Ethiopia has produced many great distance runners over the years and Dinknesh Mekash could very well join the higher echelon.
The 28-year-old will line up for the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on 20 October, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, expecting her good fortunes to continue. She is currently ranked only 13th in her own country but her outstanding fourth place finish at this year’s high-quality Paris Marathon turned plenty of heads.
Her time of 2:25:09 there was a personal best by more than three-and-a-half minutes.
The Paris result doesn’t tell the complete story of her performance in the ‘City of Lights’. The night before her race she discovered there were no pacemakers designated to tow her along to her objective so she decided to go out with the leaders, hard and fast, even though they were looking for a time in the 2:21-2:22 range.
Some would consider running at that pace foolish, especially as personal best at the time was 2:28:46 but she ran with them through the halfway point in 1:10:08.
As predicted, she faded in the latter stages of the race but still clung to fourth place. With more sensible pacing she knows she is certainly capable of lowering her best time once again.
“I have never been to North America,” she revealed, “I don’t have any information on the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, it’s the first time that I will participate in this race. I want to have a good result and a personal best time.”
She quietly suggested that she is coming to Toronto looking for a time around 2:22-2:23.
No doubt she will have been made aware that the Toronto course record is 2:22:43 and was set by Kenya’s Sharon Cherop in 2010, and then equalled by Ethiopia’s Koren Yal the following year.
The course record bonus is USD$35,000 while a victory is worth USD$20,000.
The Toronto race organisers will provide pacemakers for the elite women and, if the environmental conditions are helpful, it will all be up to Mekash to follow through against the world class field.
Dinknesh, which means ‘wondrous one’ in Amharic, grew up in the town of Bekoji, the renowned ‘Town of Runners’, which happens to be the birthplace of the Bekele brothers and the Dibaba sisters.
As a young athlete she was brought to Addis Ababa by the organisation ‘Running Across Borders’ and given coaching, accommodation and support to pursue a running career.
The founder, Malcolm Anderson says she was the first to be part of the program and a classic example of what they are trying to do in East Africa: use sport to help youth achieve success in life.
In 2010, Mekash travelled outside of her country for the first time, flying to Scotland to participate in the Loch Ness Marathon. She won in 2:46:39, which seems modest compared to her present bests and future targets.
Anderson recalls her amusement at seeing radiators used for heating the home. The arrival of the mail each day also caught her attention.
She was less enthusiastic about the freezing cold temperatures and rain that she experienced during her entire visit. A year later she joined the Global Sports Communications’ training group coached by renowned Ethiopian coach Getaneh Tessema.
The group includes London 2012 Olympic Games Marathon champion Tiki Gelana, whom Mekash considers an inspiration.
Her managers first entered her in a road race in Uganda. The conditions were less than ideal - hot, humid and at high altitude – but they promised her that a top three position would result in an invitation to a top European marathon.
Her second place finish in Uganda earned her a berth in the Hamburg Marathon. Again, she surprised with a time of 2:29:56 at the German race.
“I was inspired by Elfenesh Alemu (fourth in 2004 Olympic Games marathon, 2003 Tokyo winner) in the beginning,” said Mekesh. “Tiki Gelana has been an inspiration to me since. It’s very interesting training with Getaneh and the group, I am so happy with Getaneh. I train in all the best places: Entoto, Arar, Sendafa and Sululta.”
Earlier this year, she also ran 2:28:46 for second place in the Mumbai Marathon before her astonishing Paris run.
The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will, therefore, be her third marathon of 2013. Nobody would bet against her adding another personal best to her resume.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF