Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Oromiya Prisons club runner Chala Dechasa was a surprise winner of the men’s race at the 2008 TOYOTA Great Ethiopian Run, an international 10km road race held in Addis Ababa on Sunday (23).
Defending champion Wude Ayalew won a competitive women’s contest as the race which debuted eight years ago saw over 32,000 participants take part.
Men - Dechassa shocks Merga in thrilling battle
Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Sileshi Sihine, Gebregziabher Gebremariam, Deriba Merga, and most certainly Tsegaye Kebede have all used the Great Ethiopian Run as a launching pad before going on to achieve bigger and better results in international competitions.
And if this year’s race is to serve as a springboard of what is to come in the future, then youngster Chala Dechasa will surely become one of Ethiopia’s top distance runners in the years ahead.
Running against one of the deepest fields ever assembled for Africa’s largest road race, Dechasa, whose only previous result to note was a 2:08.31 Marathon performance for second place at the 2008 ING Amsterdam Marathon in October, surprised long-time leader Merga, who was 4th in the Olympic Marathon, winner of this race in 2006, and winner of the New Delhi Half Marathon two weeks ago in India, with 800m of the race left to take victory in 28:55 with a tired Merga overtaken by Feyisa Lelisa in the final meters and forced to settle for third.
Following the trend of the last three years, a separate elite start was again devised to protect the elite and international field from possible pushing and shoving. But that did not stop the elite men’s field of around 300 runners from enjoying a frantic start to the race that saw just four runners - Merga, Mesfin Admassu, Gebremariam, and Dereje Tesfaye - open a slender lead of around 10m at the head of the pack.
But at the uphill approaching the second kilometre, any early breakaway attempts were quickly closed down by the trailing field. A kilometre later, more than 10 runners were in a large training group with former top three finishers Tadesse Tola and Ayele Abshiro - conqueror of the Bekele brothers, Kenenisa and Tariku, last weekend in Njimegen, Netherlands joining the fray.
By the half way point, the early morning heat and the punishing course had already claimed half of the early front-runners. Merga led Gebremariam and three other runners as the pace eased down.
Merga’s persistence at the head of the pack undid two more runners in the next 1.5km with only Gebremariam and Dechassa offering any kind of resistance.
When he again pushed the pace, only Dechasa stuck with him and an ailing Gebremariam was easily dropped from the fight to the finish.
It looked a matter of time before Merga would drop Dechasa to become the first two-time male winner of the Great Ethiopian Run. But whenever the All-African Games Half Marathon champion applied pressure on the now-leading Dechasa, the younger runner stuck with his better known compatriot.
With a kilometre left to the finish, Dechasa tried the unthinkable by attempting a break-away from Merga. Although Merga closed him down, he looked to be struggling chasing Dechasa. And when Dechasa applied a stronger kick 500m from the finish, Merga had lost all of his reserve energy.
As Dechasa coasted towards the finish line, Merga fought to first keep up with his younger compatriot. He lost both that battle and will be dismayed to see Lelisa come from virtually nowhere to beat him for second.
A tough race saw Gebremariam and Admassu failed to finish the contest. Some of the pre-race contenders like Ayele Abshiro (14th) and Tilahun Mnasho (25th) even failed to get in the top fifteen.
Britain’s Mohammed Farah was the highest placed non-Ethiopian in 15th, while Kenyan Gilbert Yego (53rd) Swedish steeplechaser Mustafa Mohammed (58th) were the other notable top 100 finishers.
“I never thought I would win the race,” said Dechasa in his post-race comments. “I thought about finishing in the top 10, but never about winning. I am so happy.”
Women - Ayalew takes comfortable title
In contrast to the men’s race, the women’s contest was a clear-cut affair with Wude Ayalew, last year’s winner and African 10000m bronze medallist, continuing her development as a 10000m/10km specialist with a comfortable victory in Addis Ababa.
Flagged by Teyiba Erkesso and Werkitu Ayanu from the 5km point, Ayalew applied the decisive break at the 7km mark and sailed to victory in 33.31 with Ayanu overcoming Erkesso to finish second.
It was a big reprieve for Ayalew who was part of Ethiopia’s preliminary Beijing Olympic squad in the summer only to loose out to Ejegayehou Dibaba in the final selections by less than one second.
“I came very close to coming in Beijing last year and I was upset when I did not make it,” she said. “This year I want to work hard and qualify for the world championships in Berlin. This has been a tough race. It was tougher than last year. I am even happier than last year.”
Pre-race favourites Mestawet Tufa and Werknesh Kidane did not start the race.
Quality field, vibrant atmosphere and family run delight Gebrselassie
The mass participation race saw 32,000 runners take part this year. But for race director, co-founder, and of course World Marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie, it was another special race.
“I am proud of the standard the race has achieved,” he said. “The crowd control has gotten better down the year and again today, the police did an excellent job. I am very happy.”
But could Gebrselassie’s family also be following his lead on the athletic front?
On Saturday, all of his four children took part in the AIMS Series Children Series and finished the race. On Sunday, his wife Alem Tilahun, who is often credited for Haile’s success on the business front, also took part in the mass participation race finishing the 10km in 63 minutes, a time good enough to get her in the first 1000 finishers.
“No they took part for fun,” Gebrselassie said when we were asked if the family could be taking up running seriously like himself. “But today was a great day. We discovered a new winner. It makes me really proud.”
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
1. Chala Dechasa (Global NIKE) 28.55
2. Feyisa Lelisa (Defence) 29.07
3. Deriba Merga (Individual) 29.11
1. Wude Ayalew (EEPCO) 33.31
2. Werkitu Ayanu (Ethiopian Banks) 33.43
3. Teyiba Erkesso (Individual) 34.06