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Experience prevails in Addis Ababa Marathon

Experience prevails in Addis Ababa marathon
Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF
9 December 2001 - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Resilience was the theme of the men’s race at the sixth annual Addis Ababa marathon Sunday. Old-timer Tadesse Becho, a former Lausanne marathon champion and a member of the Defense athletic club, rallied to win, while Prison Police’s Deribe Hunde ran away with the women’s victory.

On a very windy morning in the high-altitude Ethiopian capital, a large lead men’s group stayed together for most of the course, which started and finished at the Addis Ababa stadium and overlapped part of the route of the Great Ethiopian Run 10K two weeks ago.

At about the 33rd kilometer, four men broke away, including Becho, another experienced runner, Haji Adilo, and two younger ones, Teferi Wodajo and Gashaw Mellesse.

On Haile Gebrselassie Avenue a little later, three men made another break.  “They left me about 50 meters behind,” said Becho, a 10-year veteran of the sport who fought to regain contact.

Some two kilometers later, he not only succeeded, but passed all but Wodajo.  “He came with me all the way to Abiot,” said Becho, 34, referring to Meskel Square, the site of the Great Ethiopian Run’s start and finish by its old name. “He wouldn’t let go.”

But experience prevailed over youth and Becho pulled away in the square, increasing his pace as he did so. In the stadium, the announcement that he was in the lead was greeted with cheers from his club mates like 1996 Olympian Abraham Assefa, who was seated in the main tribunal along with Olympic and world champion Gezahegne Abera and others.

Far away in the most densely populated section of the stadium, where the outer wall overlooked part of the course, giving spectators the chance to stand along the back and watch some action on the road before runners turned into the stadium, sat Becho’s unsuspecting wife, Deribe Jebessa, and two of their four children. “I was convinced they had made a mistake and mixed up the names,” she said of the announcement. “It’s been a long time since he has competed.”

Becho had won the Abebe Bikila marathon in Addis Ababa almost ten years ago and helped the Ethiopian team win the marathon World Cup with a fourth place finish a year later. His best international placings were in Lausanne in the 1990s, but he had had several uneventful years compounded by a leg injury.  “Only when they made the announcement again did I believe it was him,” said Jebessa, herself a former athlete.

The one-time javelin thrower for the national electric power authority, where she now has an office job, hurriedly gathered her children and made her way closer to the finish line as Becho entered the stadium and ran the final lap, his six-year-old daughter Hiwot losing sight of him as they hurried through the crowds. “She kept asking, ‘Where is he? Where is he?’ ” said her mother.

With Wodajo over a hundred meters behind and Mellesse further back, Becho crossed the finish line and fell to his knees and kissed the ground. “I feel great, great joy,” he said later. “May the praise go to God.”

“The wind was very difficult, and since there are so many hills, we couldn’t run a good time,” said Becho, who had only once attempted the same race, several years ago, three days after arriving from an overseas race, but dropped out. He credited his wife with encouraging him through both the good and the lean years.

She and their children hugged and kissed him as he sat on the field Sunday, dozens of the 356 participants of the race still making their way around the track. Simeretu Alemayehu, a club mate of Becho’s and himself a seasoned runner who resurfaced to win the 2000 and 2001 Turin marathons and make the Sydney Olympic team, came over from the spectator stands to congratulate Becho. “This is a day for old men,” he joked. “With all this fresh young blood around, his win shows what persevering can do.”

Wodajo and fourth-placed Adilo led their Omedla police club to the team victory and as they returned from collecting the award, a fellow club member yelled for someone to get Adilo’s attention. “Haji! Haji!” called out Haile Gebrselassie from near the stadium exit. When Adilo finally looked his way, the Olympic champion gave him a thumbs-up. “That’s a real man,” said Gebrselassie admiringly. “He falls and keeps getting up.”

Adilo had also been around a few years: he was a schoolmate of Gebrselassie’s when both represented Asela high school in track competitions. “Of course, he always won,” said Adilo. “I was maybe third.” But gastrointestinal problems plagued Adilo and he had had three recent operations. “Having been sick and risen from that, I’m happy to have done this,” he said, resting in a stadium seat while the crowds made their way out after the awards.

Third-placed Mellesse’s rank benefited no club as the youngster didn’t have one and had entered the race on his own. A 23rd place finish in the Abebe Bikila marathon might have detracted from his third place at last year’s Addis Ababa marathon, but his repeat performance may help him gain membership somewhere.

Women’s winner Hunde led the Prison Police club, of which she has been a member for just half a year, to that team victory as she improved on her 2000 Addis Ababa finish by six places. She is the sister of marathoner Retta Hunde, who is married to 2000 Amsterdam marathon winner Abeba Tola. Retta Hunde, who is in the United States, was not there to see his sister win, but Tola was, in every sense of the word. She served as mentor, guide and post-race usher to her sister-in-law, advising Hunde to push at the 10-kilometer mark.

“She told me to go then, so I did,” Hunde, who ran alone for the rest of the race, said later, adding that she was also able to deal with the wind for the same reason. “Abeba told me how to run, to keep my head down.”

Tola took Hunde to a waiting car after the awards and went to hunt for the driver of a van that had blocked their way out. Hunde’s trophy rested in the only empty seat, the front passenger seat where Tola would later sit, but Hunde knew already where she wanted it permanently displayed. “I want it to be with her,” she said, gesturing towards Tola. “She is my sister.”

Sixth Addis Ababa Marathon
Sunday, December 9, 2001
Results (all competitors Ethiopian)
Men
1.            Taddesse Becho, Defense, 2:29:54
2.         Teferi Wodajo, Omedla, 2:30:10
3.         Gashaw Mellesse, unattached, 2:30:22
4.         Haji Adilo, Omedla, 2:31:59

Women
1.         Deribe Hunde, Prison Police, 2:55:50
2.         Tejitu Deme, Omedla, 3:01:21
3.         Muluye Lemma, Kebead, 3:03:54
4.            Wossene Gebeyehu, Prison Police, 3:05:04