23 AUG 2008 General News Beijing, China

Tirunesh Dibaba plays ‘follow the leader’ again

Tirunesh Dibaba crosses the line ahead of Elvan Abeylegesse to replicate the 1-2 from the 10,000m (Getty Images)Tirunesh Dibaba crosses the line ahead of Elvan Abeylegesse to replicate the 1-2 from the 10,000m (Getty Images) © Copyright

Her electrifying pace over the final lap has brought Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba the first women’s track distance double in Olympic history. But after the second fastest 10,000 metres of all time, 29:54.66 last Friday, one week later she featured in the slowest major 5000 metres in history. But she won that too, in 15:41.40.
 
Tirunesh (second names in Ethiopia are patronymics, of which more later) has a reputation for being monosyllabic, and stating the obvious. For example, explaining her victory in the 10,000 metres last week, she offered, “I followed the leader”.  When she came out with something similar after the 5000 metres victory, even the interpreter begged her to add a few more words of explanation.
 
But a few minutes later, she demonstrated a flash of humour, if not sarcasm. Your intrepid correspondent asked why, in races she knew she could win, she never led until the final lap. “I came here to represent my country,” she replied, “my major objective was to win two gold medals. But now that you’ve pointed it out, I’ll start leading in races”.
 
Dibaba, 23, was born in the Arsi Province of Ethiopia, the same as Haile Gebrselassie. She is a cousin of twice Olympic 10,000 metres champion, Derartu Tulu, and her elder sister, Egeyehu won silver in the 10,000 metres in Athens. Their younger sister, Genzebe won the IAAF World Cross Country junior title this year.
 
In 2000, Tirunesh moved to the capital Addis Ababa, to join Egeyehu and their cousin Bekelu. Intending to finish High School, she missed registration, so Bekelu enrolled her in her athletics club, and she began training full-time. There was a minor hiccup two years later, when she signed contracts with two different clubs, and the federation gave her a six months suspension.
 
In 2003, aged just over 18, she became the youngest winner of a major title, taking the World 5000 metres crown, but she was injured prior to the Athens Olympic Games, and only finished third. Her career reached fruition the following year, when she won both World cross titles, and followed that with her first World 5000/10,000 ‘double’ in Helsinki.
 
Incidentally, in common with several East African countries, although not Kenya, the athlete’s second name, in this case, Dibaba, is not a family name. It is simply the name of the parent, to which a given name, Tirunesh is appended. She is known as Tirunesh throughout Ethiopia, and if and when she gives birth, the child will be given a first name followed by the father’s first name.
 
On that score, she is engaged to Sileshi Sihine, the silver medallist from the men’s 10,000 metres, both here in Beijing and in Athens four years ago. She says they are preparing their marriage, “but no date has been decided yet”. Nor would she say whether the wedding would take place at the National Stadium, as has become the tradition with Ethiopian’s running stars, like Kenenisa, for example.
 
She was no more revealing about future athletics plans, the marathon for example. “I’m not thinking about it yet”.
 
“Ten years time, then?”
 
"Maybe".
 
Seems like we’re going to have to make do with those last lap sprints
 
Pat Butcher for the IAAF