Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEthiopian distance running ace Haile Gebrselassie stole all the headlines in the ING Amsterdam Marathon by smashing his own Ethiopian to set a world leading time, but for those who had cared to notice, he was not the only Ethiopian making the transition from the track to the marathon, in fact an even greater leap from the 1500m to the most gruelling athletics discipline on the road.
Kutre Dulecha, winner of the Amsterdam women’s race, is remarkably the reigning World Indoor 1500m champion. The 27-year-old was also running the second marathon of her career where she made a massive improvement on her 2:32:29 5th place finish in the Hamburg Marathon, by slicing a massive 2 minutes and 23 seconds off her personal best time in Amsterdam.
“I am very happy about my performance and it has given me great encouragement,” she says. “But I feel that I can run much faster than this.”
Extremely wide range of disciplines
The marathon represents yet another twist in Dulecha’s highly intricate career path that now spans over a decade.
Before converting to the marathon in late 2004, she competed, with some success, over the 1500m, where she has earned the name “Ethiopia’s most successful middle distance runner”. Her career highs came in 1997 and 2004 when she earned the World Championship bronze in Seville, Spain, and won the 2004 World Indoor championship gold in Budapest, Hungary.
Over the mud, Dulecha has enjoyed success, winning the World Cross Country Championships short course race in 2000, having taken the bronze two years earlier.
However, at 1500m there has been some disappointment. Five years ago, she went to the Sydney Olympics as one of the medal favourites, but finished a demoralising (by her high standards) fourth. “I was very disappointed,” she says. “The only reason I continue running is to gain some measure of revenge for that disappointment.”
Perfect beginning to 2004, then injury
After Sydney, Dulecha took a two-year sabbatical to have a son Hailegebriel, recollect her thoughts, and came back with vengeance in 2004. After winning a series of indoor meetings, she gained some measure of reconciliation for her Sydney dissatisfaction when winning the 1500m indoor title in Budapest. “I was in one of the best forms of fitness in my life then,” she recalls.
Her performance in Budapest put her down as one of the early medal contenders for Athens 2004, but Dulecha’s preparations couldn’t have gone worse when she picked up a hamstring injury in training for the European summer season. “I tried to fight my way back to fitness,” she says. “But it was too late.”
She travelled to Athens in no shape to contest the medal positions and the consequence was a semi-final elimination.
“After Athens, I decided to try the marathon,” she says. “I always train hard to get ready for major events like the Olympics and World Championships, but after repeated failures either in the heats or in the final, I was left frustrated.”
Slow entrance to the marathon
Like many former track runners, Dulecha slowly increased her training load and moved up to the marathon distance by distance. In November 2004, she finished second in a 21km race in the Netherlands. “I could have gone faster and won the race,” she said. “But I felt anxious to try the full marathon.”
Weeks later, Dulecha asked her manager Jos Hermens to arrange for her to run in the next available marathon and when he entered her in the Hamburg Marathon just weeks later, Dulecha did not think twice. “I prepared for Hamburg thoroughly for only one week,” she admits.
On her debut, Dulecha finished fifth in a time of 2:32:29 in Hamburg and although her time was enough for inclusion to the Ethiopia’s team for the 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Helsinki, Finland, she decided not to join the national team. “I asked the Federation not to be included because I was not ready,” says Dulecha. “Since the team members trained together and pushed each other hard during sessions, I feared that I would be ‘burned out’ in the process. I did not want to rush myself to the marathon. I know that my time would come.”
“One day, I feel that I will break the World record”
Instead, Dulecha focused her attention on training for Amsterdam to get ready for her ‘perfect’ race. “Amsterdam was the ‘perfect’ race for me,” she says. “But I could have run faster had it not been for the wind and lack of fierce competition. I run alone for much of the race.”
Now that she has flexed her muscles with a sub 2:31 performance, Dulecha is setting her sights high. But when asked about aiming for Gete Wami’s Ethiopian record time of 2:22:49, Dulecha says, “At the moment, I am thinking of running under 2:30 and not thinking of Gete’s record.”
In the long run, however, Dulecha has her sights not only on the Ethiopian, but also on Paula Radcliffe’s World record. “Why not,” she answers the question with a question. “One day, I feel that I will break the World record. I feel that I can run the marathon very well for a long time.”
Running against Radcliffe
But in her own modest admission, the World record will come in due course and after patient and persistent work. In the near foreseeable future, however, Dulecha has her ambitions for the 2006 London Marathon. “I want to run against Paula Radcliffe in London,” she says. “It has been my aim for a long time because she pushes you to faster times in a fast course.”
Many runners close the track chapter to their lives when turning their attention on the marathon, but Dulecha remains adamant that she is the exception. “I still want to go back to middle distance running and revenge my Sydney disappointment,” she says. “I also want to run the 5000m and 10,000m to see how good I am against younger runners.”
Such audacity might be rubbished for being too ambitious, but for a runner of Dulecha’s exceptional range of abilities, it should not come as a surprise at all!
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF