When Ethiopian runner Ibrahim Jeylan Gashu walked to the start line for the 10,000m final at the 11th IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing, he saw the medal podium and vowed to himself that he would stand on highest of it twenty five laps later.
“I wanted to win so bad and promised myself after seeing the number one on the podium that I will want to stand there,” he says.
And after a brilliant tactical race, Jeylan sprinted past his Kenyan archrival Joseph Ebuya in the final metres to clinch Ethiopia’s first gold medal in these championships and the sixth Ethiopian gold in the distance following in the footsteps of Addis Abebe, Haile Gebrselassie, Assefa Mezgebu, Derartu Tulu, and Gebregziaher Gebremariam.
“I am delighted to have won gold here,” he says. “It has been an ambition of mine for a long time and I hope this leads to bigger victories.”
The victory puts a seal of justification for Jeylan’s increasing pedigree as one of the stars of the future in Ethiopian athletics. After all, his reputation coming into these championships was perhaps more sterling than any of his rivals’. Last year, he finished second behind Abraham Cherkose over the 3000m at the 4th IAAF World Youth Championships in Marrakesh, Morocco and put up a good fight to finish fourth in the 2005 Great Ethiopian Run in November 2005.
This year, he has again built on his collection of victories with an Ethiopian junior cross country title, an Ethiopian 10,000m title, and a junior World leading time when he won the 10,000m at the FBK-Thales IAAF Grand Prix meeting in Hengelo, Netherlands.
But after both Workitu Ayanu and Wude Ayalew failed to convert terrific early season form into results a day earlier in the women’s 5000m, the pressure was on Jeylan to try and prevent a ‘disaster’ in Beijing.
“There was pressure after what happened in the women’s 5000m,” he says. “I thought that we would take both gold and silver in that race, but it did not happen. I am happy to have gold for Ethiopia.”
Jeylan, born in the Ethiopian town of Bale in the south-eastern part of the country, started running after watching Haile Gebrselassie famous victory over Paul Tergat in the 2000 Sydney Olympics 10,000m final and hopes that he too can produce similar moments of magic at senior level.
“I remember listening on the radio how Haile beat Tergat and immediately I started training,” he says. “I was only 12 then and nothing nor anyone could stop me from achieving what I wanted.”
But Jeylan did not get the happy start he would have wanted early on in his career. “I completed over the 5000m and 10,000m at district level for a trial to join our regional team,” he says. “They only took the top two and I finished 3rd and 4th respectively in those races and could not make it. I cried until my eyes turned red.”
But his early experience has thought him how to handle failure appropriately. “Winning and losing are very much parts of running,” he says. “I have learned to handle defeat as graciously as a win.”
Now that he has joined his more illustrious compatriots in the World junior hall of fame, Jeylan believes that he is ready to make a transition to senior competition and has already set very high standards for himself.
“I want to run under 27 minutes this year,” he says. “I want to be in pole position to qualify for next year’s World Championships in Osaka.
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF