Elvan Abeylegesse leads the 5000m pack (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Bergen

'100 per cent I will be Olympic champion,' says Abeylegesse

, Norway  When she crossed the finish line of the 5000m race at the Evergood Bergen Bislett Games - TDK Golden League - Ethiopian-born Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey looked a very happy young woman.

And indeed she had all reasons to be as the scoreboard was flashing a new World record of 14:24.68. More than the time itself which is to say the least exceptional, it is the way that Abeylegesse set the new World mark which was impressive.

Despite a very short pace making by Russia’s Oksana Belyakova who went through the first kilometre in 2:49.56 but dropped out too soon, Abeylegesse managed to toughen the pace and ran the last three kilometres virtually on her own.

But that was never going to affect Abeylegesse who has proven she is mentally very strong and physically at the peak of her form.

Coming to Bergen, Abeylegesse was confident that not only she would win her first 5000m of the season but that she would also improve the seven-year old World record of China’s Jiang Bo.

The confidence of the 21-year-old athlete from Istanbul had been boosted as early as May 14 when in the oppressive heat of Doha she ran a solo 8:35.83 to win the 3000m.

A few weeks ago, at the Clubs Cup Championships she ran two races (1500 / 3000) and won both including a brilliant 3:58.20, again on her own.

And today, Abeylegesse ran an amazing 14:24.68, almost a full four seconds off the World record.
“I work very hard, day and night, at high altitude and low altitude,” was Abeylegasse’s explanation for her outstanding performance tonight.

“My target since the first day I started running has been that of breaking World records and becoming Olympic champion.”

The story of Abeylegesse began on 11 September 1982 when she was born in Addis Ababa in a family of seven sisters and brothers.

Already in Ethiopia, Abeylegesse was a promising distance runner and was selected to represent Ethiopia at the World Cross Country Championships in 1999 where she finished ninth in the Junior race.

That same year, Kenenisa Bekele was also a member of the Ethiopian Cross Country team and he too finished ninth in the junior race.

Some people may see this similitude as a curious trick of fate but Abeylegasse is firm.

“I am not the female equivalent of Bekele. I am Elvan!”

Flanked by her coach Ertan Hatipoglu, a former triple jumper and initially a sprint coach, and the President of the Enkan Sports Club of Istanbul, Abeylegesse explained how her life took a drastic turn in the summer of 1999.

“The Ertan Club invited me to take part in a competition in their country. I liked it there, they had great facilities and it seemed like a good place to be, so I decided to move there. It is as simple as that,” she confides.

But Abeylegesse’s story is far from being as simple as that. Although she admits receiving full support from her family who remained back home in Ethiopia and with whom she corresponds via mail, she cannot deny that the decision to change allegiance “was very difficult”.

“But I want to thank my Federation and my club which give me full support and without whom I wouldn’t be here tonight.”

And tonight is likely to remain in Abeylegesse’s mind for a long time as she describes the emotions she went through.

“The weather was quite cold and the pace makers got tired very fast but I felt like electricity was coming from the crowd. It was fabulous.”

A fifth place finisher at last year’s World Championships in Paris, Abeylegasse out-kicked her former compatriots Darartu Tulu and Tirunesh Dibaba to win the World Athletics Final.

Since then, Abeylegesse has been training extremely hard in Istanbul and for a short period of time at altitude in Addis Ababa.

Abeylegesse may look shy at first especially when facing the numerous TV crews and not very confident when asked to speak English but when she turns to her own Turkish language she suddenly turns into an extremely confident young lady.

A smile on her face, she outspokenly declared that she would like to double at the Olympic Games but her decision still remains to be taken. One thing is sure though.

“100 per cent I will be Olympic champion!”