Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEthiopia’s Olympic 5000m/10000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba and two-time Olympic 10000m silver medallist Sileshi Sihine tied the knot in a spectacular two-week long wedding ceremony in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Dubbed “the wedding of the millennium” to coincide with the end of Ethiopia’s millennium celebrations, the athletes contained various elements of Ethiopia’s traditional wedding ceremonies. The highlights of a ten-day ceremony were a big ceremony at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa where close to half a million people watched the couple take a chariot ride.
- 21 October: Engagement- First ever athlete wedding at the Addis Ababa City Hall
The couple got their wedding ceremony off with a cosy engagement ceremony at the Addis Ababa City Hall. It was perhaps the first time in nearly a year that a couple had even been married at the City Hall. Other engagement ceremonies in Addis Ababa are usually carried out at sub-city level and almost never allowed at the main city hall.
- 23 October: Tilosh- Sihine spends “millions” in dowry for Tirunesh
As is customary in traditional Ethiopian weddings, Sihine then sent his best men and other well-wishers to the family of the bride armed with dowry in order to convince the family to give away their daughter.
This ceremony, which is often a practical formality in modern-day Ethiopia, is often blown out of convention due to the fact that the groom’s best men often exaggerate the quality and price of the items that are offered to the family of the bride as dowry.
Needless to say, Sihine’s entourage did a fine job at massive exaggeration.
The wedding veil, for example, was put at an inflated price of 2.5million Euros, while the entourage over blew the price of various items of clothing, cosmetics, and jewellery.
- 26 October: The wedding day - a long, but memorable adventure
Due their success on the running track, the couple are some of the most sought-after celebrities in Ethiopia. But little did they know that they would be followed everywhere they went on their wedding day.
The wedding day started at the home of Sihine where he, along with his best men and the rest of the wedding entourage, made the trip to the home of the bride in a brand new Limousine. There was an even longer parade and entourage waiting at Dibaba’s residence where the couple joined hands for the day’s ceremonies.
After lunch at the five-star Hilton Addis, the couple headed to Meskel Square where they attended a public gathering of nearly 500,000 people. And after thanking the gathering for braving the rain and wishing them well, they then made a 1km trip to the Sheraton Addis in a chariot.
The couple ended the day with a dinner ceremony at the Sheraton where close to 1000 people attended a larger feast of song and dance. Various ministers, Ambassadors, the country’s top athletes, and government officials were the picks of the attendees.
Young singer Misikir Awol also sang “Tirunesh le Sileshi” (Tirunesh for Sileshi), a special song composed for the couple on their special day.
- 27 October: President hosts couple at the National Palace
A day after their wedding day on Sunday (26 October), the couple and about 15 other guests were hosted by Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis at a special dinner ceremony at the National Palace.
“You continue to make us proud and I wish you a successful marriage,” said Woldegiorgis during a short address at the ceremony.
- October 28: Sister Ejegayehou hosts “the Mels”
Ejegayehou Dibaba, the 2004 Olympic 10,000m silver medallist and elder sister to Tirunesh, has always played a crucial part in the career of her younger sister. And the wedding was no exception.
On Tuesday (28 October), Ejegayehou hosted a glorified dinner party at her magnificent home and even went as far as giving the couple a gift - a miniature grass hut to signify the coming together of the couple and the building of a common home. The ceremony, which is known as “Mels” in Ethiopian tradition, is usually hosted by the family of the bride to invite the family of the groom and start not just a union of the wedding couple, but also their families.
- 30 October 30: Gebrselassie delights at “the Kelekel”
The “Kelekel” is another traditional ceremony by the family of the groom where the newly weds serve guests and the family of the bride.
No ceremony, however, is a formality for Dibaba and Sihine as more surprises emerged on their occasion too. The first came from the couple’s club, the Prisons Police Sport Club, who surprised the newly weds with a gift. The club’s administers had a wedding photo of Dibaba and Sihine printed on leather and presented it at the occasion.
The second surprise came from Haile Gebrselassie, who had made a big sacrifice by skipping the opportunity to start the Eurasia Marathon in Istanbul last week in order to attend their wedding. On this occasion, Gebrselassie played the piano in the honour of Dibaba and Sihine whose delight at the great man’s presence was just unmistakable!
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF