Tamirat Tola winning the 2015 Great Ethiopian Run (© Jiro Mochizuki)
Tamirat Tola ran away from a strong field to win at the15th Great Ethiopian Run, earning a prestigious victory in one of Africa’s biggest road races on Sunday (22).
The 24-year-old from the Oromiya Police Club was on few people’s lists of pre-race favourites, though he has run 27:22.64 for 10,000m on the track and a 2:06:17 marathon, but in the end carved out a six-second gap over 10km on the roads to win in 28:44.
Bonsa Dida, like Tola a member of the victorious Ethiopian senior men’s team at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015 earlier this year, claimed second in 28:50.
Adugna Takele, a club-mate of Tola, was third in 28:55. Takele, it should be noted, ran 27:19.34 last summer to demonstrate the calibre of athletes racing in Addis Ababa on Sunday.
The trio that made the podium were together as they entered the last kilometre but Tola accelerated away from his two rivals with about 500 metres to go.
“The race was very good. After dropping out in Berlin (in the Marathon) in September my focus has been this race,” said Tola, the 2014 Ethiopian cross-country champion and sixth-place finisher in Guiyang. “It was nice for me on my first time winning the Great Ethiopian Run. I am the winner so I am happy.
“I led after two kilometres and then I pushed the pace for a few hundred metres and nobody went with me and I went on to win,” he added, with a big grin. “I am a marathoner; I have run 2:06:17 in Dubai (in 2014) so I am happy to win this 10km race.”
The women’s race saw Mamitu Daska, 32, put almost a minute between herself and her nearest rivals before crossing the line in 32:16. She broke clear just after the halfway point and continued to extend her lead over the uphill second half of the course.
Best known for her marathon victories in Dubai, Houston and Frankfurt, like Tola she is a member of Oromiya Police Club and coached by Gemedu Dedefo. She beat some of the country’s best road racers including the 2010 Great Ethiopian champion Sule Utura, who eventually finished third in 33:44. Second place went to Yebrgual Melese in 33:10.
“I started to push on the downhill at around seven kilometres and, when I did, nobody followed me,” she explained. “I was thinking then that I could win easily.
“But the course and the wind was very difficult with some uphill and downhill parts. I am very happy to participate in this race, Haile’s last race, and I am very happy to win the Great Ethiopian Run on my first time racing it. I knew I was in good shape.
"I’m training hard for my next marathon in Dubai in January, and wanted to test myself here," added Melese, who recently finished second at the Chicago Marathon. "I believe I am in shape to attack the Ethiopian marathon record (2:18:58 by Tiki Gelana)."
Goodbye to Gebrselassie
The Great Ethiopian Run returned to historic Meskel Square for the first time in three years and was billed as Haile Gebrselassie’s farewell race.
The sight of more than 40,000 participants resplendent in green t-shirts bearing his image and the slogan ‘Running For The Planet’ was something to behold.
Gebrselassie, who was surrounded by well-wishers, both domestic and foreign, in the days leading up to the race was an ubiquitous presence.
First he fired the starter’s pistol before jumping in with the masses to accompany several government ministers along the way. He later presented the awards with other leading Ethiopian athletes such as Tirunesh Dibaba, Sileshi Sihine and Genzebe Dibaba, who were all present for this carnival-like event.
“This year is a very special year and it’s not because I ran,” Gebrselassie explained. “For the last two years we were not in Meskel Square because of construction. Three years ago many participants walked here. Today, because of the new light rail train, many people came on the train. That is different.
“It’s amazing, I am so happy. Plus, thanks to the government for allowing us to return to this square. They stopped hosting any events in this square, only making an exception for the Great Ethiopian Run.”
In between posing for photographs with fans, he described running with the masses as a wonderful experience though he had a hard time running slowly.
“I saw (the ministers) only at the beginning,” he revealed. “I had to move and run fast. Still not fast enough: 33 minutes. The problem was I should have started with the elite athletes to at least run 30 or 31 minutes. I started behind the group. I had to move; especially the first 3k I did a lot of what you call zig zag,” he joked.
Paul Gains for the IAAF