Deriba Merga (ETH) in Algiers (© Carole Fuchs)
Addis Ababa, EthiopiaAllAfrica Games men’s Half Marathon champion Deriba Merga is the leading men’s name in Ethiopia’s team of nine athletes (five men / four women) selected for the 2nd IAAF World Road Running Championships in Udine, Italy (14 October 2007) which will be contested over the half marathon address.
National 20km champion Bezunesh Bekele, is the most prominent female athlete.
The team, which is a mixture of both youth and experience, also comprises of national men’s 20km champion Eshetu Gezhagne, who is eager to return to the international fray after a career-threatening injury a year ago.
MEN - Merga skips marathon for Udine
The men’s team will once again be led by Merga, who finished sixth in last year’s championships in Debrecen, Hungary which were contested over 20km. But the 23-year-old’s career has improved in leaps and bounds since then.
In November last year, he took victory over the 10km in the TOYOTA Great Ethiopian Run and run an encouraging 2:12.54 in the Paris Marathon on his full debut over the distance.
But in July, he demonstrated that he was one of Ethiopia’s upcoming road runners by taking an outstanding victory in the 9th All-African Games Half Marathon in Algiers, Algeria.
He warmed up for Udine with a 59.25 in the Rotterdam Half Marathon in September and had been scheduled to run the full marathon in Amsterdam on 21 October. However, he has now pulled out of that scheduled race in the Netherlands in a bid to aid Ethiopia’s medal chances in Udine.
Joining him in the Ethiopian squad will be national 20km champion Eshetu Gezhagne who is on a comeback mission. A member of the senior men’s 12km long course team title winning squad at the 33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships in St. Etienne/St. Galmier, France, Gezhagne had been out of action for the best part of the last two years due to a bone dislocation on his foot before returning back to take a run-away victory in the national championships in Sululta in August.
His injury, deemed career-threatening by doctors, had at one point ruled him out of competition and a place in his former club Oromiya Police’s squad. But thanks to Ethiopia’s 2004 Olympic and two-time World 10,000m champion Kenenisa Bekele and his own wife Amelework Teklu, he is now contemplating international success.
“When I was fired from my club because of underperformance, it was Kenenisa who took care of me,” he said. “I had no salary for almost one year and he supported me in this time. He also helped me purchase a house. I am sure that he will be delighted when he hears about this. I would also like to thank my wife Amelework who was patient enough to take of me through my injury.”
Other members of the Ethiopian squad include Kidane Gemechu and Rajj Assefa, second and third respectively in the national championships.
WOMEN - Bayissa’s youth and Bekele’s experience
On the other hand, the women’s team is a combination of youth and experience with Bezunesh Bekele, sixth in the 2003 World Cross Country Championships long course race, continuing her impressive road running career in Udine.
The 25-year old, who is nicknamed ‘China’ by her fellow runners, took an impressive victory in the national championships in August and warmed up for Udine by winning at a Half Marathon in Lisbon, Portugal, last month.
She will lead a young and inexperienced side which include Atsede Bayissa, who finished second in the All-African Games half marathon race in Algiers, Algeria, youngster Atsede Habtamu, and Genet Getaneh, former two-time winner of the Great Ethiopian Run 10km.
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
Ethiopia’s team for Udine
MEN: Deriba Merga, Tariku Jufar, Eshetu Gezhagne, Kidane Gemechu, Rajj Assefa
WOMEN: Atsede Bayissa, Bezunesh Bekele, Atsede Habtamu, Genet Getaneh
'Udine 2007' FACTS & FIGURES (pdf format)- Statistics concerning previous editions of the IAAF World Half Marathon Champs (1992 - 2005) and IAAF World Road Running Champs (2006)