Hagos Gebhriwet collects an emphatic 5000m victory in Shanghai (Errol Anderson) © Copyright
Feature Shanghai, China

Gebrhiwet makes a big splash in Shanghai – Samsung Diamond League

As the runners in the 5000m at the Shanghai Samsung Diamond League splashed their way around the track, Hagos Gebrhiwet looked increasingly at home.

Running his first senior 5000m on the track he may have been, running in illustrious company he certainly was, but Gebrhiwet looked like a man who belonged.

Lap by lap he became more prominent in the pack. Lagging at the start, buried mid-field at half-way, Gebrhiwet moved into the leading bunch until, at the bell, there he was contesting the lead with Thomas Longosiwa of Kenya.

An Olympic and World championships finalist, Longosiwa is no mug. Nor does he lack finishing speed, but it was Gebrhiwet who had the bigger motor, powering away up the final straight to win by a few metres in a world-leading 13:11.00.

The time may have been more impressive had the conditions been more favourable. The 5000m was run in pretty much the worst of the conditions of a very ordinary night. But the scalps – Longosiwa, Kenenisa Bekele in fifth place, 'Gus’ Choge seventh – carry a very high value.

Fifth in the 3000m at last year’s World Youth Championships in Lille, Gebrhiwet has quickly out-stripped the four youngsters who finished ahead of him. Talking to him in the dinner room after the meeting, he said he would like to run the World Junior Championships in Barcelona. He may have to lift those sights to Olympian heights.

Ethiopia is likely to select its London representatives on the basis of fastest times, which may discount the value of Gebrhiwet’s win in Shanghai. But he will have other chances to run well. His next race may be in Oslo, which should provide an opportunity to run fast.

According to his biography, Gebrhiwet is just a week or so past his 18th birthday. He could pass for older, it’s true, but as I chatted to him with the help of his female teammates Birtukan Adamu, Birtukan Fente and Almaz Ayana, he reacted and spoke like a teenager.

The story that appeared to emerge was of a youngster who comes from the Tigray region of Ethiopia but now lives and trains in Addis Ababa. The fourth of six children in a farming family, he did not take up running until two years ago.

Gebrhiwet reportedly ran a 14:10h for 5000m in Addis last year, but since his trip to Lille, he has made rapid progress, touching base on several of running’s hallowed grounds.

Last December, he won Madrid’s San Silvestre Vallecana 10km road in 27:57. His teammate on that trip, and winner of the women’s race, was none other than Tirunesh Dibaba. In February, Gebrhiwet ran 7:44.08 for 3000m indoors in Boston, shaving a second off his time from the World Youths.

Finally, in April, the young Ethiopian upstaged another field of more experienced runners when finishing second in the Carlsbad 5k road race in California in 13:14. Not many performances in the c.v, then, but all of them on well-known running stages.

Much has been made, and rightly so, of the momentum swing in women’s track distance running, as Kenya’s great duo Vivian Cheruiyot and Linet Masai of overturned the dominance of Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar and their teammates.

Just as markedly, however, a new generation of Ethiopian youngsters is emerging to challenge at the middle-distances where Kenya has normally held the edge.

Also in Shanghai, Genzebe Dibaba, the younger sister of Tirunesh, ran a national record 3:57.77 for 1500m, with teammate Abeba Arigawi also breaking four minutes behind her.

A world junior champion at 5000m in 2010, the younger Dibaba looked to be a very good prospect (if not quite a future champion) at that distance before switching to 1500 with immediate, devastating impact. Before Shanghai, her personal best 1500 was 4:05.90 in Rieti last year, but the bold manner of her victory at the World indoor championships two months ago in Istanbul suggested much, much better.

We have not had a long wait to see it. Hellen Obiri, who deprived Defar of a fifth consecutive 3000m gold medal in Istanbul, was a distant fourth, almost six seconds back, in Shanghai.

Another young talent to develop at warp speed has been 800m runner Mohammed Aman. Also 18 years old, Aman was beaten in the World Youths last year by Kenya’s Leonard Kosencha. By year’s end, however, he was a finalist at the World championships in Daegu and then inflicted David Rudisha’s first loss since Berlin 2009 when he beat the world record holder in a late-season race in Milan.

Aman ran 1:43.51 in Daegu this week, but did not race in Shanghai.

Then there was Fantu Magiso, the 19-year-old who clung to Pamela Jelimo’s heels through most of the Doha SDL women’s 800 before audaciously taking the lead. She was run down again up the straight, but clearly with her 23.90/52.09 speed at 200/400 she represents a huge challenge to defending Olympic champion Jelimo and World champion Mariya Savinova in London this year.

Bekele, Dibaba and Defar may all be showing signs of being past their magnificent bests, but it appears a new generation has emerged to follow them, and not only in the traditionally strong Ethiopian events.

Len Johnson for the IAAF