A smiling Bekele with short race gold medal team members (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Two venues, one long Ethiopian party

Hours after Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba completed their short and long course doubles at last weekend’s 33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne/St-Galmier (19/20 March), the Ethiopian athletics team was already celebrating its haul of nine medals from a good weekend’s work in central France.

The team only had a few hours to spare before the flight back home to Addis Ababa, but there was enough time to travel to the Loire Department Council on the outskirts of Saint Etienne and attend a party organised jointly by the Ethiopian Embassy in France and an orphanage project called Mama Ethiopia.

More gold was to come Ethiopia’s way at the party when the governor of the Loire Department handed each Ethiopia’s medal winners - Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba, Gelete Burka, and Werknesh Kidane – a golden discus.

At the function there was also the official announcement of plans to build the ‘Abebe Bikila International stadium’ in Adama, one-hundred kilometres outside Addis Ababa, were announced. To mark the occasion Bekele joined Mr. Junedin Sado, President of the Oromiya region in Ethiopia (the birthplace of many of the country’s top athletes), in handing over a glass-cased poster of Bikila to the governor of Loire.

A colourful night of festivities included scrumptious Ethiopian food dominated by injera, the country’s grain staple, while the athletes and their coaches were still fit enough from their competitions to continue the battle on the dance floor. The star of the Ethiopian disco was junior men’s team leading runners Solomon Molla and Chala Leme who got teased by their teammates that they were fit to dance because they did not run hard enough to earn medals in the cross country.

Once the party got going, virtually everyone hit the dance floor with the likes of Tirunesh Dibaba, Werknesh Kidane, Abebe Dinkessa, and Meselech Melkamu showing that they are as good are on the dance floor as they are on the mud.

More celebrations back home

The team was also given a hero’s welcome upon its return at the Addis Ababa stadium on Tuesday (22 March). Bekele and Dibaba received a congratulation bonus of ETB 20000 (USD 2300) each for their two gold medals. Gelete Burka received ETB 10000 (USD 1150) for junior women’s title, while silver (USD 580) and bronze (USD 820) medal bonuses ensured Werknesh Kidane went home USD 1400 richer, with all members of the Ethiopian squad receiving ETB 3000 (USD 350) in prize money. 

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF