Updated 22 March 2013
MESELECH Melkamu, Ethiopia (5000m/10,000m, Cross Country, Marathon)
A.k.a.: Meselech Melkamu Haileyesus
Born: 27 April 1985, Debre Markos, Ethiopia (360km from Addis Ababa)
Height: 1.58m Weight: 47kg
Lives: Addis Ababa
Club: EEPCO (Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation)
Manager: Jos Hermens
Coach: Yilma Berta
Fourth of six children. Father Melkamu Haile Yesus is retired military man and former marathon runner with modest international experience in the 1960s.
After making a successful transition from the track to the marathon by winning last October’s Frankfurt marathon in 2:21:01, the 2009 World 10,000m silver medalist Meselech Melkamu returns to the World Cross Country Championships and to Bydgoszcz, where she earned her fifth (and fourth 8K) World Cross bronze medal in 2010.
Over her father's objections, Meselech Melkamu began running with a local youth group in Debre Markos in 2000. Victories in local cross country races earned her a trip to Ethiopia's World Cross Country trials in 2001, where she placed 11th in the junior race. Track successes the following summer gained her entry to the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation club’s recruiting races, where her win at 1500m resulted in an offer of a place in the club. She quit school in Debre Markos (having completed 10th grade) and joined EEPCO in Addis Ababa.
Meselech barely missed selection at the 2002 World Cross Country trials but left no doubt in 2003. Following close behind 2002 World Junior silver medallist Tirunesh Dibaba in the junior race, Meselech remembered her father's advice to always think of herself as having a chance to win regardless of the competition. In a homestretch push, she passed the surprised Tirunesh to take the victory. "We all finished together," says Meselech modestly. "We were just steps apart." They were farther apart at the World Cross Country in Lausanne. Tirunesh won; Meselech was 12 seconds back in 4th, "I thought it would be easier," she says. "The other runners were very strong. I went with the lead very early, and I shouldn't have done that. But I’ve learned from my mistake."
What's more, in the years since, Meselech has had a full share of international competition. Between the 2003 and 2004 World Cross Country Championships, she ran 16 races in Europe on track, road and turf at distances ranging from 1500m to 10km, excelling on the road and cross country. The experience left her much better prepared for Ethiopia’s 2004 World Cross Country trials - where she won the junior race decisively and came back the next day to take 4th in the Women's 4km - and for the World Championships, in Brussels, where she led an Ethiopian sweep of the first four places in the junior race.
In May 2004, Meselech beat Tirunesh again in a sprint finish, this time over the 5000m at the Ethiopian track championships. She skipped much of the European track season to concentrate on the World Junior Championships, in Grosseto, Italy, where she comfortably won the 5000m in 15:21.52, a championship record by more than nine seconds. A last ditch attempt to secure a place in the Ethiopian Olympic team failed when she finished nearly 10 seconds off the 1500m Olympic A qualifying standard.
She fared better in the 2004-2005 cross country season, completing an impressive double at Ethiopia’s World Cross trials in February. In her first senior 8km race, Meselech finished a close second to Tirunesh then came back even stronger the next day to beat Bizunesh Bekele, Ejegayehu Dibaba, and Werknesh Kidane in the 4km race. At the World Championships in Saint-Etienne/Saint-Galmier, Meselech took fourth in the long race and sixth in the short, helping Ethiopia, led by double champion Tirunesh, garner both team golds.
Meselech then ran broke 15 minutes for 5000m with a 14:38.97 in Rome in July, and running what remains her best outdoor 3000m time, 8:34.73, in Zürich in August. She finished just outside the medals in Ethiopia’s historic sweep of the top four places over 5000m at the 2005 World Championships, in Helsinki, following the 5000m and 10,000m new champion Tirunesh, Meseret Defar and Ejegayehu.
Meselech took bronze in both races at the 2006 World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, behind teammates Tirunesh in the long race and Gelete Burka in the short. She also placed second at the nationals and sixth at the African Championships over 5000m, as well as winning the Great Ireland Run 10K on the road in a still-standing course record 31:41.
In the 2006-2007 cross country season, Meselech won the Addis Ababa city cross country championships and ran the second-fastest indoor 3000m behind Meseret. In Stuttgart on 3 February during Meseret’s attempt on the 8:29.15 3000m World record, Meselech pushed the 2004 and 2006 world indoor champion all the way to the line, finishing under the old mark and two hundredths of a second behind Meseret’s new 8:23.72 World record.
Meselech’s form was in evidence again at the Jan Meda cross country that serves as trials for the World Cross when she won the women’s title. In Mombasa, she overcame the heat and humidity that felled many of her compatriots to earn one of Ethiopia’s two World Cross Country individual medals, taking bronze behind the Netherlands’ Lornah Kiplagat and the defending champion Tirunesh’s silver. Meselech took 5000m silver behind Meseret at the All Africa Games in Algiers in July but in a competitive and tactical Osaka world championships 5000m won by Meseret in hot and humid conditions, Meselech was sixth in 15:01.42.
Bypassing the international cross country circuit in 2008 and returning to the indoor 3000m event in which she had challenged Meseret so fiercely in 2007, Meselech clocked the second-fastest time of the year, 8:29.48, in Valencia on 9 February (behind only Meseret’s 8:27.93 in Stuttgart), and earned a World Indoor Championships berth over the likes of Gelete and the 5000m World indoor record-holder Tirunesh.
At the Championships, she challenged Meseret, remaining in contention with three laps to go and the only one chasing Meseret at the bell, but as Meseret sped away to a decisive victory, Meselech took silver, her first senior World Championships medal on the track.
Running with Meseret again over 5000m at the African Athletics Championships, this time at home on the track where the national team trains, and in front of the home crowd that had witnessed a sweep of the men’s 10,000m the day before, Meselech exceeded expectations set by her stellar previous year and she swept past Meseret to take her first senior international gold medal. Meselech ran a personal best 31:04.93 for 10,000m behind the Dibaba sisters in Ostrava in June and 14:38.78 for 5000 behind Tirunesh in Rome in July.
She completed a stacked Ethiopian 5000m team in Beijing featuring defending Olympic champion Meseret and newly-crowned 10,000m Olympic champion Tirunesh attempting the golden double. A slow race saw Ethiopian-born Turk Elvan Abeylegesse pick up the pace with all of her former compatriots keeping up, but while Tirunesh’s bell lap kick gave her the gold and Abeylegesse and Meseret took the minor medals, Meselech finished 8th. She did, however, get a podium finish in 2008, placing 3rd at the World Athletics Final 5000m behind 3000-5000m winner Meseret and Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot.
She headed to the 2009 Amman World Cross Country as the runner-up in the Ethiopian trials, where her bid for victory was thwarted by African 10,000m bronze-medalist Wude Ayalew. Both sought to fill the absent Tirunesh’s shoes, but her crown went to Kenya’s Florence Kiplagat and Meselech took her fourth World Cross bronze (including her 2006 4K medal).
The 2009 outdoor season may well be remembered as the period Meselech joined her better-known teammates Tirunesh and Meseret in rare company, starting with the phenomenal 29:53.80 she clocked over 10,000m in Utrecht on 14 June in their absence (but ahead of Kiplagat and Wude), bettering Tirunesh’s 29:54.66 African record of the previous year and taking her place as the second-fastest in history behind Chinese Wang Junxia’s 1993 World record of 29:31.78. Meselech followed that performance up just three days later with a 14:34.17 for 5000m in Ostrava, beating Kenyans Linet Masai and Vivian Cheruiyot and clocking the second-fastest time of the year. In what was expected to pit the three Ethiopian women against one another, the Oslo Golden League 5000m on 3 July, Tirunesh pulled out but Meseret beat Cheruiyot to win and Meselech took third.
Meselech and Meseret, who also ran under 30 minutes in a rare 10,000m, both tackled the distance double at the Berlin World Championships, and with Tirunesh having pulled out due to injury concerns, the remaining two first squared off over the less-familiar longer distance. With Meseret leading in the home straight, Meselech managed to overtake her and even as she celebrated, she was herself passed by Masai, and took silver, with Wude taking bronze and Meseret fading to fifth steps from the line. “For myself personally, I am pleased because this is my first time running this event at the World Championships, so I'm happy I got a medal,” said Meselech. “But I would have been happy if Meseret had got the gold. I was expecting her to win. I never saw the Kenyan.” Meselech proved not to be quite up to the grueling double in Berlin, taking fifth over 5000m and 9th at the World Athletics Final in September, but a 19:52 second-place behind Sylvia Kibet over 4 miles in Groningen, the Netherlands, in October ended her year well.
In 2010, Meselech outsprinted Dubai marathon champion Mamitu Daska to win the women’s race at the Ethiopian trials for the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz. On a course full of log jumps and a pace dictated by Kenya, with the duo of Emily Chebet and Linet Masai taking the top two medals, Meselech took yet another bronze medal at the World Cross, her fifth to date, and Ethiopia’s only individual medal in Bydgoszcz.
Meselech began her outdoor track season with a third place finish over 5000m in Shanghai where Sentayehu Ejigu ran a then-world leading 14:30.96. Meselech’s 14:31.91 bettered her previous PB by close to two seconds.
Meselech ran a 31:04.52 season best for 10,000 in Ostrava, before following Olympic champion Tirunesh to the podium at the Nairobi African Championships 10,000, taking silver in 31:55.50 ahead of Masai and Wude. Meselech wrapped up her year on the roads, winning the Tilburg, Netherlands 10km in 31:33.
She easily defeated her Berlin 10,000m fellow-medalist Wude Ayalew and others to win the February 20 Addis Ababa trials for the 2011 World Cross Country Championships. “It went extremely well,” said Meselech. “The race was very good, and my preparation for it had gone very well.”
Meselech went to Punta Umbria seeking her first World Cross Country gold, after taking third over the short course in 2006 and the long course every year from 2006 to 2010 except 2008. “Five bronzes is too much!” said Meselech. “I’m running to change that.” But she unfortunately broke that streak by moving in the wrong direction and taking fourth as Cheruiyot prevailed over Masai, and American Shalane Flanagan reeled Meselech in over the last kilometre.
On the track, Meselech finished in a season best 14:39.44.behind her compatriots Meseret, Sentayehu and Genzebe at the Oslo Diamond League 5000m in June. Seeking fast times to make the Ethiopian 10,000m World Championships team, eight women ran in Ostrava on 31 May and Meselech prevailed, kicking in the home straight to win the race in 31:14.83.
By August, Meseret had since run a better time of 31:05.05 and led the Ethiopian charge in the Daegu World Championships final, where the defending champion Masai and reigning Kenyan champion Cheruiyot, not to mention their world-leading teammate Sally Kipyego who had run 30:38.35, posed a deadly threat. Although Defar, who was to contest the 5000m days later, eventually dropped out, Meselech battled the Kenyan contingent throughout but could not stop their sweep of the top four places, and she took fifth in a season best 30:56.55.
Meselech ran 8:43.93 for 3rd place over 3000m indoors in Karlsruhe in February 2012 and, nursing a leg injury, she ran her only outdoor track race of the year at the UK championships in Birmingham, where she dropped out while her compatriot Werknesh qualified for the London Olympic 10,000 team. “It was after that that I decided to run the marathon,” said Meselech, who targeted the 28 October Frankfurt race for her debut.
“I was in very good shape for it,” she said. “Because I was new to the marathon, my managers just wanted me to be sure I finished the race, but I was going for a fast time.” Her 20km workouts run in 1:08 to 1:09 at altitude had given her confidence, and in cold conditions in the German city, Meselech made a move at 37km that relegated defending champion and course record holder Mamitu to third and gave Meselech the victory in a new race record of 2:21:01. “It’s good, but I had wanted to run 2:19,” she said.
Meselech placed 7th at the 15 February 2013 Ras Al Khaimah half marathon in 68:05. “I was pleased with that time,” she said.
Nine days later, she contested the Jan Meda trials for the Ethiopian World Cross Country championships. “I ran just to help my club win points,” said the Ethiopian electric power authority or EEPCO club member, whose early 2013 focus is preparing for the April London marathon. She nevertheless qualified for the Championships team by placing fourth behind winner and steeplechaser Hiwot Ayalew and ahead of track runners Belaynesh Oljira and Sule Utura. “I have five World bronze medals,” said the veteran Meselech. “I’ve run a great many years and I want others, new athletes, to get this opportunity, so I won’t be going.” Former double World champion Tirunesh, who had not contested the trials, was named to the team, but things soon changed.
“As Tirunesh has a leg injury, I was told I had to go,” said Meselech a few weeks later, when she eventually headed for Poland as the most accomplished member of the 2013 women’s team. “We’ll do everything we can to succeed, with God’s help,” she said. While revisiting the site of her last World Cross medal two years ago, she will likely be hoping to replicate or even finally better that third place finish.
3000m: 8:23.74i (2007), 8:34.73 (2005)
5000m: 14:31.91 (2010)
10,000m: 29:53.80 (2009)
Half marathon: 1:08:05 (2013)
Marathon: 2:21:01 (2012)
3000/5000/10,000: 2003 – 8:51.20/15:27.93; 2004 – 8:57.81/15:00.02; 2005 – 8:34.73/14:38.97; 2006 – 8:40.99/14:37.44; 2007 – 8:23.74i/14:33.83; 2008 – 8:29.48i/14:38.78/31:04.93; 2009 – 8:51.35/14:34.17/29:53.80 AR; 2010 – 8:40.08/14:31.91/31:04.52; 2011 – -/14:39.44/30:56.55; 2012 –8:43.91i/-/-; 2013 – -/-/-/.
Half Marathon/Marathon: 2012 – 1:10:25/2:21:01; 2013 – 1:08:05/-.
2003 4th World Cross Country Championships, junior
2004 1st World Cross Country Championships, junior
2004 1st World Junior Championships, 5000m
2005 6th World Cross Country Championships, 4km
2005 4th World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2005 4th World Championships, 5000m
2006 3rd World Cross Country Championships, 4km
2006 3rd World Cross Country Championships, 8k
2006 6th African Championships, 5000m
2007 3rd World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2007 2nd All Africa Games, 5000m
2007 6th World Championships, 5000m
2008 2nd World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2008 9th World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2008 1st African Championships, 5000m
2008 8th Olympic Games, 5000m
2008 3rd World Athletics Final, 5000m
2009 3rd World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2009 2nd World Championships, 10,000m
2009 5th World Championships, 5000m
2010 3rd World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2010 2nd African Championships, 10,000m
2011 4th World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2011 5th World Championships, 10,000m
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, but is mandatory on all new Ethiopian passports.)
Prepared by Sabrina Yohannes and John Manners for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2005-2013