Ibrahim Gashu (ETH) salutes his 10,000m win in Beijing (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ethiopian elite look to continue domination - 2006 TOYOTA Great Ethiopian Run PREVIEW

Ethiopia’s top elite juniors will look to preserve their 100% home record when the 2006 TOYOTA Great Ethiopian Run takes place on Sunday 26 November.

MEN - Jeylan is the overwhelming favourite

Ethiopia’s World junior 10,000m champion Ibrahim Jeylan is the overwhelming favourite in the men’s race as he looks to complete a memorable 2006 on a high note.

The 18-year-old, who represents the Muger Cement Factory sports club, finished fourth in the corresponding race last year, but begun this year with an upset victory over the Tariku Bekele in the junior race of the Ethiopian Cross Country Championships.

Although he failed to medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Jeylan atoned for his cross country aberrations with a well-taken victory in the 10,000m race at the Ethiopian Championships. Impressive wins in Hengelo, Huelva, and Belgrade prepared him for the World juniors in the Beijing where he sprinted past Kenyan Joseph Ebuya to take victory.

As in previous years, Jeylan will not be short of challengers as the cream of Ethiopian junior distance running talent hope to use this race as a springboard to bigger career ambitions.

Leading the challenge will be Ethiopian 20km champion Deriba Merga, who emerged on the local domestic running scene by finishing third in the same race last year. The 20-year-old also won the Nazreth World cup 10km road race in Nazreth, Ethiopia in June and finished fifth in the inaugural edition of the World Road Running Championships in Debrecen, Hungary.

Solomon Tsege, Demesew Tsega, and Zenbaba Yegezu will hope to bring their impressive road running experience to the race, while Dereje Tadesse, sixth in the 10,000m race at the World juniors, is bidding for a top ten finish.

Nathan Naibei, who finished second in last year’s race, leads the Kenyan challenge in this year’s race. The 20-year-old, who finished fourth over the 3000m Steeplechase at the 2004 World Junior Championships, has been out of action due to a groin injury for much of 2006, but hopes to go one better in the race on Sunday.

“It was a great race last year,” he said. “I hope to win this year. My goal next year will be to qualify for the World Cross Country Championships in Mombassa. I hope this race will give me the confidence.”

WOMEN - Will this be Bezunesh Bekele’s launching pad?

The streets of Addis Ababa and the Great Ethiopian Run have seen many thoroughbreds who went on to win worldwide honours and fame in the last five editions of the race. Come Sunday, 23-year-old Bezunesh Bekele will hope that this will be her moment to deliver.

Having represented Ethiopia in many past editions of the World Cross Country Championships, the Ethiopian 10,000m champion has not been able to transform her experience to noteworthy international results.

“I continue to train and I have not lost hope,” says the diminutive runner. “I would not want to say I am the favourite, but I hope to have a good race and win.” 

Her main challenge is expected to come from runners who have ample road running experience. Ethiopian 20km champion Dure Tune and 2004 MOHA Addis Ababa Marathon winner Leila Aman will use the race as a preparation for a spring marathon, while former world 5000m bronze medallist Ayelech Worku will be hoping to continue her transformation to a full-time career on the roads.

Azalech Masresha finished fifth in last year’s corresponding race and followed it up with victory in the Nazreth World Cup 10km in June this year. Tiki Gelana, a close relative of Ethiopia’s former Olympic and World marathon champion Gezhagne Abera, will also hope to improve on her fourth place finish from the 2004 race.

The international field sees Ireland’s former Olympic 5000m silver medallist Sonia O’Sullivan compete for the first time in Africa, while Standard Chartered Nairobi 10km champion Linet Chepkurui is Kenya’s sole representative in the women’s race.

Battle between Dibaba Jr. and Defar Jr.

An interesting battle is also expected to take place between the younger sisters of Ethiopia’s top two female runners Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar as their sisters Genzebe and Alemnesh take to the streets of Addis Ababa on Sunday morning.

Genzebe Dibaba was third at the 3000m at the Ethiopian Championships last year and only missed a place on the World Junior Championships team because of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation’s budgetary problems. On the other hand, Alemnesh is a former Addis Ababa sub-city division cross country champion.

El Guerrouj, Gebrselassie, Bekele share the stage

Distance legends Hicham El Guerrouj, Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele took some time to share the stage at the pre-race press conference, discussing their past feats and sharing their mutual respect.

Said El Guerrouj of Gebrselassie, the four-time World champion and two-time Olympic champion:  “He is a gift of God and he will remain like that for eternity,” said the Moroccan, who eagerly accepted Gebrselassie’s invitation to attend the race. “With his movements, he transmits a special kind of message. God creates special people once in a while and Haile is one of them.” 

Bekele, who was defeated by El Guerrouj in the 5000m at the Olympic Games in Athens two years ago, expressed his disappointment over El Guerrouj’s retirement this year.

“It came as a shock to me and I was not happy,” he said. “We should have run together one more time.”

El Guerrouj’s reply was diplomatic. “He has all the time in the world for the revenge,” he said. “I do not have to be present there. He can go on and win an Olympic double.”

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF