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Tirunesh Dibaba Kenene- The Record-Breaking Expert

 Tirunesh Dibaba Kenene

“Judge not any man by his appearance, for there is always more to a man than that which meets the human eyes”. This saying though old, remains ever true and relevant especially with very plain and unassuming people like this Ethiopian baby-faced ‘destroyer’ as she is fondly called. Tirunesh Dibaba is a long distance track athlete of the 5 000 and 10 000 meters category.

Born on June 1, 1985 in Bekoji , Arsi in Ethiopia, the 4th of 6 children and  a member of the Oromo ethnic group, Tirunesh was raised in the high-altitude Arsi Zone of the Oromia region.

This pretty and ever energetic young lady understood her calling and took it up with all intensity at the young age of 14.This I believe has a lot to do with family genes; Tirunesh is part of an athletic family; her older sister Ejegayehu Dibaba won the silver medal in the 10,000m at the 2004 Summer Olympics; and their sister Genzebe won the junior race at the 2008 World Cross Country Championship. Also, the 1992 and 2000 Olympic champion Derartu Tulu is their cousin; and at present, their brother Dejene is marked as one with the very same trait. Of a truth, it runs in the family. Unlike most Ethiopian athletes, Tirunesh never had any reason to practice or do long races until she became a teenager. According to her, “I never needed to run to school because it was close to home, I never did much running in school. Unlike other Ethiopian runners, I did not have a running childhood.”

Dibaba 1

Dibaba’s first fully international appearance in the outdoor track event was at the age of 15 at the 2001 IAAF World Cross Country Championship in the women’s junior race, where she finished 5th. Also in 2003, she won the 5000m silver medal at the Afro- Asian Games.

Dibaba is an extraordinarily successful cross country runner; she has five IAAF World Cross Country Championships victories, including one junior title (Lausanne, 2003), one short course title (Saint-Galmier, 2005), and two long course titles (Saint-Galmier, 2005, and Fukuoka, 2006). From 2007, there was just one race in each category. Dibaba won the silver in the women’s race at Mombasa in 2007 and the gold at Edinburgh in 2008. A very clean and progressive record if you ask me.

Dibaba has a lineup of great victories in the world championship athletics events from 2003 to 2007. In 2003, she won the 5000 m in a sprint finish against Marta Dominguez of Spain and Edith Masai of Kenya which gave her the well-deserved title as the youngest athlete ever to win an individual gold medal at the World Championships. At the 2005 championships, Dibaba produced a blazing finish and out-sprinted compatriot Verhane Adere and her own sister Ejegayehu and also became the first woman to win the 10,000/5,000 m double at the same championships. In 2007, when the championships were held in Osaka, Dibaba again had a great and surprising finish overhauling Elvan Abeylegess of Turkey, despite a tumble that happened mid-race and the persistent abdominal pains she suffered throughout the race. Dibaba became the only woman to win back-to-back 10,000 m titles.

dibaba 2

This long distance race expert has done well not just for herself but for her country and Africa. She has since gained mastery in breaking and making records. In 2008 at the Oslo Golden League, Dibaba created a new 5000 metres world record of 14 minutes 11.15 seconds. She also won 10,000 metres Gold in Beijing Olympic on August 15, 2008, setting a new Olympic record time of 29:54.66; defying the old record of 30:17.49 that had been set by fellow Ethiopian and cousin Derartu Tulu at Sydney Olympic Summer Games back in 2000. The new Olympic record was also the second fastest 10,000 metres of all time and an African record. The previous African record (30:04.18) was held by Berhane Adere, set at the 2003 World Championships.

A week later on August 22, 2008 she won the 5000 metres by beating the defending gold medalist Meseret Defar (her long time on- track rivalry). Dibaba finished the race in 15:41.40. This Olympic double win made her the first woman to win both 5000 and 10,000 metres at the same Olympics. She was named 2008 Track & Field News Athlete of the Year. She also received the IAAF award for the female Performance of the Year for 2008, the same award she already collected in 2005.

Dibaba 4

Dibaba has had her share of challenges, most of which came in form of injuries interfering with her productivity on the track. In 2009 injuries prevented her from competing in the 2009 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman and 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Berlin. And then in 2010, her career was again threatened by injuries and after 16 months out of competition, she returned at the 2011 New Year’s Eve San Silvestre Vallecana and won by beating Gelete Burka in a sprint finish. She won the two-mile race at the Boston Indoor Grand Prix and took her second career win at the Carlsbad 5000 in March. In her first outdoor track race of the year, she won the 10,000m at the Prefontaine Classic by beating  Florence Kiplagat at the line.

Dibaba 5

This action lady aimed to break the world record for the indoor two miles at the 2013 Boston Indoor Games, but found she was struggling in an unusually slow pace and finished in 9:13.17 minutes – seven seconds off the record. She also prepared to compete at the 2013 London Marathon, but a shin injury forced her to postpone her debut over the distance. Despite the huddles and challenges on her way, the African champion still stands determined and focused; on her mark and always ready to……………………GO.

At this point all I can say is well done our young and news-making Dibaba; Africa is extremely proud of you, and we know that this is just the beginning of greater things to come for you.

Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor is a Journalist/Writer, Poet, Lawyer and God-Lover. She enjoys a good read and sees everyday as an opportunity to live and enjoy her calling whilst working towards perfecting it. She believes that someday soon, Africa will reach her full potential as the light-bearer of the world. You can find her on Twitter: @lovelyn_o

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