It may be a bit premature to say that Muktar Edris is the next great Ethiopian distance runner, but the 20-year-old is already faster over 5000m than Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie were at that age.
Edris emerged on the international stage in July 2012, becoming the latest in a long line of Ethiopian winners of the world junior 5000m title, joining the likes of Fita Bayissa (1990), Gebrselassie (1992), Assefa Mezgebu (1996), Million Wolde (1998), Tariku Bekele (2006) and Abraham Cherkos (2008), all of whom went on to win medals at senior global championships.
“Haile has always been my idol,” said Edris, the fifth born in a family of eight children. “He inspired me not only for his physical ability but also for his mental strength. Like many other young Ethiopian runners, I try to follow his example.
“I started running at the age of 12 at the primary school in my native village. I used to run one or sometimes two laps of the backyard of my school. There I was spotted by Hilma Berta, who still coaches me. After one year I moved to Addis Ababa to start running with the national team.”
Edris, who hails from Silte in southern Ethiopia, first represented his country at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria where he finished seventh in the junior race and contributed to the team silver medal.
One year later, he won the junior title at the African Cross Country Championships, beating the likes of Japheth Korir, who went on to win the senior title at the following year’s World Cross Country Championships, and Hagos Gebrhiwet, who won the junior title at the 2013 World Cross.
“I realised that I had the potential to compete at the international level when I competed at the National Trials for the World Cross Country Championships in 2011. For the first time, I competed against some of the best runners in the world.
“In Barcelona, I hoped to reach the podium as my preparation went really well, but you can’t take anything for granted,” said Edris. “Training well is one thing, but showing that ability against your rivals is another matter.”
After his Barcelona triumph, Edris joined the group of Italian athletics manager Gianni Demadonna. “Imane Merga (2011 world cross-country champion) was the first to suggest I should join Demadonna’s group,” said Edris, who still trains alone in Addis Ababa under the guidance of his first coach.
“As a young runner I needed someone who could gradually plan my activity, carefully choosing my competition schedule.”
At the start of 2013, Edris enjoyed an outstanding cross-country season, collecting a hat-trick of victories at the leading Italian cross-country races at Campaccio, Vallagarina and the Cinque Mulini.
He was soon touted as one of the favourites for the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in in the Polish town of Bydgoszcz, but in one of the toughest junior races ever witnessed in the history of the championships, Edris finished third behind compatriot Gebrhiwet and Kenya’s Leonard Barsoton.
Nevertheless, he still left Bydgoszcz with a gold medal around his neck as Ethiopia won the junior men’s team title.
“I wanted the (individual) gold but I am happy with the medal,” said Edris. “I accept this result as I faced very strong rivals. Competing at world level, I have learnt to have a great respect for my rivals.”
After his bronze medal in Bydgoszcz, Edris went on to record 5000m victories at the IAAF World Challenge meetings in Hengelo and Ostrava before finishing seventh in the 5000m at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
The highlight of his 2014 season came at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, where he smashed his PB with a world-leading 12:54.83, beating Olympic bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa and world indoor champion Caleb Ndiku.
“I had some problems in my build-up to the season as it rained a lot in Ethiopia,” said Edris. “After running 13:09.08 in Paris in July, I felt that my expectations weren’t fulfilled, so I decided to focus just on training for one month between Paris and Stockholm.
“In Sweden, I ran a perfect race. I felt confident on the last lap when I launched my kick and I’m happy with my personal best. But in Zurich two weeks later (at the IAAF Diamond League final where he eventually finished second) I felt tired with two laps to go.”
Following his recent victory at the Giro di Trento 10km in Italy, Edris is now looking to the 2015 season, specifically to the two global events being held in China, where he will aim to make it on to the podium at both.
“I’m planning to compete in the 2015 cross-country season and at the World Cross Country Championships,” Edris said of the event being held in Guiyang on 28 March. “But it depends on the result of the Ethiopian Trials where I will face very strong rivals.”
Later in the year, China will host the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. His world-leading performance in 2014 has made him one of the early favourites to end Mo Farah’s reign as world 5000m champion.
For now, though, Edris is focused on training hard for the challenges he’ll face over the next 12 months.
“I enjoy reading and learning English,” he said. “But my life is all about running.”
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF