Feature12 Aug 2013

Tirunesh Dibaba continues to cement her reputation


Tirunesh Dibaba in the women's 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships, Moscow 2013 (© Getty Images)

With a seemingly effortless performance, Tirunesh Dibaba earned her fifth IAAF World Championships gold medal at the Luzhniki Stadium, adding to her already enviable curriculum vitae.

It all began 10 years ago while she was still a bright eyed 18-year-old as she was the surprise winner of 5000m gold medal in Paris. Of course she also took home both the 5000m and 10,000m gold medals from the Beijing Olympics and then the London 2012 Olympic Games 10,000m gold.

Now she is 28 and her legend is cemented as one of the world’s greatest ever distance runners, but her resolve remains the same despite her success.

With younger athletes appearing on the international scene each year, the challenge to remain at the top grows but Dibaba, whose well-known nickname is ‘The Baby Faced Destroyer’, claimed she didn’t feel any of that in the humid Moscow air on Sunday night.

“No I wasn’t anxious at all,” she said after the race. “I have competed at the World Championships many times and this is my fifth gold.”

Scattered amongst the crowd were many Ethiopian flags and each time she passed them there were loud, rousing, cheers.

Coach in the crowd

“I don’t usually pay attention to the crowd,” she revealed, “but in this race, our coach who had advised us to try and help the younger athletes was there and I was actually listening to him calling out splits.”

“The pace was great from the Japanese runner. If she has gone slower than 74 seconds a lap we would have taken over the pace but because she was going 73s it was fine. It was not fast, it was a good pace, I liked it. I was never worried.”

The Ethiopian federation decided that their athletes were going to share the expected medal haul at these World Championships and their move effectively ended a dream contest between her and her great rival Meseret Defar over both the 5000m and 10,000m distances. What a duel it would have been.

Dibaba ran the world leading 5000m time of 14:23.68 earlier this season at the IAAF Diamond League meeting In Paris last month after Defar had already clocked the year’s fastest 10,000m time of 30:08.06 in the Swedish town of Sollentuna.

The three-time World champion over 25 laps of the track believes she is in the best shape of her life and would have relished the prospect of doing the double, she remains humble.

“I am not disappointed that the federation didn’t want us to try to double,” she declared, “because we have run many years and the upcoming athletes need the experience. Because that was how it was explained to me I don’t have any regrets at all. I am happy that they are getting experience.”

Among those joining her in Moscow is younger sister Genzebe Dibaba, the 2012 World Indoor Championships 1500m winner. The latter lives with Tirunesh and her  husband, the Olympic Games and World Championships medallist Sileshi Sihine, at their house in a gated community in Addis Ababa.

Earlier in the year Genzebe turned in the world-leading 5000m time and seemed to be encroaching upon her big sister’s territory.

Sibling rivallry

“If she beats you will she still be living with you?" she was asked by this reporter and she responded with a wide grin, acknowledging that her understanding of English is good even though she tends to rely upon an Amharic-speaking translator when she travels to competitions.

“Genzebe had the 1500m heats this morning and she also has a race coming up (the 1500m semifinal), said Dibaba.

“She wanted to come here and watch me tonight but I refused that. I told her I want her to stay and rest at the hotel and watch the race from there.”

“I haven’t really decided when I will leave Moscow. I do want to go back home but, on the other hand, I feel that if she reaches the final I want to watch. So I haven’t decided.”

Over her lengthy domination, Dibaba has earned some large appearance money. No doubt if the rumours of her running the 2014 London Marathon are true she will be the recipient of her biggest pay day ever but on Sunday she was able to add the US$60,000 to her bank account.

Following in the steps of Haile Gebrselassie, she and Sileshi have invested their earnings in building projects which also serve in job creation amongst their countrymen.

Among the projects Dibaba is investing is a high rise hotel in Addis Ababa.  It has been under construction for the past two years but like many things there it is a long process.

“The hotel is not finished yet, maybe in two years,” she said with a smile.

However, that is a project for the future, and this year is not over yet. A return to Europe after a brief sojourn back home is on the cards, and some more fast times.

Paul Gains for the IAAF



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