Created 16 July 2012
Ayanleh Souleiman, Djibouti (1500m, 3000m)
Born:03 December 1992, Djibouti
Club: Djibouti Police (National team)
Coach: Jama Aden
Djibouti doesn’t often have much to shout about in athletics, but that might be about to change with the emergence of Ayanleh Souleiman – a middle distance runner whose enthusiasm and emotion in a bubbly personality could soon be matched by his achievements on the track.
Ayanleh Souleiman grew up in the capital of the Republic of Djibouti. He has 4 sisters and 2 brothers. The young Souleiman was a football player, and played for two years for in club Port Djibouti. His dream was to be a well-known player in football, but his friends convinced him to change his dream to athletics.
In 2008, as usual Souleiman went to the stadium with his friends, but that morning there was a 5km road race. His friend suggested that they run the race: “I said ‘What! Me, do running! Are you joking!’ I rejected his idea.” But his friends didn’t give up and pushed him to register for the race. Finally Souleiman accepted. “When I started the race, it was good, but after 4km I felt very tired. However, I didn’t want to drop out. But without any planning and without proper training, I finished in 5th position,” said Souleiman.
News of the result reached one of the athletics coaches, who came to his football training and told to him he had good potential in athletics. This time Souleiman didn’t resist the coach’s idea, but alternated between training for the two sports.
However, after some local competitions, his coach finally convinced Souleiman’s family that he should focus only on athletics. So he left his football club and joined the athletics arm of Djibouti Police.
In 2008, Souleiman represented his country for the first time at the East Africa Junior Athletics Championships, in Addis Ababa where he finished 4th over 3000m in 8:34.11.
A year later, in 2009, he came back to Ethiopia for the Jan Meda International 8km Cross Country, but finished way down the field in 119th place.
Souleiman though was still only a youth, and as such, his next international outing for his country was at the World Youth Championships in Italy. He finished the heat 6th with an 8:31.83PB, but didn’t qualify for final in Bressanone. “Even if I didn’t reach final, I learnt from the experience of my first trip to Europe,” Souleiman reflected.
He returned home and won a few domestic races on the track – all good preparation as it turned out for the Francophone Games, in Beirut, where he placed 10th at 1500m in 3:57.40.
In 2010, Souleiman was not given the opportunity to travel abroad by his federation so he competed only domestically, posting best marks of 1.49.3 and 3.50.2 over 800m and 1500m.
However, the situation changed and in May 2011, when now 18, he went to the African Junior Championships in Gaborone, Botswana. There, he failed to reach the final for 800m, but he did advance in the 1500m. However, with 3:46.51, he could only finish ninth, almost 12 seconds behind Kenyan winner Hillary Maiyo. “After the race I was disappointed, but when I saw the times in the newspaper, I realised it was my (personal) best time,” Ayanleh recalls.
A month later he improved the mark again, setting a National Junior Record of 3:42.70 at the CAA Brazzaville meeting in Congo, before he reduced it further at the Eastern Region African Championships in Tanzania, in early June, to 3.41.68.
In September, he finished 6th at the All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique. But his 1500m path was to take a massive jump forward after some high altitude training in Ethiopia, where he found inspiration training alongside some of his heroes: “I saw Mohamed Farah, I saw Imane Merga. I found myself with some great athletes,” he recalls.
And in December, at the Arab Games in Qatar, he took this experience and wiped almost 7.5 seconds off his personal best to not only again set a new National Junior Record, but break the senior national mark as well. His 3:34.32 – after a furious sprint to the line to defeat Qatar’s talented teenagers Hamza Driouch and Mohamad Al-Garni – also secured him the gold medal for victory and something even more valuable: “I am happy, but not only because of the medal as my time was also inside the Olympic A qualifying time,” he said.
But the Arab Games final had yet more positive developments for Ayanleh, who befriended the athlete he beat for the title, the barely-seventeen Driouch, and so started working with Hamza’s coach, the renowned Jama Aden.
“Ayanleh met me in Doha, during the Arab Games, when he won 1500m and became friends with Hamza Driouch. He asked me for help and I was a guide and talked to him on the phone about training. He told me he was looking for me a long time and now he met me,” recalls Jama Aden.
All this meant Souleiman came into 2012 in high spirits. After preparation time again spent in Ethiopia, he took 5th place in 1500m at the World Indoor Championships in the Turkish metropolis, Istanbul. The young Djiboutian had this to say about seeing an indoor track for the first time: “The stadium was very small and the track was upside down. I was tired after one lap, but in the last 200m I was fast. I finished 5th and was happy with my first indoor result.”
After the World Indoors, Ayanleh travelled to Iten, Kenya, for a training camp with Jama Aden and his group. “He has been with us since then, and is full of potential,” says Aden.
Two months later, outdoors, he finished ninth in the Doha Diamond League 3000m. “I ran with the world class athletes, that was good experience for me. Kenenisa Bekele finished seventh, I was just behind him,” Souleiman explains. Not only that, but he also claimed the Djibouti National record with 7:42.22.
For the FBK Games, in Hengelo in May, Souleiman prepared in Sweden and duly knocked four more seconds off his National Record in the Netherlands. “I looked at my time: 3:30.31. I said to my coach no… no it is impossible!” The mark makes the young Djiboutian the fifth performer in the 2012 World lists.
Another personal best followed, with a third place finish behind Asbel Kiprop, in the Bowerman Mile at the Eugene Diamond League meet in Oregon.
Souleiman then finished second soon after over the metric mile at the New York Diamond League Meeting in 3:34.73 – missing out on victory by just one tenth of a second to Bernard Lagat: “I was in good condition, but I missed it,” he commented afterwards.
The 19 year-old also crossed the line in second place at his next race, his first African Championships in Benin. However, that didn’t take away from a moment of history for his country, as the silver medal in the 1500m final in Porto Novo – taken behind Caleb Mwangangi Ndiku’s new Championship record – was Djibouti’s first medal at Africa’s continental Championships in 27 years.
Souleiman is married with one daughter, born at the end of 2011.
“If I win I am happy, if I lose I am happy.” Such is the mantra that the talented Ayanleh Souleiman will be taking into the Olympic Games in London.
1500m: 3:30.31 (2012) / 3:39.51i (2012)
One Mile: 3:50.21 (2012)
1500m: 2011: 3:34.32: 2012: 3:39.51i; 2012: 3:30.31;
One Mile: 2012: 3:50.21
2009 h World Youth Championships, Bressanone (3000 m)
2009 10th Francophone Games, Beirut (3000 m)
2011 6th All Africa Games, Maputo (1500m)
2012 5th World Indoor Championships, Istanbul (1500m)
2012 2nd African Championships, Porto Novo (1500m)
Prepared by Haimanot Turuneh Torode for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2012.