in 31:28.19 was slower than her Eugene time, which remains the Ethiopian women’s 3rd fastest in the nation this year, so her place on the team was never challenged. With Kenya holding its national trials at altitude in Nairobi, the Eugene clockings also remain the year’s fastest in the world, with Werknesh the 4th fastest.

Werknesh ran one other pre-Olympic race with Tirunesh, the 9 June New York DL meet 5000, which proved more tactical as it featured long-time rivals Tirunesh and Meseret. “I was hoping for a faster time, but I only ran the race for speed,” said Werknesh, who finished in 15:04.65.

Back at the Olympics with her husband, eight years after both placed 4th in Athens (he in the 5000m), Werknesh will be looking to challenge the London 10,000m favorites in the defending champion Tirunesh and the double World Champion Vivian Cheruiyot as well as her Kenyan teammates.


Personal Bests

3000m:        8:36.39    (2005)

5000m:       14:33.04    (2003)

10,000m:       30:07.15    (2003)

5km:         15:12      (2012)

10km:         31:18      (2010)

Half marathon:   67.28      (2011)

Marathon:          2:27:15      (2011)

 2:26:15       (2011), on Boston’s point-to-point course with elevation drop

Yearly Progression

3000/5000/10,000: 1998 – 9:02.40/15:55.18/-;  1999 – 9:07.54/15:24.56/;  2000 – 8:44.14/14:47.40/ ;  2001 – 9:03.74/15:29.96/31:43.41;  2002 – 8:41.58/14:43.53/-;  2003 – 8:39.51/14:33.04 /30:07.15; 2004 – 14:38.05/30:28.30; 2005 – 8:36.39/15:04.22/30:19.39; 2006 – -/-/-; 2007 – -/-/-; 2008 – -/-/-; 2009 – -/-/31:19.00; 2010 – -/-/-; 2011 – -/-/31:08.92; 2012 – -/15:04.65/30:50.16.

Career Highlights

1998   3rd   World Cross Country Championships, junior

1998   6th   World Junior Championships, 5,000m

1999   1st   World Cross Country Championships, junior

1999   7th   World Championships, 5000m

1999   4th   All-Africa Games, 5000m

2000   9th   World Cross Country Championships, junior

2000   7th   Olympic Games, 5000m

2001   5th   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2002   2nd   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2003   1st   World Cross Country Championships, 8km

2003   2nd   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2003   2nd   World Championships, 10,000m

2003   4th   World Athletics Final, 5000m

2003   2nd   All-Africa Games, 10,000m

2004   3rd   World Cross Country Championships, 8km

2004   4th   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2004   4th   Olympic Games, 10,000m

2004   5th   World Athletics Final, 5000m

2005   3rd   World Cross Country Championships, 8km

2005   2nd   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2005   6th   World Championships, 10,000m

2010   9th   World Cross Country Championships, 8km

A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name 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 2003-2012.

Personal Best - Outdoor
Performance Wind Place Date
1500 Metres 4:15.51 Zagreb 08 JUL 2002
3000 Metres 8:36.39 New York, NY 11 JUN 2005
5000 Metres 14:33.04 Oslo 27 JUN 2003
10,000 Metres 30:07.15 Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France) 23 AUG 2003
10 Kilometres 31:18 New York, NY 12 JUN 2010
15 Kilometres 49:32 New York City, NY 06 NOV 2011
20 Kilometres 1:07:35 Chicago, IL 13 OCT 2013
Half Marathon 1:07:28 Philadelphia, PA 18 SEP 2011
25 Kilometres 1:23:57 New York City, NY 06 NOV 2011
30 Kilometres 1:40:46 New York City, NY 06 NOV 2011
Marathon 2:27:15 Dubai 21 JAN 2011
5 Kilometres 15:20 Carlsbad, CA 07 APR 2002
Personal Best - Indoor
Performance Wind Place Date
3000 Metres 8:46.56 Lisboa (Atlantic Pavillion) 10 MAR 2001
Progression - Outdoor showShow All Graphs
1500 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2002 4:15.51 Zagreb 08 JUL
2001 4:18.00 Zagreb 02 JUL
3000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2005 8:36.39 New York, NY 11 JUN
2003 8:39.51 Paris Saint-Denis 04 JUL
2002 8:41.58 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 19 JUL
2001 9:03.74 Roma (Stadio Olimpico) 29 JUN
2000 8:44.14 Milano 07 JUN
1999 9:07.54 Dedham 22 MAY
1998 9:02.40 Milano 05 JUN
5000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2012 15:04.65 New York City, NY 09 JUN
2005 15:04.22 Roma (Stadio Olimpico) 08 JUL
2004 14:38.05 Roma (Stadio Olimpico) 02 JUL
2003 14:33.04 Oslo 27 JUN
2002 14:43.53 Berlin 06 SEP
2001 15:29.96 Edmonton 09 AUG
2000 14:47.40 Sydney 25 SEP
1999 15:24.56 Saint-Denis 03 JUL
1998 15:55.18 Annecy 02 AUG
10,000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2012 30:39.38 London (OP) 03 AUG
2011 31:08.92 Birmingham 30 JUL
2009 31:19.00 Stockholm 30 MAY
2005 30:19.39 Palo Alto, CA 29 MAY
2004 30:28.30 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 27 AUG
2003 30:07.15 Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France) 23 AUG
2001 31:43.41 Villeneuve-d'Ascq 17 JUN
10 Kilometres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 32:13 Boston, MA 22 JUN
2011 31:36 Philadelphia, PA 18 SEP
2010 31:18 New York, NY 12 JUN
15 Kilometres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2011 49:32 New York City, NY 06 NOV
20 Kilometres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2013 1:07:35 Chicago, IL 13 OCT
Half Marathon Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2013 1:11:16 Chicago, IL 13 OCT
2011 1:07:28 Philadelphia, PA 18 SEP
2010 1:08:31 Philadelphia, PA 19 SEP
2009 1:09:59 Praha 28 MAR
2005 1:09:48 Virginia Beach, VA 04 SEP
25 Kilometres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2013 1:24:26 Chicago, IL 13 OCT
2011 1:23:57 New York City, NY 06 NOV
30 Kilometres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2013 1:43:53 Chicago, IL 13 OCT
2011 1:40:46 New York City, NY 06 NOV
Marathon Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 2:29:42 Dubai 24 JAN
2011 2:27:15 Dubai 21 JAN
5 Kilometres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2002 15:20 Carlsbad, CA 07 APR
Progression - Indoor showShow All Graphs
3000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2001 8:46.56 Lisboa (Atlantic Pavillion) 10 MAR
Honours - 3000 Metres
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
18th IAAF Grand Prix Final 9 9:01.66 Paris (Charléty) 14 SEP 2002
8th IAAF World Indoor Championships 9 8:46.56 Lisboa (Atlantic Pavillion) 10 MAR 2001
Honours - 5000 Metres
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
2nd IAAF World Athletics Final 5 15:01.27 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 18 SEP 2004
1st IAAF World Athletics Final 4 14:58.13 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 13 SEP 2003
8th IAAF World Championships 11h1 15:29.96 Edmonton 09 AUG 2001
27th Olympic Games 7 14:47.40 Sydney 25 SEP 2000
7th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 7h1 15:38.12 Sevilla 24 AUG 1999
IAAF World Junior Championships 5 15:55.18 Annecy 02 AUG 1998
Honours - 10,000 Metres
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
The XXX Olympic Games 4 30:39.38 London (OP) 03 AUG 2012
10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 6 30:32.47 Helsinki 06 AUG 2005
28th Olympic Games 4 30:28.30 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 27 AUG 2004
9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 2 30:07.15 Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France) 23 AUG 2003
Honours - Senior Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
38th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 9 25:07 Bydgoszcz 28 MAR 2010
Honours - Junior Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
28th World Cross Country Championships 9 20:52 Vilamoura 18 MAR 2000
27th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 1 21:26 Belfast 27 MAR 1999
IAAF World Cross Country Championships 3 19:34 Marrakech 21 MAR 1998
Honours - Short Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships 2 13:16 Saint-Galmier 20 MAR 2005
32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships 4 13:14 Bruxelles 21 MAR 2004
31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships 2 12:44 Lausanne 30 MAR 2003
30th IAAF/Sport Ireland World Cross Country Championships 2 13:36 Dublin 24 MAR 2002
IAAF World Cross Country Championships 5 15:06 Oostende 25 MAR 2001
Honours - Long Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships 3 26:37 Saint-Galmier 19 MAR 2005
32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships 3 27:34 Bruxelles 20 MAR 2004
31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships 1 25:53 Lausanne 29 MAR 2003


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 2 August 2012

Werknesh Kidane, Ethiopia

(5000m/10,000m, Half Marathon, Marathon)

a.k.a. Worknesh Kidane

Born: 21 November 1981, Mayshie district (near Axum), Tigray region, Ethiopia

Height: 1.58m   Weight: 41kg

Lives in Addis Ababa

Manager: Mark Wetmore

Club: Commercial Bank (formerly Ethiopian Banks)

Coach: Hussein Shibo (national)

Married 2009 World Cross Country Champion and 2004 double silver-medalist Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam in 2006. Has two sons, Nathaniel and Muse.


The diminutive 2003 World Cross Country long course Champion Werknesh Kidane moved from the northern region of Tigray where she was raised to the capital city of Addis Ababa to live with her uncle Kidane Demoz, a soldier, when she was a young teenager. A believer in physical fitness, he encouraged Werknesh to run, and set her on what became her life’s path.

She began international competition at the 1997 World Cross Country Championships where she placed 13th in the junior race. She won bronze in the same race the next year and in 1999 took the junior title, as well as a 4th at 5000m in the Johannesburg All-Africa Games. She slipped to 9th in the 2000 World Cross junior race, but later that year, in the Sydney Olympic 5000m, she came home a creditable 7th (14:47.40). In 2001, as a senior in the World Cross, she finished 5th in the 4K race, and in 2002 earned silver in the same event. But it was not until 2003 that she really came into her own.

She started by winning the 8K at Ethiopia's World Cross trials by more than 10 seconds over a strong field, then coming back the next day for 2nd in the 4K race behind future World 5000m Champion Tirunesh Dibaba. Werknesh went on to duplicate the double feat at the World Cross in Lausanne, taking gold in the long race by nine seconds and coming in a close 2nd (this time to Kenya's defending champion Edith Masai) in the short race the next day.

Her 2003 international track season kicked off with a 20 second victory at 10,000m in the Palo Alto GPII (PB 30:41.40). She went on to notch two more PBs in major competitions, 14:33.04 at 5000 in the Oslo GL (the #2 time in 2003) and 8:39.51 in the Paris GL, before returning to Paris for the World Championships. There, on the opening night of the Championships, Werknesh was one of a quartet who pushed each other to new heights in one of the greatest women's 10,000m ever run. She took silver in 30:07.15 (then history's fourth fastest time), three seconds behind countrywoman Berhane Adere and ahead of Sun Yingjie of China and Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands. “We put up a good fight and prevailed, thank God,” said Werknesh, who was very pleased with her silver. “The Chinese runner really accelerated the pace, but that was good for us, because it gives you a better chance than if we had all remained bunched up. When Berhane took off with 200 metres remaining, since I know that she has a very good finishing kick and I’m not as strong, I knew she was going to win.”

After missing the 2003 Afro-Asian Games while visiting her father, who was ill, in Axum, Werknesh took 3rd at the Great Ethiopian Run 10K. Despite losing some time due to a minor injury, she began her 2004 season on a high note, claiming five straight dominating cross country victories—three in Spain, where her winning margin averaged 27 seconds, and then a big double win at the Ethiopian Championships. At the World Cross in Brussels, she couldn’t quite match her gold/silver double from 2003, but turned in a valuable 3rd in the 8K and 4th in the 4K, contributing to two Ethiopian team triumphs.

On the track she raced sparingly, first at Hengelo with a 4th at 5000m (15:04.34) behind Kenya’s future Olympic silver medalist Isabella Ochichi, but ahead of a couple of fellow Ethiopian Olympic team aspirants. Werknesh then staked her claim for a trip to Athens with a brilliant 14:38.05 for 2nd in the Rome 5000m behind Ejegayehu Dibaba. “I led for many laps,” she said later, “so I was very pleased I was able to finish that well.”

Ethiopian Olympic selectors ultimately put Ejegayehu and Werknesh on the team in the 10,000m, along with two-time Olympic gold medallist Derartu Tulu. The choice was controversial because the 2003 World Champion, Berhane, who had set an indoor World record at 5000m that January, was dropped shortly before the start of the Games, and didn’t take it quietly. The result in Athens was not altogether to the Ethiopians’ liking. The gold and silver from Paris shifted down a notch to silver and bronze (Ejegayehu and Derartu, with Werknesh 4th in 30:28.30) as the country’s streak of four straight global gold medals in the women’s 10,000m was broken by China’s fast-finishing Xing Huina. Werknesh ended her 2004 track season with a 5th in the 5000m at the World Athletics Final, in September.

The following year was a very solid one for Werknesh, who notched a couple of impressive doubles, although they were overshadowed by the 2005 cross country and track double World Champion Tirunesh’s stellar feats. Werknesh was again impressive on the European cross country circuit in 2005, taking two wins in Spain, but she paid dearly for her busy European schedule at the Ethiopian trials, where she finished a tired 6th in the 8K, recovering a day later to finish 4th in the 4K and booking a place on both teams for St. Etienne/St. Galmier.

Weighing only 41kgs and standing at 1.58m, Werknesh may have looked too frail to handle mud, but she had shown in the past that she possessed the stamina to double even in heavy going.  She medaled at both World Cross distances behind Tirunesh, taking silver in the short course and bronze in the long.

Three days after taking the national 10,000m title, in May, she took 5000m silver behind Gelete Burka and Tirunesh, with whom she was given the same hand-timed clocking. Werknesh ran a 3000 PB of 8:36.39 placing 2nd to Meseret Defar in the New York Reebok Grand Prix and clinched a World Championships 10,000m berth with a 30:19.39 win in Stanford. At the Helsinki Worlds she was 6th. She then won her debut half marathon, the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll, in 69:48 ahead of Kenyan Salina Kosgei, but improved that to 68:09 for 2nd at the Great North Run two weeks later.

Marriage and childbirth claimed the next couple of years of Werknesh’s resume. She wed the 2004 double World Cross Country silver medalist Gebre-egziabher (often written as one word, Gebregziabher, and abbreviated Gebre) Gebremariam in 2006 and they had two sons, Nathaniel and Muse.

She resumed competition in late 2008, running the Great North Run (72:07) in September and a cross country race before returning to a sub-70 clocking of 69:59 for 4th at the Prague half marathon on 28 March 2009. The very same day Gebre-egziabher made his team proud by winning the World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.

Werknesh ran 31:19.00 for 10,000m in Stockholm in May behind Meseret (31:07.34) and returned to the top spot of a Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon, in Las Vegas this time, in 70:55 in December. In her first 2010 outing, Werknesh qualified for a berth on the Bydgoszcz World Cross Country Championships team by remaining in the lead pack through the half-way point of the 21 February national trials in Addis Ababa and placing third behind 2009 World Cross bronze-medalist Meselech Melkamu and Dubai Marathon champion Mamitu Deska.

Werknesh returned to the World Cross Country Championships after a five-year absence and some things had changed while others hadn’t. She accompanied Gebre-egziabher, then her fiancé, now her husband and the father of their two sons, for the first time since 2004 (as he missed the 2005 edition). And in the women’s race, Tirunesh was still a favorite.

Werknesh was 9th in Bygdoszcz and felt her return to competition after the interrupted years was progressing somewhat satisfactorily though she was disappointed in Ethiopia’s overall performance and preparation as a team, from which only Meselech medaled, while Tirunesh was 4th. Werknesh’s progress picked up over the rest of the year, when she had three podium finishes on the road: a 10km win in Manchester in 31:19 followed by a 31:18 PB in New York in third place, behind the World 10,000m and Cross Country Champions Linet Masai and Emily Chebet and ahead of Lornah Kiplagat; and a third place in the Philadelphia half marathon in 68:31 behind Meseret’s win in 67:45.

Werknesh planned to make her marathon debut alongside her husband in New York that November, but was not feeling fit and stayed behind in Addis Ababa, watching on TV instead as he carried all the way to the top of the podium the hopes Ethiopia had placed in Haile Gebrselassie, who dropped out.

Werknesh debuted in the marathon in Dubai instead in January, running 2:27:15 for 8th place, and running 2:26:15 in April in Boston, where she was 7th and Gebre (as he is usually known in the US) was third in 2:04:53 in the men’s race (though those Boston clockings with a tailwind and unidirectional course are not recognized for various record purposes*). “She will be back to her old form within the year,” he predicted.

After a 31:23 win at the Atlanta Peachtree 10km, Werknesh made a late bid for the 2011 Daegu World Championships 10,000m team, and actually ran one of the three fastest Ethiopian times of the year, but the team had already been selected and been preparing for Daegu, and she was very disappointed about not being added. Her 31:08.92 win at the British championships on 30 July was faster than the season bests at the time of Ethiopia’s former African champion Meselech (31:14.83), national champion Beleynesh (or Belaynesh) Oljira (31:17.80) and Tigist Kiros (31:20.38), who were on the Daegu team. Werknesh’s absence was perhaps underscored when Meseret, who doubled in the 5000 and 10,000, dropped out of the longer event and Kenya swept the podium, with Meselech in 5th place.

Werknesh took her form to the Philadelphia half marathon, challenging New Zealand’s Kim Smith when she ran a U.S. all-comer’s record 67:11 to win with Werknesh 2nd in 67:28.

In a sense, Werknesh’s 2012 year has played out similarly to 2011 but with a crucial difference, in that she made the London Olympic 10,000m team this time. After only managing 13th in 2:33:08 in the 6 November 2011 New York marathon, she turned her focus to the 10,000m again.

Her build-up road races were very promising. In April, she was a runner-up in 15:13 to the Beijing double Olympic champion Tirunesh at the Carlsbad 5000, and she won the BAA 5km in a 15:12 PB ahead of Aheza Kiros and Smith. On June 1, seven Ethiopian women including Tirunesh and Werknesh lined up in the Eugene 10,000 in search of fast times for London selection. When Tirunesh won in a world-leading 30:24.39, Kenyan Florence Kiplagat (30:24.85), and Ethiopians Beleynesh (30:26.70) and Werknesh (30:50.16) were her runners-up. “I’m happy, but in case anyone else runs a faster time, I might run again, maybe in England,” said Werknesh, who was not taking any chances of being left off the team again.

On 23 June, she did indeed run again at the UK trials in Birmingham -- where Gebre made the Olympic team in the men’s 10,000m – but her win in 31:28.19 was slower than her Eugene time, which remains the Ethiopian women’s 3rd fastest in the nation this year, so her place on the team was never challenged. With Kenya holding its national trials at altitude in Nairobi, the Eugene clockings also remain the year’s fastest in the world, with Werknesh the 4th fastest.

Werknesh ran one other pre-Olympic race with Tirunesh, the 9 June New York DL meet 5000, which proved more tactical as it featured long-time rivals Tirunesh and Meseret. “I was hoping for a faster time, but I only ran the race for speed,” said Werknesh, who finished in 15:04.65.

Back at the Olympics with her husband, eight years after both placed 4th in Athens (he in the 5000m), Werknesh will be looking to challenge the London 10,000m favorites in the defending champion Tirunesh and the double World Champion Vivian Cheruiyot as well as her Kenyan teammates.


Personal Bests

3000m:        8:36.39    (2005)

5000m:       14:33.04    (2003)

10,000m:       30:07.15    (2003)

5km:         15:12      (2012)

10km:         31:18      (2010)

Half marathon:   67.28      (2011)

Marathon:          2:27:15      (2011)

 2:26:15       (2011), on Boston’s point-to-point course with elevation drop

Yearly Progression

3000/5000/10,000: 1998 – 9:02.40/15:55.18/-;  1999 – 9:07.54/15:24.56/;  2000 – 8:44.14/14:47.40/ ;  2001 – 9:03.74/15:29.96/31:43.41;  2002 – 8:41.58/14:43.53/-;  2003 – 8:39.51/14:33.04 /30:07.15; 2004 – 14:38.05/30:28.30; 2005 – 8:36.39/15:04.22/30:19.39; 2006 – -/-/-; 2007 – -/-/-; 2008 – -/-/-; 2009 – -/-/31:19.00; 2010 – -/-/-; 2011 – -/-/31:08.92; 2012 – -/15:04.65/30:50.16.

Career Highlights

1998   3rd   World Cross Country Championships, junior

1998   6th   World Junior Championships, 5,000m

1999   1st   World Cross Country Championships, junior

1999   7th   World Championships, 5000m

1999   4th   All-Africa Games, 5000m

2000   9th   World Cross Country Championships, junior

2000   7th   Olympic Games, 5000m

2001   5th   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2002   2nd   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2003   1st   World Cross Country Championships, 8km

2003   2nd   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2003   2nd   World Championships, 10,000m

2003   4th   World Athletics Final, 5000m

2003   2nd   All-Africa Games, 10,000m

2004   3rd   World Cross Country Championships, 8km

2004   4th   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2004   4th   Olympic Games, 10,000m

2004   5th   World Athletics Final, 5000m

2005   3rd   World Cross Country Championships, 8km

2005   2nd   World Cross Country Championships, 4km

2005   6th   World Championships, 10,000m

2010   9th   World Cross Country Championships, 8km

A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name 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 2003-2012.