DEJENE Berhanu (dehJEHnay birHAHnoo) Ethiopia (5000m/10,000m, cross country)
Born: 1980, Addis Alem (135 km northwest of Addis Ababa), Ethiopia.
Lives in Addis Ababa.
Manager: Mark Wetmore. Coaches: Hussein Shebo (club), Woldemeskel Kostre (national)
Club: Prisons Police (Maremya)
Other than covering long distances to and from school, Dejene Berhanu did not run while growing up near the town of Addis Alem in Ethiopia's fertile western highlands. He was inspired to take up the sport after his family moved to the outskirts of Addis Ababa in 1996 and he watched a 1997 rebroadcast of Haile Gebrselassie's victory in the Atlanta Olympic 10,000m. Dejene clocked himself running 10 km along a road, and his time of about 35 minutes encouraged him to join neighborhood runners in training.
He won his first race, over 10,000m, later that year and was recruited into the Rental Housing Authority (KIBEAD) athletic club, but he finished poorly (115th) in his first big competition, the 1998 National Junior Cross Country Championships. He worked his way up to top 40 and top 20 finishes over the next couple of years, performing much better at track than cross country, and earning entry into the higher tier Corrections or Prison Police (Maremya) club, to which Derartu Tulu and Fatuma Roba belong.
His breakthrough came in 2000, when he won the National Junior Cross Country, though he did not compete in the World Championships in Portugal. He also won the club championships 10,000m, and joined 1999 World Championships 10,000m bronze medalist Assefa Mezgebu in attacking the 10-year-old national high-altitude record for 10,000 (28:54.55) at the national track championships. Dejene finished two seconds behind Assefa's 28:46.53, but six seconds under the old record. His international debut came the same year with three races in Germany and the Netherlands in June, followed by a silver medal at 10,000m (28:41.11) in the African Championships in Algiers.
He won the 12 km at the National Cross Country Championships in 2001 but failed to finish at the World Championships in Ostend and was bothered by injuries for much of the rest of the year. In 2002 he concentrated on US road races, recording six top-6 finishes, including a big PB of 27:38 for 10km in Pittsburgh. But he returned to Ethiopia for the national track championship, winning at 5000m and placing 2nd at 10,000. He then placed 5th in the African Championships 10,000m (28:46.21) in Tunis.
In 2003 he finished 3rd over 12 km at the cross country nationals and 20th at the World Championships in Lausanne. After a big win over 5 km at Carlsbad near San Diego (PB 13:19), he returned to Ethiopia for the national track championships, taking 3rd in the 10,000, but he failed to record a qualifying mark in time for the Paris World Championships and had to content himself with a successful season of Grand Prix races, lowering his 5000 PB to 13:14.05 in San Sebastian and his 10,000 PB to 27:14.61 in Brussels. He also added another continental medal to his collection, a bronze in the 10,000 (27:47.19) at the All African Games in Nigeria.
2004 began promisingly with a PB (13:11.47i) 2nd place behind compatriot Kenenisa Bekele's 5000m World Indoor Record (12:49.60) in Birmingham in Dejene's first indoor race. He followed that with a victory over 4 km in the National Cross Country Championships, beating 2003 12 km World Cross bronze medalist Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam. In the Brussels World Championships, he finished a somewhat disappointing 11th but contributed to Ethiopia's first men's team victory over Kenya in 18 years. He brought that triumphant spirit to his defense of his Carlsbad 5 km title and won with a confident surge late in a tactical race (13:23).
His outdoor season started with a 2nd place behind Sileshi Sihine but ahead of Gebre-egziabher in the National Championships 10,000 (28:21.4). Next came a 4th at 5000 in a PB 13:03.19 at Bislett, behind Kenya’s John Kibowen and Gebre-egziabher. Then, in the all-important Rome GL, which served as Ethiopia’s final Olympic selection test, he scored a big PB 12:54.15 for 3rd behind World Champion Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) and Sileshi, and earned himself a place on Ethiopia’s 5000m team for Athens. In the 5000 final, against three of the world’s greatest distance runners (Kenenisa, Kipchoge and Hicham El Guerrouj), Dejene earned a solid 5th (13:16.92) behind Gebre-egziabher, and improved to 2nd a few weeks later in the World Athletics Final (13:07.91).
The year’s high point, however, came a week later over a longer distance, as Dejene became the fourth fastest half-marathoner in history (59:37) in winning the Great North Run in Newcastle. He replaced none other than his idol Haile as Ethiopian record holder.
The British north country proved to Dejene’s liking again in January as he lost by barely a second to Kipchoge in the Edinburgh International cross country. He carried that momentum right through the Ethiopian World Cross trials, where he comfortably won his third straigh 4 km title. This year he’s expecting to have something hanging around his neck when the running is over in St. Etienne/St. Galmier.
Yearly progression 5000/ 10,000: 2000 - 13:36.58/ 28:41.11; 2001 --; 2002 - 13:26.74/ 28:46.21; 2003 - 13:14.05/ 27:14.61; 2004 - 12:54.15/ 28:21.4.
Other PBs: 5000 indoor - 13:11.47i (2004); 5 km - 13:19 (Carlsbad 2003); 10 km - 27:38 (Pittsburgh 2002); Half-marathon – 59:37 (Newcastle 2004)
A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name only or first and second name together, the second name being the father's first name.
Prepared by Sabrina Yohannes, John Manners and Elshadai Negash for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2005.