Feature15 Aug 2013

Abeba Aregawi: a new champion in new colours


Abeba Aregawi in the womens 1500m at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 (© Getty Images)

Abeba Aregawi became the first Swedish athlete to win a middle-distance gold, or medal of any colour, when she captured the IAAF World Championships 1500m title in dominant style on Thursday night.

As she has done all season, Aregawi dominated the final.

Always near the front, she burst to the lead with 250m remaining and extended her advantage in the straight to consign USA’s defending champion Jenny Simpson and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri to the minor medals.

Undefeated indoors and out in 2013, she has already won five IAAF Diamond League meetings along with the European indoor title.

The indoor crown came in Gothenburg and was especially significant as it was her first outing in her new national colours, having previously represented her native Ethiopia.

In front of a cheering home crowd, who clearly took to Aregawi very quickly, it was a nice way to commence racing in the distinctive blue and yellow strip of Sweden.

Born and raised in Adigrat, a small village in northern Ethiopia, Aregawi was a relative late comer to athletics, not having her first race until she was 16.

After some early success, a year later she received an offer from a local club to move to Addis Ababa to compete for a local club and concentrate on her studies. 

It was where she met her future husband who had travelled to Ethiopia to conduct a training camp.

Henok Weldegebriel is an Ethiopian who has been based in Sweden since 2002, and Aregawi followed him to Sweden in 2009 when they married.

She became a Swedish citizen in June last year although she still ran for Ethiopia at the London 2012 Olympic Games where, despite blistering form in the lead-up, she didn’t enjoy the slow early pace in the final and almost fell in the final few metres before finishing in fifth place.

Cleared by the IAAF to compete for Sweden last December, she still spends a lot of time in Ethiopia owing to the favourable climate and conditions there for training, especially during a European winter.

Softly spoken but fiercely determined, Aregawi said she was pleased to make up for the disappointment of her London experience in Moscow.

“Yes I had trained very well to win there but it was basically a technical error. I corrected those mistakes and was able to win here,” reflected Aregawi.

"I felt good; I am so happy with the gold. After my failure at the Olympics last year, I worked specifically on the final 400m and on improving my finish. Today, the race suited me perfectly."

Aregawi becomes the just the fourth Swedish woman to win a World title, joining high jumper Kajsa Bergqvist, 100m hurdler Ludmila Engqvist and heptathlete Carolina Kluft, who won her specialist event three times from 2003 to 2007. 

With their love for athletics, the new Swedish heroine Aregawi can expect a rapturous reception next when she competes in the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm next Thursday, despite the fact that she is still struggling to master the language.

She will drop down in distance to 800m and try to reduce the national record of 1:59.20 she set earlier this summer.

Next month, she will also get the chance to experience for the first time one of the true treasures of athletics, the annual Sweden v Finland match, which this year will also be held in Stockholm and at which she will be one of the star attractions.

David Culbert for the IAAF

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