12 NOV 2000 General News

Travel troubles threaten Ethiopian ambitions in Veracruz

Travel troubles threaten Ethiopian ambitions in Veracruz
Sabrina Yohannes

11 November 2000 - Veracruz - Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia broke the Ethiopian national marathon record with his 2 hour, six minute, 49 second run in Amsterdam last year, two weeks after taking bronze at the world half-marathon championships, but illness kept him off the Sydney Olympic team. Jifar’s only major championship race this year will be the 2000 edition of the world half-marathon event in Veracruz tomorrow, but a delayed arrival after a grueling trip may affect his chances.

"My preparation for this went well," said Jifar, who at last year’s championships in Palermo finished just one second behind the champion Paul Tergat and runner-up Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa – both given the same time of one hour, one minute and 50 seconds.

Jifar arrived in Mexico City yesterday evening along with nine other Ethiopian athletes and two officials, but visa problems and faulty travel arrangements resulted in the group’s taking a midnight bus ride for several hours to get to the coastal town of Veracruz. "We had already flown for eight hours to Frankfurt, and then 12 hours to Mexico," said Jifar. "I was feeling quite confident—at least until Frankfurt. But now after all this, I’ll just have to see."

Jifar’s first major race since recovering from a gastro-intestinal illness, was the Chicago marathon last month, where he placed 15th in 2:16:01. "After 35 kilometers, my legs just couldn’t keep up," he said.

Jifar’s 1999 bronze is the only Ethiopian medal at the world half-marathon championships, where showings have not been significant, unlike the track and marathon in which a much-esteemed national tradition and history of major championships honours exists. In prior years, the highest placings among men—other than a 1992 title in the now-discontinued junior race—were a fourth place-finish by Ibrahim Seid in 1998, and a seventh place by Abraham Assefa in 1997. Assefa ran the New York City marathon last week and is not competing in Veracruz, but Seid is.

Those rankings and an eighth-place finish in 1999 by Sydney marathon bronze-medallist Tesfaye Tola helped Ethiopia earn team medals at each of the last three half-marathon championships. The 2000 men’s team also includes Gemechu Kebede, who finished 12th in 2:16:44 at the Seville world championship marathon last year, in conditions similar to Veracruz’s heat and humidity.

The highest placing so far by an Ethiopian woman at the half-marathon championships is a sixth-place finish by Atlanta Olympic marathon champion Fatuma Roba, who last competed at the championships in 1994. This year’s team is headed by Amsterdam marathon champion Abeba Tola, who won the race last month in a personal best 2:29:54. Her best half-marathon time, earned this year, is 1:08:48.