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Updated 26 March 2009
GELETE Burka, Ethiopia (1500m/3000m/5000m/cross country)
a.k.a. Gelete Burka Bati
Born: 15 February 1986, Kofele, Arsi, Ethiopia
Lives in Addis Ababa
Manager: Jos Hermens Coach: Tolossa Kotu
Club: Corrections Police
Gelete Burka (whose second name is sometimes misspelled ‘Burika’) played soccer before beginning running in school in her native Kofele. Beginning in late 2001, she blazed her way through a series of local and regional victories. She won the 3000m and 5000m in a Kofele schools competition and represented Kofele in the Arsi zone competition, where she again took two titles, this time over 1500m and 3000m.
Representing Arsi in the Oromia region competition, she won the 3000m, and won again representing Oromia in an inter-region competition in Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia. “I fell in love with running then,” said Gelete, whose first name means “praise” in her mother tongue of Oromifa.
Going into the 2002-2003 cross country season, she began training with the Arsi team coach and again proved unstoppable, winning the junior race to represent Arsi in the Oromia competition, and then to represent Oromia in Addis Ababa. In her first race at a top national level, she placed 4th to book passage to the World Cross Country Championships, in Lausanne.
Gelete first drew international attention with her bronze medal performance in Lausanne. She then virtually disappeared from the international circuit until mid-2004 when she won the 800m at the Ethiopian Championships, beating, among others, World Indoor 1500m champion Kutre Dulecha and 2004 World Cross Country junior bronze medallist Mestawot Tadesse. She missed qualifying for the 1500m at the Athens Olympics by just 0.2 seconds.
A few 2004 Grand Prix races sharpened her tactical skills for the 2004-2005 cross country season, in which she fared well, winning the Brussels Cross Country International, beating compatriots Meselech Melkamu and Merima Denboba. She then put on an impressive display of front-running to win the junior race at the Ethiopian World Cross Country trials. At the World Championships, in Saint-Etienne/Saint Galmier, France, facing down a strong Kenyan challenge without much support from her teammates, Gelete won by a 27-second margin to bring Ethiopia its third straight junior women’s title, following those of Tirunesh Dibaba (2003) and Meselech Melkamu (2004).
On the track back in Ethiopia, Gelete shook the senior ranks, beating Olympic 5000m champion Meseret Defar over 3000m at the Addis Ababa municipal championships, and a week later completing a spectacular triple gold medal performance at the nationals. She defended her 1500m title; charged past World indoor record-holder Tirunesh and 2003 World 10,000m silver medallist Werknesh Kidane in the bell lap of the 5000m, winning in 15:39.2 to better Gete Wami’s 15:44.63 stadium record; and then anchored her Corrections Police club’s 4x400 relay team to victory.
Less than a week later, Gelete ran an 8:39.90 national junior record for 3000m in Doha, finishing third behind Meseret and Berhane Adere. She later ran a personal best 14:51.47 for 5000m in Rome. In the 1500m at the World Championships, in Helsinki, Gelete was boxed in late in the Final and finished 8th in 4:04.77. In a fast 1500m in Rieti on 28 August, however, she ran a new personal best of 3:59.60, and in the World Athletics Final 3000, she placed 2nd. behind Meseret.
In the 2005-2006 cross country season Gelete beat Tirunesh and Kenya’s Isabella Ochichi in Edinburgh before comfortably winning the 4K at the National Cross Country Championships in Addis Ababa ahead of national 8K champion Meselech, in the absence of Tirunesh. At the World Cross Country Championships, in Fukuoka, Japan, the double defending World champion Tirunesh, having been ill a week prior, dropped out of the 4K, where Gelete overcame ferocious winds and a challenge from Kenya’s Priscah Jepleting to win her first senior title.
At Golden League 5000m races on the track, Gelete ran a 14:40.92 personal best for 5000m in Stockholm, and finished 3rd in Paris and Rome, before clocking an 8:25.92 personal best for 3000m in Stockholm. She was 6th at the World Athletics Final 3000m.
In the 2006-2007 cross country season, Gelete joined Kenenisa Bekele in a dominant Ethiopian sweep of the titles in Edinburgh (6.7K) and Sevilla (6.6K), beating Kenya’s Vivian Cheriuyot by nine seconds in Edinburgh, where Meselech was fourth. Gelete suffered an ankle injury during training and missed qualifying for the Ethiopian team for the World Cross Country Championships, but was included in the team upon her recovery based on her past year and cross country prowess. In the heat and humidity of Mombasa, Gelete placed just outside of the medals behind Lornah Kilpagat and Ethiopia’s Tirunesh and Meselech.
On the track in May, Gelete won the national championships 1500m, before running a then-personal best 14:38.18 for 5000m to win in Hengelo. She followed that up with a 1500m win in Eugene, Oregon, and gave World record holder Meseret Defar a run for her money in Ostrava over 5000m, where Gelete placed second in a new personal best 14:31.20 behind Defar’s 14:30.18 and ahead of Meselech. Gelete ran away with the gold in the All Africa Games 1500m in Algiers in July, and looked set to be part of a repeat Ethiopian sweep of the World Championships 5000m in Osaka.
In Osaka, the defending champion Tirunesh pulled out due to stomach pains, and Meseret, Meselech and Gelete sailed through the first round in spite of warm, muggy conditions, but with the Kenyan team led by Vivian Cheruiyot making for fierce opposition in a slow final, only Meseret medalled, while Meselech finished 6th and Gelete a disappointing 10th, after which she wrapped up her season.
Gelete won the Edinburgh cross country ahead of Kenyans Linet Masai and Cheruiyot in January 2008, but after she burst onto the indoor scene with an 8:31.94 win over 3000m in Birmingham on 16 February, she set her sights on the World Indoor Championships, in Valencia. But with the only two 2008 times faster than hers having been run by compatriots Meseret and Meselech, Gelete’s chance to make the Valencia team was in the 1500, in which she clocked a 4:04.37 2nd place in Stockholm on 21 February behind World outdoor champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal’s 4:04.30, which placed Gelete 6th on the 2008 world list.
In Valencia, running against Jamal and Russia’s Yelena Soboleva in the toughest of three heats, Gelete qualified automatically for the Final, despite some shoving, and showed she was a strong contender for a medal, when she then outsprinted her former countrywoman, the Ethiopian-born Jamal, in an African record 3:59.75 for the bronze.
At the 2008 Edinburgh World Cross Country Championships, Gelete had the advantage of having won the cross country meet on the same course there repeatedly, including that January, but she was reeled in by former champion Tirunesh and finished 6th.
Gelete suffered a worse fate at the track global championship of the year, the Beijing Olympics, where she failed to make the 1500 final, but she fared much better elsewhere, winning at the African Championships at home in Addis Ababa, where she led Meskerem Assefa to a silver, and at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene in 4:00.44. She also won over 5000m in Hengelo (14:45.84) over Meselech as well as Linet Masai of Kenya, and over one mile in an African record 4:18.23 over World 1500m champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal in Rieti in September before taking 2nd at the World Athletics Final 1500m, again behind Jamal.
Gelete did not compete indoors in 2009, but looked ready to win the national cross country trials on 22 February when she was overtaken by first Meselech and then the eventual winner and African 10,000m bronze-medalist Wude Ayalew, and took 3rd All three women will be vying to fill the absent Tirunesh’s shoes in Amman.
1500m: 3:59.60 (2005)
3000m: 8:25.92 (2006)
5000m: 14:31.20 (2007)
1500m/3000m/5000m: 2003 – 4:10.82/8:48.93/16:23.8a; 2004 – 4:06.10/-/-; 2005 - 3:59.60/8:39.90/14:51.47; 2006 - 4:02.68/8:25.92/14:40.92; 2007 – 4:04.48/-/14:31.20; 2008 – 4:00.44/8:31.94i/14:45.84; 2009 – -/-/-.
2003 3rd World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2005 1st World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2005 2nd World Athletics Final (3000m)
2006 1st World Cross Country Championships (4k)
2007 4th World Cross Country Championships (8k)
2007 1st All Africa Games (1500m)
2008 3rd World Indoor Championships (1500m)
2008 6th World Cross Country Championships
2008 1st African Championships (1500m)
A note on Ethiopian names: 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 Sabrina Yohannes and Elshadai Negash for the IAAF Focus on Athletes project. Copyright IAAF 2009.