Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Double World indoor 3000m champion and 2007 IAAF World Athlete of the Year Meseret Defar will lead a strong Ethiopian squad of of seven athletes for the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain (7-9 March 2008).
But reigning men’s World indoor 3000m champion Kenenisa Bekele has decided against competing in the biennial championships leaving younger brother Tariku as the only genuine medal hope in the men’s 3000m.
Defar going for a hat-trick
With its athletes regularly revising the world all-time lists, Ethiopia is spoiled for choice in selecting the women’s 3000m entrants.
World 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba and former World Cross Country short course champion Gelete Burka produced sub-8:35 performances this season, but while their times are the envy to the rest of the world, neither was able to nail down a place on Ethiopia’s team for Valencia.
Instead, defending champion Defar is again the favourite to win a third consecutive world indoor 3000m title in the Spanish city. Her biggest challenge is expected to come from Meselech Melkamu who pushed Defar to her limits as the pair dipped under Russian Liliya Shobukhova’s World record in February 2007.
Although they were unable to match their record exploits this season, both Defar (8:27.93) and Melkamu (8:29.48) stormed to the top two times in the world this year and are expected to furiously contest the top two positions in Valencia.
Burka, who missed out on a 3000m place, is selected to compete over the 1500m for which she has qualified by virtue of her 2007 outdoor season best.
K. Bekele making room for rising generation
The biggest surprise of the selections was the omission of in-form runner Kenenisa Bekele from the Valencia squad. After an indifferent 2007, Bekele has hit form at the right time this season with a two mile World best in Birmingham last weekend.
“He is saving himself for the world cross country,” said Dube Jillo, the EAF Technical Director. “He told us that he wants to give an opportunity for other runners to take part.”
In Kenenisa Bekele’s absence, Ethiopia’s 3000m team will include his younger brother Tariku and youngster Abraham Cherkos. Tariku, fifth in last year’s IAAF world championships 5000m final, is also a runner in top form following his world leading 7:31.09 in Stuttgart earlier in the month. He finished sixth over the same event two years ago, but will be hoping for at least a podium finish in Valencia.
Meanwhile, Cherkos made his indoor debut this season finishing fourth in Stuttgart (7:38.03). But the 18-year-old has good experience outdoors with World youth best at both the 3000m and 5000m.
Derese Mekonnen (3:34.80), winner in Stuttgart earlier this month and third in Athens last week, and Mekonnen Gebremedhin (3:36.63), second in Stuttgart and winner in Valencia, will represent Ethiopia in the 1500m.
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
Ethiopia’s squad for Valencia -
MEN’s 1500m- Derese Mekonnen, Mekonnen Gebremedhin
MEN’s 3000m- Tariku Bekele, Abraham Cherkose
WOMEN’s 1500m- Gelete Burka
WOMEN’s 3000m- Meseret Defar, Meselech Melkamu