Wude Ayalew winning the Ethiopian World Championships trials (Elshadai Negash) © Copyright
WUDE Ayalew, Ethiopia (3000m, 5000m, Cross Country)
Born: 4 July, 1987, Gojjam Sekela District
Coach: Girma Woldehanna
Family: Born into a family of seven siblings
Wude Ayalew Yimer did not get any attention from Ethiopian athletics fans when she registered fifth place in the senior women’s 8km at the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, in Fukuoka, Japan. Since the reign of 1960 Rome Olympic Marathon gold medal winner Abebe Bikila, Ethiopia has produced a pool of talented distance athletes without interruption, which has made it difficult for a runner to be widely acclaimed without the top medal clinched from an international event hanging around the neck.
The Fukuoka World Cross is cherished in Ethiopia as the championships where the country’s most potent distance machine, Kenenisa Bekele, completed his astonishing fifth successive short and long race double triumph as Tirunesh Dibaba and Gelete Burka sealed the senior women’s 8km and 4km individual titles. As Bekele, Dibaba and Burka celebrated their victories, and milked the praise, Wude was also ecstatic but in different fashion. To her, the result at Fukuoka was a miracle since it was registered in her first international competition.
“Before the competition, I asked Meselech Melkamu: ‘Will I get 40th or 50th position?’ She told me: ‘Don’t worry - you will get a good result and what you have to do is stick to our heels.’ The result was one I didn’t imagine, even in my dreams,” Wude recalled. Meselech took the bronze medal as Lornah Kiplagat, of The Netherlands, stole in between the two Ethiopians for silver.
Although a relative newcomer to the sport, in her short career Wude has shown glimpses of matching the performances of her more illustrious compatriots in the near future. In the summer season after Fukuoka she ran 5000m in 14:57.23 (11th) at the Golden League meeting in Oslo and placed fifth over the same distance (15:41.63) at the World Junior Championships, in Beijing.
In 2007, Wude was expecting to improve upon her Fukuoka result at the World Cross Country in neighbouring Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa but the baking conditions scorched her ambitions as she finished 10th in the senior women race. Her compatriots were not spared either. Bekele dramatically dropped out of the men’s long race, Dibaba lost to Kiplagat in the senior women’s event, and Kenya won three of the four team titles. The exception was the senior women’s race in which Wude completed the scorers for the winning team.
Echoing most of her team mates, Wude complained over Mombasa’s harsh weather. “To tell you the truth, the weather was unbearable,” she said. “I was expecting a good result for myself but, since we were also competing for the team title, I decided not to pull out from the race. I am glad that we were fortunate to win the team title in the end.”
Wude’s athletics career was hatched in 2001 at age 14 when she was a grade three student at Kirach Fuafuate Elementary School in Sekela District. She finished second in her first ever race over 5000m, impressing her teachers. “That result didn't stir my feelings at all,” she recalled. “I didn't know the importance of running then.”
The successful result earned Wude the right to represent Sekela District at the schools regional competition. The outcome there was more impressive as she soared to the 5000m title and finished third in the 3000m. In 2003, she made a maiden appearance at the Ethiopian Athletics Championships as an unknown tiny figure wearing the emblem of Amhara Region, one of the11 main administrative blocks of the country.
At first look, the selectors were not impressed by the diminutive athlete and their worst fears were confirmed when she finished last in the women’s 10,000m final, though it took a big commitment for her to complete the race as she recalled vividly. “The (tartan) track was something I never laid my eyes on before and it proved very difficult for me to run on the surface, especially after my foot got injured and the pain became unbearable as the race went on,” Wude said. “But I decided to finish it anyway.
“As a young inexperienced runner, the outcome did not impact on me negatively. I was encouraged very much by the crowd at Addis Ababa Stadium who cheered for me as if I was the winner. I still remember the word of one of the fans: ‘This year you were last but next year you will be the winner’. That lifted me to soldier on.” And, sure enough, Wude improved to third at the same event a year later (2004) to vindicate those who had faith in her ability to bounce back.
Wude’s father, Ato Ayalew Yimer is a farmer and her mother, Weizero Abebaye Tirfe, is a housewife. They did not encourage young Ayalew’s inclination towards athletics, “You had better focus on your education,” they told her. But, thanks to her father’s change in attitude after timely advice from the young girls’ school teacher, her running career was allowed to blossom.
“My school teacher talked my father into liking my new idea and made him one of my most ardent supporters,” Wude disclosed. Ato Yimer’s counsel of ‘Don't start anything unless you can finish it, be a person of your goal’ is constantly reflected in his daughter’s athletics career.
Wude’s relationship with EELPA Club began in 2004 and, in 2005, she made her first appearance for them at the Ethiopia Athletics Championships where she lined up at 10,000m. “At first, it was difficult for me,” Wude recalled. “I was still not well acquainted with the track and was eager to finish the race but the Ethiopian Athletics Federation officials forced me and others who had been lapped to withdraw from the race.”
Gradually, Wude developed special adulation for EELPA and team mate Meselech, the 2004 World Junior Cross Country and track 5000m champion. “It was difficult for me to leave my family and join a club in a big city but they comforted me by paying a monthly salary of 430 birr (40 US dollar) at the first day of recruitment,” she said. “The coaches Girma Woldehanna and Zewde Hailemariam were kind and important for my progress.” Meselech is always by her side whenever she is in need. “I learned a lot from her and she helped me to become a professional athlete,” Wude enthuses.
2008 was an excellent year for Wude. She caught the eyes of Ethiopian spectators by rewarding them with a bronze medal over 10,000m (32:55.17) at the African Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa, completing a sweep of the medals for her country behind sisters Tirunesh and Ejegayehu Dibaba.
The performance saw her incorporated in the provisional squad for the Beijing Olympics but, shortly before the team’s departure, her world crumbled after she was dropped from the team and replaced by Mestawet Tufa.
“I cried a lot because I had worked hard to be in the team,” Wude said. “Things suddenly fell apart and, when I came to consciousness, I couldn’t blame anyone. My stamina was not as good as that of my teammates at the time.”
To forget the debacle she shifted her focus to European meetings. Just after her removal from the team, she clocked 8:35.50 to win the 3000m at the Monaco Super GP in July, a time that, by the end of year World Lists, was ranked No2 behind Kenyan rising star Vivian Cheruiyot’s 8:33.66 in Gateshead. In November, Wude won the highly contested Toyota Great Ethiopian Run 10km in 33:31.25, leaving Workitu Ayanu and Teyba Erkeso to settle for silver and bronze positions.
In the year, another joyful moment came for Wude. She won the women’s race at Jan Meda International, the national trials for Amman, on 22 February. Though, last year’s World Cross winner, Tirunesh, did not participate, Wude defeated stars such as Meselech, defending champion Gelete Burka, and Edinburgh World Cross silver medallist, Mestawet Tufa, who pulled out after running half of the distance.
“My opponents were strong and the headwind was also an additional headache but my dedication helped me to achieve what I aimed for,” Wude said.
The 22-year-old Wude admires almost all Ethiopian athletes but, inevitably, Tirunesh ranks very highly in her regard. “It will be impossible to produce such a miraculous athlete in the future,” she said. “She is perfect in everything. I cried in Fukuoka when she ran clutching her stomach in pain. She has superhuman determination and we all have to learn from her.”
After Amman, Wude shifted her focus to the track campaign with a spot in the Ethiopian team for the World Championships in Berlin her top priority and proved strong, clocking PBs over 5000m (14:38.44 in Oslo) and 10,000m (30:11.87 in Utrecht, in the race where her compatriot Meselech Melkamu set the new African record).
The World Championships in Berlin had something special in store for Wude, in contrast to some of the more highly acclaimed Ethiopian 10,000m team-members who abandoned the gold to Kenyan Linet Masai (30:51.24): in the dramatic finish she could manage to take the bronze medal (30:51.95) coming from far behind.
She was talking to this writer when she was told by an IAAF official that she had won a medal. “I am not third!” is what she said in confusion and disbelief. “I thought Meseret had got at least a medal and I finished fifth, or at best fourth,” she confessed.
Before all Ethiopian expectations for gold ended up in vain, a week before Berlin, Wude did not expect herself on the medial podium, as her team-mates, Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar and Meselech Melkamu were at their prime..
After the withdrawal of the four-time World and double Olympic champion (at 5000m-10,000m), Tirunesh Dibaba, due to ankle injury, 2008 World Indoor silver medalist Meselech Melkamu took the silver medal (30:51.34) ahead of Wude for Ethiopian compensation.
After Berlin, Wude reaffirmed her status by taking another bronze medal at the World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 3000m in a personal best of 8:30.93, behind compatriot Meseret Defar and Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot 8:30.15 and 8:30.61 respectively. In 5000m where her illustrious compatriots Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba won gold and silver in a time of 15:25.31 and 15:25.92 respectively, Wude taped the line in a time of 15:27.34 to finish fifth.
Wyde finished off a successful year to place second, in her debut at the distance, in New Delhi Half Marathon, clocking 67.58, behind Kenyan Mary Keitany, the freshly crowned World Champion of the event.
In 2010, Wude competed sparingly, starting her season on road races. She finished sixth (1:09.25) and ninth (33:18) in the Abu Dhabi Zayed International Half Matathon and San Juan World’s Best 10km respectively. Her best achievement was the one registered in Bangalore Sunfeast World 10 km (23 May), where she took gold in a time of 31:58.
Her only outing so far on the track did not yield a better result, as she finished an unimpressive sixth (15:02.47) in the Eugene Diamond League meeting, far behind the winner Tirunesh Dibaba (14:34.07).
When she is asked about her performance, she explains: “I am not feeling well. The cold condition of the air affected my body. My performance is not as expected and I didn’t train properly.”
Wude now returns to Kenya soil, after the 2007 World Cross, representing her country at the African Athletics Championships, which will be held from July 28 to August 1 in Nairobi. As she is not in prime form, she is cautious to guess the result.”I did not prepare well due to the sickness,” she said. “Better to see in few weeks time to what extent I recover.”
3000m: 8:30.93 (2009)
5000m: 14:38.44 (2009)
10,000m: 30:11.87 (2009)
10 Km: 31:30 (2006)
Half Marathon: 1:07.58 (2009)
3000m: 2006 - 9:02.35; 2007 - 8:58.81; 2008 - 8:35.50; 2009 - 8:30.93
5000m: 2006 - 14:57.23; 2007 - ; 2008 - 15:07.65; 2009-14:38.44; 2010-15:02.47
10,000m: 2008-31:06.84; 2009-30:11.87
10km: 2006 - 31:30; 2007 - 32:42; 2010 - 31.58
Half Marathon: 2009 - 1:07.58; 2010 - 1:09.25
2006 5th World Cross Country Championships (senior 8km)
2006 5th World Junior Championships (5000m)
2007 10th World Cross Country Championships
2008 8th World Athletics Final (3000m)
2008 1st Great Ethiopian Run
2009 5th World Cross Country Championships (senior 8km)
2009 3rd World Championships (10,000m)
2009 3rd World Athletics Final (3000m)
2009 5th World Athletics Final (5000m)
Prepared by Tamiru Woldemichael for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2010