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Update 15 August 2013
Hagos Gebrhiwet Berhe , Ethiopia (3000m,5000m)
Born: 11 May 1994, Atsbi-Wonberta, Tigray region, Ethiopia
Lives: Addis Ababa
Height: 1.73m / Weight: 55kg
Club: Mesfin Industrial Engineering (National team)
Coach: Hussein Shibo, Dr. Yilma Berta (National team) Kasshu Gebre-egziabher
Manager: Mark Wetmore (Elias Kebede, repesentative in Ethiopia)
Better than Kenenisa Bekele? That’s the question that was being asked about Hagos Gebrhiwet, after the Ethiopian claimed one of the most stunning victories ever seen in the Men’s Junior race at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships in March at the age of 18.
Hagos Gebrhiwet Berhe grew up in the small Atsbi-Wonberta district of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, 813km far from Addis Ababa. He is the only son of his family, but he has five sisters.
After school, the young Hagos would first go to their football field to play football with his village friends: “When I played football in my village, I was fast and was a good attacker. Some of my friends said to me, why not become an athlete? When I did athletics in my school it was just in order to pass my exams.” That didn't stop him easily winning his school competition.
When he was 15 years-old, Hagos' successful results earned him the right to start representing his district at the Schools Regional Competition over 5000m. Hagos became convinced that athletics would be his future career, but not everyone was so sure: "When I decided to stick with athletics, my family initially disagreed and said I should only focus on education. I didn’t want to refuse their idea, so I said okay, but I ran discreetly.” However, he wasn't able to keep his athletics career hidden from his family for long.
In 2009, Hagos ran his first national athletics competition in Addis Ababa, where he represented his Tigray region and finished 24th. At the beginning of 2010, he moved to the regional capital, Mekele, and joined the Mesfin Industrial Engineering Club. It was a big decision to make for young Hagos to move out of his parents’ home: “My family was not happy," said Hagos, "but I told them that I like training and if I do well, I will support you but if I stay here, I will be dependent on you."
A year later, Hagos was becoming a good competitor at national level and at the 2011 Ethiopian Championships, three days before his 17th birthday, he was sixth in the 5000 metres, a race won by 2009 African junior champion Abera Kuma followed by another rising star of Ethiopian 5000m running, Atsedu Tsegay.
Two months later, in July, Hagos competed abroad on the international stage for the first time in Lille, France, where he finished fifth over 3000m at the World Youth Championships in a time of 7:45.11. Of his first national team involvement, he said: "It was my dream to represent my country in athletics, but I didn’t win, so I didn’t get to carry my flag.”
At the end of 2011, Hagos made a successful road race debut in Spain by winning over 10km at the San Silvestre Vallecana. Hagos had only been a last minute entry and might have even finished, but showed determination to win a thrilling sprint finish against hot pre-race favourite Teklemariam Medhin of Eritrea - both men being accredited the same time of 27:57: "I didn’t have road race experience and for five kilometres, it was very difficult. I argued with myself whether to stop or to carry on, but I after that, my tiredness went away and I pushed myself."
Hagos continued his improvement in 2012, making his indoor debut over 3000m in Boston, USA where - still 17 - he finished fourth in 7:44.08 behind another teenager, 2010 1500m World junior champion Caleb Ndiku, his compatriot and 2011 World Championships 5000m bronze medallist Dejen Gebremeskel and Kenyan star Silas Kiplagat, the 2011 World Championships 1500m silver medallist. (This was also the meeting in which fellow Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba ran her first track race since winning the 5000m at the London Diamond League meeting in August 2010 and her nation's only gold of the African Championships - hosted by Kenya in July 2010. Tirunesh had made her overall comeback after 16 months in winning the women’s race at the Madrid 10km less than six weeks before in a tight race, as had Hagos..)
Hagos then returned to Ethiopia for the 29th Jan Meda International Cross Country race in Addis Ababa, placing fourth over eight kilometres in 26:30.82.
He had earned a spot on the Ethiopian team for the African Cross Country Championships, in Cape Town, South Africa where he finished fourth in the junior eight kilometre race.
Two weeks later Hagos was back in the USA for the Carlsbad 5km road race in California. There he finished second to Dejen Gebremeskel, but it was Hagos' time that caught everyone's attention: 13:14 minutes was the fastest 5km road time ever for a junior athlete.
That earned Hagos an invitation to the Shanghai Diamond League meeting in May and a week after his 18th birthday, Hagos claimed a resounding victory in a wet 5000m that included distance legend Kenenisa Bekele (attempting a return to the top after injury-plagued years) as well as 2006 Commonwealth champion and 2012 World Indoor silver medallist Augustine Choge. After the race, Hagos was delighted and revealed: “That is a special memory in my career. Before I came to the competition, I had had some trouble from my federation, who didn’t give me permission (to go the China), because they wanted me to run in Barcelona at the World Junior Championships. I had lost hope, but finally after some negotiation they let me go.”
By this time, Hagos was improving at quite a rate and again beat 5000m and 10,000m World record holder Kenenisa, plus a raft of other world-known stars, at another Diamond League event, the legendary Bislett Games in Oslo. Knocking 12 seconds off his PB, finishing second again just behind fellow Ethiopian Dejen Gebremeskel, he broke 13 minutes for the first time with 12:58.99.
With confidence flowing through him and revelling in being able to mix it up with the world's top 5000m stars, Hagos arrived in Paris for the next Diamond League event and there in the Stade de France, he was among the top protagonists of the greatest-ever 5000m race, in which six athletes ran under 12:50 and 11 under 13 minutes. Paris was the last chance for the Ethiopian runners (whose Olympic selection is based on times) to shine, so the pace was sure to be fast. Hagos helped push it, before chasing home Dejen Gebremeskel, whose 12:46.81 was the fastest mark since 2005, and made him the fifth performer of all-time. Hagos, himself, just a few paces behind in second, smashed the World Junior record with 12.47.53* to become the seventh-best athlete of all-time in the senior ranks and this just a couple months after his 18th Birthday! (*one and a half minutes faster than the time he had set in National Championships the previous year.)
It was enough to convince Ethiopia's Olympic selectors to include him in the team for the London Games.
“The Olympics are the dream of all athletes, I am surprised that in such a short time in my athletics career I will represent my country at the London Olympics,” says Hagos, “I am young. I want to keep doing the 5000m and I want keep improving my racing”.
With such an upward curve as his, it was not beyond the realms of possibility that this teenager could have made quite a name for himself in London.
However, during the Olympics in the British capital, his dreams didn't come true. Hagos, who didn't run in the 10,000m, came to the bell in the 5000m final well-placed to attack the final lap. However, neither he nor Ethiopian race favourite Dejen Gebremeskel were able to cope with the sustained acceleration of British home hero Mo Farah, who having ended Kenenisa Bekele's Olympic reign at 10,000m, completed an historic British distance double in the Olympic Stadium.
Seven months after he crossed the finish line in 5th place, Hagos commented that: “After the Paris Diamond League race, I had a problem with my right heel and it stopped me showing my full speed. I couldn't accelerate and so I went backwards in the final lap. However, I am not so disappointed, as I am young and I learned a lot from the experience.”
Three months later, Hagos was fully fit again and proved it by winning the Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa.
Still only 18 years old, Hagos then made a spectacular start to 2013, when at the beginning of February in Boston, Massachusetts, he smashed another World Junior record, this time indoors in the 3000m. Showing scintillating pace on the boards, the teenager burned off the USA's 10,000m London Olympic silver medallist Galen Rupp, as well as the 5000m runner-up from the London Games - Dejen Gebremeskel – his friend and Ethiopian team-mate who is five years his elder. “It was thanks to running with these two athletes that I was able to run so well in Boston,” evaluated Hagos after his 7:32.87 put inside the top 20 all-time list of senior athletes
Hagos, fourth at the 2012 African Cross Country, won selection to Ethiopia’s World Championship team in 2013 after taking victory in the 30th Jan Meda International in Addis Ababa – Ethiopia’s trials, near the end of February, for the now biannual global gathering.
Ethiopia had been powerless to stop Kenya winning all but one of the previous 24 Junior Men’s Team titles going back to 1988 (1998 the lone crown for Ethiopia) . However, after showing his form in setting the World junior indoor 3000m record in Boston at the start of the previous month, on a near-freezing day in March in Poland, the teenager made one of the most impressive ever debuts at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. He devoured the 8km course in Bydgoszcz – stopping the clock in a jaw-dropping time of 21:04 (the fastest winning time since 1993 disregarding the slight variances in distance).
And with Muktar Edris also finishing on the podium in third, the first global title of Hagos’ young career also helped Ethiopia to break Kenyan domination of the team race with Ethiopia’s first junior men's team crown since 1998. “I was eager to win the race. It was a very up and down course and I had never seen that kind of snow before. It was very difficult for me, but I was very confident I could win, because I had prepared well. I am happy Ethiopia got gold in the (team) race after such a long time,” said a proud Hagos as he reflected on his win a few months later whilst readying himself for the final of men’s 5000m at World Championships in Athletics in Moscow.
Hagos then opened his 2013 Diamond League season in Doha with a 3000m. And if ever you needed confirmation of the way Ethiopians view their supporters, Hagos left no doubts. “That was my first 3000m race in the Diamond League. I was disappointed to start with that night, because a lot of Ethiopians, who live in Doha, came to the stadium. They came to support us but no Ethiopian athletes had won their races. I saw them feeling sad. My race was at last (up on track) and I told myself to do something for them. And I did”. Indeed, Hagos lit up the track with a scorching last 800m of 1:53 to win in 7:30.36.
After Doha, Hagos returned to Addis Ababa to prepare for the New York Adidas Grand Prix. The preparation worked as a week later he took his second Diamond League victory in 5000m (13:10.03). “There were a lot of elite athletes but the challenge was the wind rather than the other athletes. I took hold of the race after lap seven”.
However, Hagos’ all-conquering form ended in Rome. “I was a good condition. After the pacemaker dropped out no body want to come in front, then I started to lead but in the final lap I couldn’t change my gear. That was my fault, but I didn't disappoint,” said Hagos after he finished second over 5000m to Ethiopian compatriot Yenew Alamirew in Rome.
Hagos, like everyone else, had been left behind in the meteor trail left by Mo Farah in the 5000m final at the London Olympics. However, an opportunity came to exact some revenge in front of the British Olympic champion’s own home supporters at the Sainsbury's Grand Prix Diamond League stop in Birmingham. However, there was to be no such satisfaction, as Hagos and Yenew were both beaten again; Hagos finishing third to Yenew’s second behind the increasingly-dominant Farah. “I made a mistake like a novice athlete. I was all over the place during the race. With 3 laps left, Mo wanted to go in front, but I didn't let him run in front of me. He was not happy about it, but 100m later, I lost all my energy and Mo and Yenew then went fast. I learned something from that race.” Such an ability to analyse and learn will surely augur well in the future.
In his last race before the Moscow Wold Championships, Hagos was again unable to rediscover his winning touch at the Diamond League meet in Lausanne, as Yenew again beat him to 5000m victory in Switzerland.
However, with Ethiopia again selecting their team on times, Hagos’s performances saw him selected for his first World Championships alongside Yenew Alamirew and Muktar Edris. Hagos says he has a good feeling for the 5000m and is confident in Moscow to do something big for his country.
Having won his heat? Hagos now has another chance to work out, with his Ethiopian team-mates, how to beat Mo Farah.
After Moscow, Hagos says he plans to finish this year top of the 5000m Diamond Race – with just 2 pts separating Hagos Gebrhiwet & Yenew Alamirew, the destinations of the diamonds will be decided at the final Diamond League meeting in Brussels.
Looking at his progress, Hagos observes: “I never think about my time, not the race itself. I would like to be the successor to Kenenisa Bekele and I would like to break his World Record. Once I have achieved that, I would like to move to 10,000m.”
A self-confessed Arsenal football supporter, who admits to “being disappointed every time his English Premier League team are defeated”, there seems little doubt that Hagos Gebrhiwet is well-placed to celebrate reaching his goals in his own career ahead.
3000m: 7:30.36 (2013) 7:32.87i WJR (2013) O
5000m: 12:47.53 WJR (2012)
5km: 13.14 (2012)
10km: 27.57 (2011)
3000m: 2011: 7:45.11; 2013: 7:30.36 2012: -/7:44.08i; 2013: 7:32.87i WJR
5000m: 2011: 14:10.0hA; 2012: 12:47.53 WJR; 2013: 12:55.73
Ethiopian Championships, Addis Ababa (5000m)
IAAF World Youth Championships, Lille (3000 m)
African Cross Country Championships, Cape Town (Junior race)
Olympic Games, London (5000m)
IAAF World Cross Country Championships (8km Junior race)
Note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name only, 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 Haimanot Turuneh Torode for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2012-2013.