21 MAR 2004 General News Brussels, Belgium

Melkamu convinces father that running is for her

Meselech Melkamu (715) on the path to the women's junior victory (Getty Images)Meselech Melkamu (715) on the path to the women's junior victory (Getty Images) © Copyright

Meselech Melkamu sounded an ominous warning after winning the World Junior Cross Country title yesterday.

The 18-year-old led Ethiopia to a comprehensive victory in Brussels but believes her country will become even more formidable in future. In fact, she claims the Ethiopians had high hopes of taking the first six places.

She says: “The Ethiopian team trains very hard together so we always have high expectations. I believe we will go on to enjoy even greater success in future and become a better team than we already are.”

Melkamu, the fourth of six children, is the daughter of a former international marathoner – Melkamu Haile Yesus – who was not keen on her to follow him into the sport but having seen her success he has now relented.

She only began running four years ago and after a few local cross country wins she was soon trying to force her way into the national team. She finished 11th in the Ethiopian Trials just a year after she starting running and when she followed up with some good form on the track later that year she was welcomed into the Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority’s athletic club and quit school to concentrate on athletics.

It meant leaving her family home in Debre Markos to make the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, some 360km away, her new base but she has benefited from training with the team. She came close to making the 2002 World Cross Country Championships, finishing eighth in the trials, and then a year later she proved a surprising winner – beating Tirunesh Dibaba who went on to not only take gold in Lausanne but also the Paris World Championships 5000m.

While Dibaba took gold in Lausanne last year, Melkamu had to settle for fourth but she arrived in Brussels very determined to make up for that with a medal, and she was favourite for gold after a succession of consistent displays over the past six months.

She won the East African Junior cross country title earlier this year and arrived in Brussels as the one everyone had to beat, but she had no intention of letting them. Her kick for home but powerful, albeit not particularly graceful, her arms pumping furiously and giving the impression she was working harder than she actually was.

Now Melkamu, who lists Derartu Tulu and Haile Gebrsealssie as her athletics heroes, plans to follow in Dibaba’s footsteps by also taking her talents on to the world’s senior stage and making a name for herself.

She says: “Of course, everyone dreams of making it to the Olympics and I am no different, but there are many very talented athletes in Ethiopia so all I can do is try to get the qualifying time and see what happens. I like to run the 1500m, and if I don’t make it to the Olympics in Athens then hopefully I can do so in four years time.”