Created 22 July 2012
Hagos Gebrhiwet Berhe, Ethiopia (3000m,5000m)
Born: 11 May 1994, Atsbi-Wonberta, Tigray region, Ethiopia
Lives: Addis Ababa
Height: 1.73m / Weight: 55kg
Club: Mesfin Industrial Engineering (National team)
Coach: Hussein Shibo, Dr. Yilma Berta (National team) Kasshu Gebre-egziabher
Manager: Mark Wetmore (Elias Kebede, repesentative in Ethiopia)
Watch out for the fastest ever 5000m junior runner at the Olympic Games.
Hagos Gebrhiwet Berhe grew up in the small Atsbi-Wonberta district of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, 813km far from Addis Ababa. He is the only son of his family, but he has five sisters.
After school, the young Hagos would first go to their football field to play football with his village friends: “When I played football in my village, I was fast and was a good attacker. Some of my friends said to me, why not become an athlete? When I did athletics in my school it was just in order to pass my exams.” That didn't stop him easily winning his school competition.
When he was 15 years-old, Hagos' successful results earned him the right to start representing his district at the Schools Regional Competition over 5000m. Hagos became convinced that athletics would be his future career, but not everyone was so sure: "When I decided to stick with athletics, my family initially disagreed and said I should only focus on education. I didn’t want to refuse their idea, so I said okay, but I ran discreetly.” However, he wasn't able to keep his athletics career hidden from his family for long.
In 2009, Hagos ran his first national athletics competition in Addis Ababa, where he represented his Tigray region and finished 24th. At the beginning of 2010, he moved to the regional capital, Mekele, and joined the Mesfin Industrial Engineering Club. It was a big decision to make for young Hagos to move out of his parents’ home: “My family was not happy," said Hagos, "but I told them that I like training and if I do well, I will support you but if I stay here, I will be dependent on you."
A year later, Hagos was becoming a good competitor at national level and at the 2011 Ethiopian Championships, three days before his 17th birthday, he was sixth in the 5000 metres, a race won by 2009 African junior champion Abera Kuma followed by another rising star of Ethiopian 5000m running, Atsedu Tsegay.
Two months later, in July, Hagos competed abroad on the international stage for the first time in Lille, France, where he finished fifth over 3000m at the World Youth Championships in a time of 7:45.11. Of his first national team involvement, he said: "It was my dream to represent my country in athletics, but I didn’t win, so I didn’t get to carry my flag.”
At the end of 2011, Hagos made a successful road race debut in Spain by winning over 10km at the San Silvestre Vallecana. Hagos had only been a last minute entry and might have even finished, but showed determination to win a thrilling sprint finish against hot pre-race favourite Teklemariam Medhin of Eritrea - both men being accredited the same time of 27:57: "I didn’t have road race experience and for five kilometres, it was very difficult. I argued with myself whether to stop or to carry on, but I after that, my tiredness went away and I pushed myself."
Hagos continued his improvement in 2012, making his indoor debut over 3000m in Boston, USA where - still 17 - he finished fourth in 7:44.08 behind another teenager, 2010 1500m World junior champion Caleb Ndiku, his compatriot and 2011 World Championships 5000m bronze medallist Dejen Gebremeskel and Kenyan star Silas Kiplagat, the 2011 World Championships 1500m silver medallist. (This was also the meeting in which fellow Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba ran her first track race since winning the 5000m at the London Diamond League meeting in August 2010 and her nation's only gold of the African Championships - hosted by Kenya in July 2010. Tirunesh had made her overall comeback after 16 months in winning the women’s race at the Madrid 10km less than six weeks before in a tight race, as had Hagos..)
Hagos then returned to Ethiopia for the 29th Jan Meda International Cross Country race in Addis Ababa, placing fourth over eight kilometres in 26:30.82.
He had earned a spot on the Ethiopian team for the African Cross Country Championships, in Cape Town, South Africa where he finished fourth in the junior eight kilometre race.
Two weeks later Hagos was back in the USA for the Carlsbad 5km road race in California. There he finished second to Dejen Gebremeskel, but it was Hagos' time that caught everyone's attention: 13:14 minutes was the fastest 5km road time ever for a junior athlete.
That earned Hagos an invitation to the Shanghai Diamond League meeting in May and a week after his 18th birthday, Hagos claimed a resounding victory in a wet 5000m that included distance legend Kenenisa Bekele (attempting a return to the top after injury-plagued years) as well as 2006 Commonwealth champion and 2012 World Indoor silver medallist Augustine Choge. After the race, Hagos was delighted and revealed: “That is a special memory in my career. Before I came to the competition, I had had some trouble from my federation who didn’t give me permission (to go the China), because they wanted me to run in Barcelona at the World Junior Championships. I had lost hope, but finally after some negotiation they let me go.”
By this time, Hagos was improving at quite a rate and again beat 5000m and 10,000m World record holder Kenenisa, plus a raft of other world-known stars, at another Diamond League event, the legendary Bislett Games in Oslo. Knocking 12 seconds off his PB, finishing second again just behind fellow Ethiopian Dejen Gebremeskel, he broke 13 minutes for the first time with 12:58.99.
With confidence flowing through him and revelling in being able to mix it up with the world's top 5000m stars, Hagos arrived in Paris for the next Diamond League event and there in the Stade de France, he was among the top protagonists of the greatest-ever 5000m race, in which six athletes ran under 12:50 and 11 under 13 minutes. Paris was the last chance for the Ethiopian runners (whose Olympic selection is based on times) to shine, so the pace was sure to be fast. Hagos helped push it, chasing home Dejen Gebremeskel (12:46.81, the fastest mark since 2005, making him the fifth performer of all-time), to finish second in a very strong field. He smashed the World Junior record with 12.47.53* to become the seventh-best ever athlete, convincing Ethiopia's Olympic selectors to include him in the team for the London Games. (*one and a half minutes faster than the time he had set in National Championships the previous year.)
“The Olympics are the dream of all athletes, I am surprised that in such a short time in my athletics career I will represent my country at the London Olympics,” says Hagos, “I am young. I want to keep doing the 5000m and I want keep improving my racing”.
With such an upward curve as his, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that this teenager could make quite a name for himself in London.
3000m: 7:45.11(2011); 7:44.08i (2012)
5000m: 12:47.53 WJR (2012)
5km: 13.14 (2012)
10km: 27.57 (2011
3000m: 2011: 7:45.11; 2012: -/7:44.08i
5000m: 2011: 14:10.0hA; 2012: 12:47.53 WJR
2011 6th Ethiopian Championships, Addis Ababa (5000m) 14:10.0hA
2011 5th IAAF World Youth Championships, Lille (3000 m) 7:45.11
2012 4th African Cross Country Championships, Cape Town (junior race)
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.
(The grandfather’s first name is sometimes added as a third name, and is optional in much the same way that a Western middle name is frequently omitted; however, it is mandatory on all new Ethiopian passports.)
Prepared by Haimanot Turuneh Torode for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2012.