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Updated 20 March 2009
ALEMU Bekele, Bahrain (800m, 1500m, Cross Country)
Born 23 March 1990, Lemu village, Lemu-bilbilo district, Arsi zone, Oromiya region, Ethiopia.
Residence: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Manama, Bahrain
Coach: Tolosa Kotu
Alemu Bekele was born in Lemu village, which is only seven kilometres from Bekoji, the birthplace of Ethiopia’s famous long distance runners Derartu Tulu (1992 and 2000 Olympic women’s 10,000m champion), Kenenisa Bekele (2008 Olympic 5000/10000m and multiple men’s World Cross Country champion), and Tirunesh Dibaba (2008 Olympic 5000/10000m and multiple World Cross Country women’s champion). His father supported the family by tilling land for cash crops like wheat, barley, and corn. His mother looked after nine children in the household, while his brothers and sisters helped their parents with various chores.
The fifth of the nine children (6 brothers and 2 sisters); Alemu spent the early days of his childhood looking after his family’s cattle. When he was nine, he moved to his grandmother’s (father’s mother) to start school.
Like almost every runner who hails from the region, Alemu started running to and from school to avoiding being late for his classes. He ran his first competitive race in 2004, when he was 11, winning a 100m competition held among runners in his school. This helped him to gain selection for an inter-school competition held among schools of the Lemu-bilbilo district. He finished third in that race and was selected to represent his district, although he ended up not competing because the coaches picked other experienced runners ahead of him for the meet.
Disappointed by his exclusion, Alemu started training harder and seldom attended classes at this school, instead concentrating on sport. This did not go down well with his father, who had always been at odds with his son’s running. After the disagreement was resolved, Alemu moved back to his father’s and also returned to school. He top-scored his elementary matriculation exam and moved to Bekoji to pursue his high school studies in 2005. There, he teamed up with Sentayehu Eshetu, who was also the coach of Kenenisa and Tirunesh in their young days, and re-ignited his interest in the sport.
Alemu continued to train secretly without the knowledge of his father. His elder brother, Girma, who competes for the Oromiya Police sports club, promised to help him in his training, but when his father heard about it, they argued again and Alemu was thrown out of the house. Determined to make it to the top, Alemu lived as a street boy in Bekoji and continued his training. He ran races whenever he got the chance. His big break came a year later, in May 2007, when he won a 1500m in Bekoji to gain admission into the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) youth project camp in the city. Here, he also caught the eye of the-then Ethiopian national team coach, Tolosa Kotu, who also picked him for the Muger Cement sports club (also the club of Kenenisa, Tariku Bekele, and Gezahegne Abera) junior team.
A few months later, he came to Addis Ababa, representing the Oromiya region at the Ethiopian Youth Development Projects Championships, in July 2007, and won the 1500m in 3:56.22. That victory helped him to gain selection to the main Muger Cement club. It meant a life off the streets and a small salary of ETB 200 (USD19) to cover transportation to and from training.
In January 2008, Alemu made his competitive debut for the Muger Cement sports club at the Oromiya Championships where he finished second in the 1500m (3.46h) and fifth in the 800m (1.54h). Three months later, in May, he competed in the 2008 Ethiopian Athletics Championships, finishing 12th in the 1500m (3.49h). In June, he was part of the Muger team that won the CRBC Ring Road Relay, running the first kilometre of twelve 1km legs on the streets of Addis Ababa.
In addition to the track and the road, Alemu competed consistently over cross country without much success. He ran races in Sululta (DNF), Assela (72nd), and the World Cross Country trials, where he was among the leaders for the first half of the 8km junior race, but dropped out because he was preparing to compete for Bahrain a week later.
Frustrated at the lack of opportunities to compete overseas and earn a living from the sport in Ethiopia, Alemu started contacting the Bahrain Athletics Association (BAA) by phone and email, expressing his interest to compete for them. In March 2009, he made his debut for Bahrain at the 10th Asian Cross Country Championships in Manama, Bahrain, where he comfortably won the junior men’s title. Given his talent and his impressive victory in his adopted country, Alemu is expected to be one of the top contenders for the junior men’s title at the 2009 World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.
800m: 1.54h (2008)
1500m: 3.46h (2008)
1500m: 2007- 3:56.22h; 2008- 3:46.00h
2007 1st Ethiopian Youth Development Projects Championships (1500m)
2008 2nd Oromiya Regional Championships (1500m)
2009 1st Asian Cross Country Championships (junior)
*A note on the name of athletes of Ethiopian origin: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name or first and second name together, the second name being the father's first name. (The grandfather’s first name is sometimes added as a third name, and is optional in much the same way that a Western middle name is frequently omitted.)
Prepared by Elshadai Negash for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009.