Updated 2 August 2012
Werknesh Kidane, Ethiopia
(5000m/10,000m, Half Marathon, Marathon)
a.k.a. Worknesh Kidane
Born: 21 November 1981, Mayshie district (near Axum), Tigray region, Ethiopia
Height: 1.58m Weight: 41kg
Lives in Addis Ababa
Manager: Mark Wetmore
Club: Commercial Bank (formerly Ethiopian Banks)
Coach: Hussein Shibo (national)
Married 2009 World Cross Country Champion and 2004 double silver-medalist Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam in 2006. Has two sons, Nathaniel and Muse.
The diminutive 2003 World Cross Country long course Champion Werknesh Kidane moved from the northern region of Tigray where she was raised to the capital city of Addis Ababa to live with her uncle Kidane Demoz, a soldier, when she was a young teenager. A believer in physical fitness, he encouraged Werknesh to run, and set her on what became her life’s path.
She began international competition at the 1997 World Cross Country Championships where she placed 13th in the junior race. She won bronze in the same race the next year and in 1999 took the junior title, as well as a 4th at 5000m in the Johannesburg All-Africa Games. She slipped to 9th in the 2000 World Cross junior race, but later that year, in the Sydney Olympic 5000m, she came home a creditable 7th (14:47.40). In 2001, as a senior in the World Cross, she finished 5th in the 4K race, and in 2002 earned silver in the same event. But it was not until 2003 that she really came into her own.
She started by winning the 8K at Ethiopia's World Cross trials by more than 10 seconds over a strong field, then coming back the next day for 2nd in the 4K race behind future World 5000m Champion Tirunesh Dibaba. Werknesh went on to duplicate the double feat at the World Cross in Lausanne, taking gold in the long race by nine seconds and coming in a close 2nd (this time to Kenya's defending champion Edith Masai) in the short race the next day.
Her 2003 international track season kicked off with a 20 second victory at 10,000m in the Palo Alto GPII (PB 30:41.40). She went on to notch two more PBs in major competitions, 14:33.04 at 5000 in the Oslo GL (the #2 time in 2003) and 8:39.51 in the Paris GL, before returning to Paris for the World Championships. There, on the opening night of the Championships, Werknesh was one of a quartet who pushed each other to new heights in one of the greatest women's 10,000m ever run. She took silver in 30:07.15 (then history's fourth fastest time), three seconds behind countrywoman Berhane Adere and ahead of Sun Yingjie of China and Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands. “We put up a good fight and prevailed, thank God,” said Werknesh, who was very pleased with her silver. “The Chinese runner really accelerated the pace, but that was good for us, because it gives you a better chance than if we had all remained bunched up. When Berhane took off with 200 metres remaining, since I know that she has a very good finishing kick and I’m not as strong, I knew she was going to win.”
After missing the 2003 Afro-Asian Games while visiting her father, who was ill, in Axum, Werknesh took 3rd at the Great Ethiopian Run 10K. Despite losing some time due to a minor injury, she began her 2004 season on a high note, claiming five straight dominating cross country victories—three in Spain, where her winning margin averaged 27 seconds, and then a big double win at the Ethiopian Championships. At the World Cross in Brussels, she couldn’t quite match her gold/silver double from 2003, but turned in a valuable 3rd in the 8K and 4th in the 4K, contributing to two Ethiopian team triumphs.
On the track she raced sparingly, first at Hengelo with a 4th at 5000m (15:04.34) behind Kenya’s future Olympic silver medalist Isabella Ochichi, but ahead of a couple of fellow Ethiopian Olympic team aspirants. Werknesh then staked her claim for a trip to Athens with a brilliant 14:38.05 for 2nd in the Rome 5000m behind Ejegayehu Dibaba. “I led for many laps,” she said later, “so I was very pleased I was able to finish that well.”
Ethiopian Olympic selectors ultimately put Ejegayehu and Werknesh on the team in the 10,000m, along with two-time Olympic gold medallist Derartu Tulu. The choice was controversial because the 2003 World Champion, Berhane, who had set an indoor World record at 5000m that January, was dropped shortly before the start of the Games, and didn’t take it quietly. The result in Athens was not altogether to the Ethiopians’ liking. The gold and silver from Paris shifted down a notch to silver and bronze (Ejegayehu and Derartu, with Werknesh 4th in 30:28.30) as the country’s streak of four straight global gold medals in the women’s 10,000m was broken by China’s fast-finishing Xing Huina. Werknesh ended her 2004 track season with a 5th in the 5000m at the World Athletics Final, in September.
The following year was a very solid one for Werknesh, who notched a couple of impressive doubles, although they were overshadowed by the 2005 cross country and track double World Champion Tirunesh’s stellar feats. Werknesh was again impressive on the European cross country circuit in 2005, taking two wins in Spain, but she paid dearly for her busy European schedule at the Ethiopian trials, where she finished a tired 6th in the 8K, recovering a day later to finish 4th in the 4K and booking a place on both teams for St. Etienne/St. Galmier.
Weighing only 41kgs and standing at 1.58m, Werknesh may have looked too frail to handle mud, but she had shown in the past that she possessed the stamina to double even in heavy going. She medaled at both World Cross distances behind Tirunesh, taking silver in the short course and bronze in the long.
Three days after taking the national 10,000m title, in May, she took 5000m silver behind Gelete Burka and Tirunesh, with whom she was given the same hand-timed clocking. Werknesh ran a 3000 PB of 8:36.39 placing 2nd to Meseret Defar in the New York Reebok Grand Prix and clinched a World Championships 10,000m berth with a 30:19.39 win in Stanford. At the Helsinki Worlds she was 6th. She then won her debut half marathon, the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll, in 69:48 ahead of Kenyan Salina Kosgei, but improved that to 68:09 for 2nd at the Great North Run two weeks later.
Marriage and childbirth claimed the next couple of years of Werknesh’s resume. She wed the 2004 double World Cross Country silver medalist Gebre-egziabher (often written as one word, Gebregziabher, and abbreviated Gebre) Gebremariam in 2006 and they had two sons, Nathaniel and Muse.
She resumed competition in late 2008, running the Great North Run (72:07) in September and a cross country race before returning to a sub-70 clocking of 69:59 for 4th at the Prague half marathon on 28 March 2009. The very same day Gebre-egziabher made his team proud by winning the World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.
Werknesh ran 31:19.00 for 10,000m in Stockholm in May behind Meseret (31:07.34) and returned to the top spot of a Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon, in Las Vegas this time, in 70:55 in December. In her first 2010 outing, Werknesh qualified for a berth on the Bydgoszcz World Cross Country Championships team by remaining in the lead pack through the half-way point of the 21 February national trials in Addis Ababa and placing third behind 2009 World Cross bronze-medalist Meselech Melkamu and Dubai Marathon champion Mamitu Deska.
Werknesh returned to the World Cross Country Championships after a five-year absence and some things had changed while others hadn’t. She accompanied Gebre-egziabher, then her fiancé, now her husband and the father of their two sons, for the first time since 2004 (as he missed the 2005 edition). And in the women’s race, Tirunesh was still a favorite.
Werknesh was 9th in Bygdoszcz and felt her return to competition after the interrupted years was progressing somewhat satisfactorily though she was disappointed in Ethiopia’s overall performance and preparation as a team, from which only Meselech medaled, while Tirunesh was 4th. Werknesh’s progress picked up over the rest of the year, when she had three podium finishes on the road: a 10km win in Manchester in 31:19 followed by a 31:18 PB in New York in third place, behind the World 10,000m and Cross Country Champions Linet Masai and Emily Chebet and ahead of Lornah Kiplagat; and a third place in the Philadelphia half marathon in 68:31 behind Meseret’s win in 67:45.
Werknesh planned to make her marathon debut alongside her husband in New York that November, but was not feeling fit and stayed behind in Addis Ababa, watching on TV instead as he carried all the way to the top of the podium the hopes Ethiopia had placed in Haile Gebrselassie, who dropped out.
Werknesh debuted in the marathon in Dubai instead in January, running 2:27:15 for 8th place, and running 2:26:15 in April in Boston, where she was 7th and Gebre (as he is usually known in the US) was third in 2:04:53 in the men’s race (though those Boston clockings with a tailwind and unidirectional course are not recognized for various record purposes*). “She will be back to her old form within the year,” he predicted.
After a 31:23 win at the Atlanta Peachtree 10km, Werknesh made a late bid for the 2011 Daegu World Championships 10,000m team, and actually ran one of the three fastest Ethiopian times of the year, but the team had already been selected and been preparing for Daegu, and she was very disappointed about not being added. Her 31:08.92 win at the British championships on 30 July was faster than the season bests at the time of Ethiopia’s former African champion Meselech (31:14.83), national champion Beleynesh (or Belaynesh) Oljira (31:17.80) and Tigist Kiros (31:20.38), who were on the Daegu team. Werknesh’s absence was perhaps underscored when Meseret, who doubled in the 5000 and 10,000, dropped out of the longer event and Kenya swept the podium, with Meselech in 5th place.
Werknesh took her form to the Philadelphia half marathon, challenging New Zealand’s Kim Smith when she ran a U.S. all-comer’s record 67:11 to win with Werknesh 2nd in 67:28.
In a sense, Werknesh’s 2012 year has played out similarly to 2011 but with a crucial difference, in that she made the London Olympic 10,000m team this time. After only managing 13th in 2:33:08 in the 6 November 2011 New York marathon, she turned her focus to the 10,000m again.
Her build-up road races were very promising. In April, she was a runner-up in 15:13 to the Beijing double Olympic champion Tirunesh at the Carlsbad 5000, and she won the BAA 5km in a 15:12 PB ahead of Aheza Kiros and Smith. On June 1, seven Ethiopian women including Tirunesh and Werknesh lined up in the Eugene 10,000 in search of fast times for London selection. When Tirunesh won in a world-leading 30:24.39, Kenyan Florence Kiplagat (30:24.85), and Ethiopians Beleynesh (30:26.70) and Werknesh (30:50.16) were her runners-up. “I’m happy, but in case anyone else runs a faster time, I might run again, maybe in England,” said Werknesh, who was not taking any chances of being left off the team again.
On 23 June, she did indeed run again at the UK trials in Birmingham -- where Gebre made the Olympic team in the men’s 10,000m – but her win in 31:28.19 was slower than her Eugene time, which remains the Ethiopian women’s 3rd fastest in the nation this year, so her place on the team was never challenged. With Kenya holding its national trials at altitude in Nairobi, the Eugene clockings also remain the year’s fastest in the world, with Werknesh the 4th fastest.
Werknesh ran one other pre-Olympic race with Tirunesh, the 9 June New York DL meet 5000, which proved more tactical as it featured long-time rivals Tirunesh and Meseret. “I was hoping for a faster time, but I only ran the race for speed,” said Werknesh, who finished in 15:04.65.
Back at the Olympics with her husband, eight years after both placed 4th in Athens (he in the 5000m), Werknesh will be looking to challenge the London 10,000m favorites in the defending champion Tirunesh and the double World Champion Vivian Cheruiyot as well as her Kenyan teammates.
3000m: 8:36.39 (2005)
5000m: 14:33.04 (2003)
10,000m: 30:07.15 (2003)
5km: 15:12 (2012)
10km: 31:18 (2010)
Half marathon: 67.28 (2011)
Marathon: 2:27:15 (2011)
2:26:15 (2011), on Boston’s point-to-point course with elevation drop)
3000/5000/10,000: 1998 – 9:02.40/15:55.18/-; 1999 – 9:07.54/15:24.56/; 2000 – 8:44.14/14:47.40/ ; 2001 – 9:03.74/15:29.96/31:43.41; 2002 – 8:41.58/14:43.53/-; 2003 – 8:39.51/14:33.04 /30:07.15; 2004 – 14:38.05/30:28.30; 2005 – 8:36.39/15:04.22/30:19.39; 2006 – -/-/-; 2007 – -/-/-; 2008 – -/-/-; 2009 – -/-/31:19.00; 2010 – -/-/-; 2011 – -/-/31:08.92; 2012 – -/15:04.65/30:50.16.
1998 3rd World Cross Country Championships, junior
1998 6th World Junior Championships, 5,000m
1999 1st World Cross Country Championships, junior
1999 7th World Championships, 5000m
1999 4th All-Africa Games, 5000m
2000 9th World Cross Country Championships, junior
2000 7th Olympic Games, 5000m
2001 5th World Cross Country Championships, 4km
2002 2nd World Cross Country Championships, 4km
2003 1st World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2003 2nd World Cross Country Championships, 4km
2003 2nd World Championships, 10,000m
2003 4th World Athletics Final, 5000m
2003 2nd All-Africa Games, 10,000m
2004 3rd World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2004 4th World Cross Country Championships, 4km
2004 4th Olympic Games, 10,000m
2004 5th World Athletics Final, 5000m
2005 3rd World Cross Country Championships, 8km
2005 2nd World Cross Country Championships, 4km
2005 6th World Championships, 10,000m
2010 9th World Cross Country Championships, 8km
A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name 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 Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF "Focus on Athletes" project. Copyright IAAF 2003-2012.