As the Ethiopian team puts the finishing touches to its preparations for next weekend’s 33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France, the expectations of the coaches have come to rest on the latest raw talent to emerge from the country’s seemingly limitless pool of distance running talent. His name is Abebe Dinkesa.
Inexperienced, but raring to go
Dinkesa, 21, goes into these championships on the back of an impressive cross country season during which he won at the IAAF permit race in Brussels last December. More recently he comfortably beat the reigning double World Cross silver medallist Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam in the 12km long course race at the Ethiopian trials, just two weeks ago.
“He has been impressive in training and is ready to battle it out against the best this year,” says Hussein Shebo, an Ethiopian assistant team coach. Shebo, who is also the runner’s personal coach at the Prisons’ Police Sports Club, has been responsible for Dinkesa’s rise from a young talent and says the 21-year old is now ready to mix it with the big boys. “He has been amazing this year in training and I expect him to medal in France.”
The coach’s enthusiasm is shared by the runner. “I am in better form than anyone in the Ethiopian team at the moment,” the confident Dinkesa explains. “My most realistic target is to win a medal this year and to push the maximum for gold.”
But apart from his unusual air of confidence, Dinkesa admits that he has been lucky to start running in the first place. “I have worked very hard for all of this,” he says. “But sometimes I honestly believe that I am lucky to be a runner in the first place.”
Born on 6 March 1984 in Dendhi district in Ambo, 150kms outside Addis Ababa, Dinkesa started running in school when his uncle brought him from his parents’ house in the village to help with work in his small grocery shop. “My uncle wanted to help my education in addition to working in the shop.”
He went to school and worked at the shop for three years before his uncle’s business went bankrupt. “I would not have continued running if that did not happen. It would have been impossible to train, go to school, and work at the shop at the same time.”
While in school, Dinkessa won a 5000m representing his school in the Ambo province Inter-school championships in 2000. A year later, he made his first trip to Addis Ababa representing the Oromiya region to take part in the Ethiopian Half Marathon championships, but could only manage a disappointing 90th. “I did not feel very bad. Rather it gave the motivation to work even harder.”
Junior Cross stint
Dinkesa worked so hard that a year later and under very tough competition, he finished second behind Gebregziabher Gebremariam in the men’s junior race at the Ethiopian trials to qualify for the 30th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Dublin, Ireland. “My club had given me spikes for the first time before the race but I removed them in the middle of the race because they were very uncomfortable.”
Dinkesa, again running barefoot, finished a respectable ninth in his first race outside Ethiopia and set off to Europe to gain experience track racing, winning two races in low-key races Holland and finishing second in Poland. “Those races were important for me because they helped me gain experience as well as money.”
Career threatening injury
His improvements on the track meant invitations to many cross country races in the 2002/03 season where he earned top-five finishes in Amorebeita, Santander, and San Sebastian. Unfortunately, he also picked up a massive tendon tear that ruled him out of the 2003 season. “I was very disappointed because I was hitting form for the World Cross trials in 2003.”
Doctors advised Dinkesa to stay away from running, but he ignored the advice. “I was willing to take risks and fight off the injury. Thank to God, however, I made rapid progress and returned to training in less than eight months.”
After making his comeback in the 2003 Great Ethiopian Run (9th), Dinkesa ran with vengeance to win the 12km race at the Addis Ababa Municipal Cross Country Championships in December 2003.
He then run two races in France (1st) and Belgium (3rd) to prepare for the Ethiopian trials only to be struck by flu days before the Ethiopian Cross Country Championships. “It had quite some time since I had travelled to Europe and so when I returned from Belgium, I could not handle the change in weather when I returned.” He still was brave enough to enter the 4km race and finish 10th.
Encouraging 2004 on the road and track
Despite his misfortune over the cross country, Dinkesa finished a respectable fourth behind Sileshi Sihine, Dejene Berhanu, and Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam in the 10,000m race at the Ethiopian track championships. That meant selection in the Ethiopian provisional squad of 50 for the Olympics.
He simply could not believe it!
“When I heard that I was included in the provisional team set for the training camp, I felt something unexpected come over me. I just could not believe it.”
On the European circuit, Dinkesa lowered his PB for the 10,000m to 27:23.60 in Hengelo and the 5000m to 13:23.01 in Belgium. But despite achieving the Olympic ‘A’ standard for both distances, he was relative too slow for a place in the final Ethiopian Olympic team. “I did not prepare very well for the track and was not surprised by the relatively slow times, and there were others who were very good runners.”
He completed his summer by taking silver in the 10,000m race at the African Championships in Congo-Brazzaville, but was a disappointing tenth in the World Half Marathon Championships in New Delhi, India in October 2004.
But Dinkesa made a winning return in the 2004 Great Ethiopian Run where he produced an outstanding surge of speed on the uphill part of the course to take his first title in three attempts. “I love running uphill and in truth that is the determinant factor in any race because the downhill is always easy.”
Hungry of medals
His victory in the Great Ethiopian Run in addition to his cross country win in Brussels, a second place finish in Seville, and strong push for the finish in the trials in Addis Ababa now had Dinkesa dreaming of ‘big things’ in St. Etienne/ St. Galmier.
“I am hungry for a medal this year. My training is going extremely great and I cannot wait for the championships in France.”
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF