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Tue,21Nov2017

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The difference between Ethiopia's Gabrselassie and Liberia's Weah

Haile Gabrselassie (L) George Weah (R)/Photo©ReutersEthiopia's Track legend Haile Gebrselassie plans to run for the presidency of Ethiopia. But will his sporting fame be enough to administer the fate and future of a nation and its people?

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Pistorius gives his side of the story in court

Oscar Pistorius has denied murder allegations in court/Photo©ReutersParalympian Oscar Pistorius' bail application was postponed until Wednesday after the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Tuesday heard that he had not intended to kill his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

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Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius accidentally shoots girlfriend dead on Valentine's day

Pistorius hit international headlines as the first double amputee ever to run in the Olympic games/Photo©ReutersSouth African police have confirmed that they have charged Olympic sprint star Oscar Pistorius with the Valentine's Day murder of his model girlfriend, playing down reports she was mistaken for a burglar.

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Sports: After Jeilan’s surprise gold, Ethiopia expect more medals

Ibrahim Jeilan’s triumph in the 10 000 meters race has inspired Ethiopians to expect more medals from their athletes at the ongoing Athletics World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

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Athletics: Kenya's golden opportunities

Despite the pressures lucrative prizes and sponsorship can bring, Kenya’s runners have come a long way since they burst back onto the circuit in the ’80s. This summer may prove their greatest medal haul yet?


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Interview: Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopian long-distance runner

 

The Africa Report: How much of Ethiopian athletics’s popularity is due to your success??Haille Gebrselassie

 

Haile Gebrselassie: People can see how I became successful. Everybody knows what I do outside running and can see the benefits of my businesses: the buildings, schools and everything. And then they think, “Oh, there is a possibility,” and they follow.?

 

You invest all your money in Ethiopia. Why?

 

?First of all, Ethiopia is my country. I was born here. I want to die here. And secondly, indirectly, because [when] I invest the money I have won in Europe or America or wherever, people can see what I am doing. Everybody knows that I have an opportunity to invest my money anywhere, but I invest here. But we need to do more, something else, something different, something which is important for many Ethiopians.?

 

You have built a school in the village where you were born. How has your village changed?

 

?When I studied, my school was 10 km away. Now the kids in my village, they don’t need to walk 10 km, the maximum is 5 km, which means it’s improving. In the village itself, there has been a lot of change: it is improving and it’s growing. But, the question is, is that enough? My answer is no, not yet. ?You cannot do anything without education, without teaching people, without showing them how to work. If anyone thinks that it is possible without education let him forget it. ?

 

What have been your best moments in athletics??

 

My best race was in 2000 in Sydney, between myself and Paul Tergat. We were very close to each other [only 0.09 seconds separated them]. That was the best race I ever ran. And if you ask me how many – maybe 27 world records, two Olympic Games, four world championships another four indoor world championships, and so on – it’s a lot. But my last race [in Berlin] was also one of my biggest achievements: I broke the world marathon record at 2 hours 3 minutes and 59 seconds.?

 

Do you regret not competing in the marathon in Beijing??

 

No, not at all. How would it have been possible for me to break the world record in Berlin if I had done that? But one thing I want to do is to win a marathon at the Olympic Games.

 

?In London??

 

That is what I’m thinking.?

 

And do you think you will still be running then??

 

Why not? Do you think I am old??

 

Well you are getting faster and faster.

 

?I am, yes. Look, I am 35 but I feel like 20.

 

Back to Athletics, Valuing life in Addis Ababa

 

Athletics: Valuing Life in Addis Ababa

 

One of the toughest races in the world, the annual Great Ethiopian Run through Ethiopia’s capital attracts thousands of participants and spectators – a big event for athletes and civil society activists alike

 

Ask any of the 32,000 registered participants impatiently waiting for the start of the Great Ethiopian Run why they are there and the answers will be as diverse and varied as the people. “For my health,” says one. “To celebrate Ethiopia’s athletic success,” says another. “To have some fun together,” says a third.?

 

But time and again the runners return to the messages the race works to publicise. “I’m running to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS,” said Yared, and his friend Nabayou agreed: “All the people have a slogan about HIV. They are saying ‘Use a condom’.” Megdes was running “to support orphaned children” while Samson declared: “What I love most about the race is its message ‘Value your life’.” ?

Interview: Haile Gebrselassie
Ethiopian long-distance runner

 

For Addis residents the best thing about the run is its atmosphere – the joy and sheer exuberance of the participants and the enthusiasm of those watching and cheering on the sidelines. For the runners, it is a high-altitude slog through the heart of the city along a 10km circuit, and for the spectators it is an exhilarating melee of noise, heat and colour generated by the estimated 40,000 people taking part, who all wear the same red and yellow T-shirts and are boosted by unofficial hangers-on. At the latest event on 23 November 2008, an estimated extra 8,000 people joined in the throng.

 

?A top Kenyan athlete who took part said the race was a challenge even for experienced runners: “It’s a really tough race – it’s the toughest in the world,” he said. Mohamed Farah, the Somali-born athlete who runs for Britain, also felt the special atmosphere. “For me it was a very good experience, the crowd were just amazing. They were completely different. They were cheering ‘Anbessa, anbessa’ which means like a lion and ‘Ayzoh, ayzoh’ – be strong.”?

 

Last year’s was the eighth Great Ethiopian Run. It was launched in 2001 with the help of Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopia’s best-known and best-loved long-distance runner, and former British Olympic athlete Richard Nerurkar.?

 

Gebrselassie played a critical part in securing the initial sponsorship and in smoothing out the tensions between the race organisers and the Ethiopian Athletics Federation, which was reluctant to support the first event. “A few days before the race some people at the Federation tried to stop it from happening,” said Nerurkar. “Had Haile not been there they would have closed it down, even though we had 10,000 people registered.”?

 

Impossible is nothing

 

?The event did go ahead and was a triumph. From the outset it was never planned to be just another mass-participation race. The organisers wanted to provide ordinary Ethiopians with an opportunity to participate in their country’s national sport, but they also had loftier aims. They hoped the race would help cultivate a more positive image of Ethiopia, something far removed from its habitual portrayal as just another war-torn, famine-blighted, poverty-stricken African state. And early on they saw its potential as a vehicle for public health messages. One of the original sponsors of the race was DKT International, a US-based NGO working to increase the distribution of condoms and promote family planning. ?

 

The Run is now the largest road race in Africa, and pictures of tens of thousands of Ethiopians running along the broad tree-lined streets of Addis are beamed to television sets across the world. Thanks to the high profile it enjoys within Ethiopia and the ever-growing international media attention it attracts, the Great Ethiopian Run’s public health messages have been reinforced. ?

 

Haile Gebrselassie explains: “There is nothing too impossible. Every year the race has had a message and we can pass on this message in different ways. We talked about HIV/AIDS first, and education and poverty and so on.”?

 

Central to the Run’s growing standing on the international athletics scene is the competition for elite men and women. In the first few years the list of participants read like a who’s who of Ethiopian track stars. Since 2004, invitations have been given out to the top 500 runners from the best athletics clubs in Addis Ababa. Ethiopian athletics has benefited hugely. “In the last eight years, because of the Great Ethiopian Run, running has just become a part of something we [Ethiopians] do,” says Gebreselassie. “I remember in 1993 when I ran in the world championship, we didn’t have many athletes qualified for the 10,000m – there were only three of us. But these days, how many? There are more than 30 athletes who have qualified for the 10,000m and 5,000m. It’s very difficult to choose and now we have to try to keep this tradition going.”?

 

High altitude draw

 

?The race organisers hope to attract more of the sport’s biggest names in the future, although the prize money is low in comparison with other similar races, and it is a big challenge for any athlete to compete against Ethiopians on their home terrain at high altitude. Even some of Ethiopia’s best athletes shy away, as Nerurkar explains: “From about 2005 onwards there were so many good young athletes who desperately wanted to run this race that it became fiercely, fiercely competitive and the world class guys didn’t want to get beaten.”

 

?For Addis residents the race has become much more than a Sunday fun run. It is a place where citizens feel able to air their grievances – whether with protests about road safety or calls for the release of the popular imprisoned Ethiopian singer Teddy Afro – and the organisers allow them to, as long as the demonstrations are safe and peaceful. ?

 

With the help of supporters, the organisers extended the run’s charitable remit in 2005 by introducing a fund-raising element – an integral part of any such event in the West, but a new and unusual concept here. Free places are given to local charities, granting some of society’s poorest and most vulnerable people a chance to take part in one of the highlights of the Addis social calendar. Last year, a special campaign, ‘I’m running for a child’ was also launched that raised 250,000 birr ($27,500) for organisations working with orphans and at-risk children living in the capital. ?

 

The Great Ethiopian Run is a celebration of Ethiopia, the people, its culture and its proud athletic tradition. People display their medals in shops and cafes and wear the official race T-shirts for weeks after the event. Wami Biratu, at 90 the oldest participant in the race, has committed himself to keep running until the day he dies. “It is the expression of love, unity and health,” he said. “The child and the old man can participate in this road race. It is not only for Ethiopia but for the world as well.”

 
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