One wouldn't think that a runner who has destroyed so many world class fields in a very short period of time could remain so tight-lipped about her achievements. But Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba is that sort of an athlete - one who is always eager to let her legs to do the talking and always downplay her achievements.
“I don’t want to boast about my achievement,” she says. “I want to run well and then let people talk about me. I am happy with what I have achieved so far, but I am hungry to achieve more.”
Just 20 years of age, Dibaba has seen her stature as the best distance runner in the world grow over the last year after winning double World titles over the cross country and the outdoor track (5000m and 10000m). She has also smashed the World Indoor 5000m record at the 2005 Boston Indoor Games in the USA.
Floored in Heathrow
On other counts, however, Dibaba begun 2006 with a rare defeat over compatriot Gelete Burka at the Edinburgh cross country international in Scotland after the former World Junior Cross Country champion spent the night before the race on the floor of the London Heathrow airport after missing her last connection flight to Edinburgh.
“It was one of those accident things and I do not want to blame anyone for it,” says a modest Dibaba. “My flight from Addis Ababa was already delayed and there was nothing I could do. I am upset that I lost the race, but not much.”
Never destined for Moscow
Dibaba bounced back to winning ways in late January and February taking consecutive wins over the indoor 3000m and 5000m in Boston and then Birmingham. Although she was selected by the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) to run in the 11th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Moscow, Russia, she chose not to compete in that event.
“I did not have enough time between those races,” she says. “From the onset, my season’s plans were not focused on running indoors, but to defend my World Cross country titles in Fukuoka. I never said that I would run in Moscow.”
In her absence, compatriot and Olympic 5000m champion Meseret Defar successfully defended her World Indoor 3000m title, but Dibaba hopes to compete in the World Indoors next time around. “Yes, this is one of my targets in the future,” she said.
For now, however, Fukuoka beckons. But Dibaba makes the trip with her Ethiopian compatriots to the southern Japanese city not in the shape she had hoped to find herself at this time of the year.
Two weeks before the competition, Dibaba caught measles from her younger sister and lost one week of her precious training time in Addis Ababa. “It was a small illness and nothing too serious," she says. "I have trained well over the last week and I feel that I am ready for Fukuoka."
Burka is my biggest challenger
Dibaba will go into both the short and long races in Fukuoka as an overwhelming favourite, but she will have to contend with a world class field in the short race including Kenya's Olympic 5000m silver medallist Isabella Ochichi and compatriot reigning World Junior Cross Country champion Gelete Burka, the runner who has beaten Dibaba twice of the last one year.
"She is a very strong runner," says Dibaba of Burka. "I know that she will be my toughest challenger in Fukuoka."
Despite her attempts to shun the headlines, Dibaba knows that all eyes and the attention will be on her when she steps on the Umi-no-nakamichi Seaside Park this weekend. And if she completes both races on top, she hopes that her legs have done enough talking to convince everyone of her distance running prowess!
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF