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Addis Ababa, EthiopiaDominant wins by World indoor 3000m bronze medallist Gelete Burka in the women’s 800m and Belaynesh Oljiara in the 10,000m were the highlights of the second day (5) at the 40th Ethiopian Athletics Championships at the Addis Ababa stadium.
But there was a shock in the men’s 800m as little-known Israel Awoke took victory at the expense of pre-race favorite Sheferaw Walle, who could only finish third.
Oljira confirms resurgence with dominant victory
With Ethiopia’s top track runners focusing on the Samsung Diamond League in Doha or just missing the championships due to injury or lack of readiness for the track season, these championships gave young pretenders the chance to shine and stake an early claim for places in Ethiopian squads for the All-African Games and the World Championships.
Oljira, tenth in the World Cross Country Championships senior women’s race in Punta Umbria, Spain, two months ago, did just that by picking up her first national senior title in a race that featured experienced runners like former World 10,000m silver medalist Werknesh Kidane and former national 5000m champion Werkitu Ayana.
Oljira and her clubmate Ayana were in front at the start of the race, but it was Kidane, another runner from the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia Sport club, who tried to disperse the packed group of runners up front by setting on a fast early pace.
However, her efforts were in vain as she slowed down after only two laps and subsequently dropped out after only nine laps.
By then, the race had turned into an exhibition of club tactics with Olijara from Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and Defense’s Abebech Afework working together with their teammates to tire the opposing club runners. The result was the pace incrementally picking up in the next ten laps with just five athletes left in contention with five laps of the contest left.
At this point, little-known Tigist Kiros took the lead with Olijara, Ayana, Afework, and Tsegereda Girma following closely behind. They were down to just two athletes two laps later with Olijara the only runner able to live with Kiros’ pace.
At the bell, Kiros was marginally ahead, but her lead did not last very long. Olijara used her experience by waiting until the halfway point of the last lap before launching her finish kick. She easily moved away from Kiros continuing to increase her lead before stopping the clock at 32:55.37. An impressive Kiros comfortably held on for second with Werkitu Ayana coming home in third.
"As I was training with the national team, my preparation was very good,” said Olijara. “Before the race, I expected to win and I am glad I did it. With four laps of the race left, I was behind the Tigist, but believed in my finishing ability." Easy victory for Burka in the women’s 800m
After five national 1500m titles and three Addis Ababa stadium records, Gelete Burka could be forgiven for being bored of winning the 1500m at the national championships. The 26-year-old, who has been the country’s top middle distance runner of the last six years, stepped down a distance here to compete in the 800m, but the outcome was unsurprisingly the same.
Following the absence of Abebe Aregawi and Weynua Tadesse, the winners of the last two 800m titles, Burka’s road to victory was always going be smooth. Yet, she decided to conserve her energy by slowing down in the first lap before moving ahead at the bell and increasing her lead to the finish line where she stopped the clock at 2:06.56. Young runners Emebet Fekadu and Tenaye Lema followed her across the finish line for the minor podium finishes.
“There is a saying that Ethiopia has no good runners in this distance (800m), but I wanted to prove that I can do both the 800m and 1500m,” said Burka after her victory. “It’s been about 7 years since I run 800m for the last time and it was a bit difficult to do two qualifiers I did yesterday in the morning and afternoon. The result was good.”
Awoke over Welle in the men’s 800m
The crowd at the Addis Ababa stadium attended the 800m expecting an easy victory for Sheferaw Welle after his fourth place at the African Championships last year and his fastest time in Wednesday’s semi-finals.
For the first 600m of the final, the inevitable looked likely when Welle lead the race and looked comfortable for victory. But when Awoke and Solomon Teshome drew level with Welle in the final 100m, the spectators rose from their seats expecting a grand slam finish.
They got their wish as the leading trio run shoulder-to-shoulder in the final quarter lap. Worku got to the finish first in 1:47.21 ahead of Teshome with Welle coming home in third.
Qualifiers- Kuma fastest in 5000m, but Mekonnen pulls out
There was more drama in the qualifying races for the men’s 5000m. African junior champion Abera Kuma, who was an unfortunate YouTube sensation for his end-of-race brawl with Eritrea’s Samuel Tsegaye at the World Cross Country Championships, was fastest qualifier of the three heats. But world 1500m silver medalist Derese Mekonnen, who had stepped up to compete in the 5000m, dropped out from the second heat with just two laps of the race left.
Elshadai Negash (with the assistance of Bizuayehu Wagaw) for the IAAF