DOHA2019: Golden Opportunity for Ethiopians to shine

Doha, the capital of city of Qatar, will host the World Athletics Championships as of September, 2019. The current two-year cycle began in 1991 but was originally held every four years, first in 1983. Since then, Ethiopian runners, along with their Kenyan counterparts, dominated long distance running in every championship. In the championship, where 3,500 athletes are expected to participate, the Ethiopian Football Federation, which fears that the hot weather in Doha would affect the country’s performance, is yet to pick the teams that are going to represent Ethiopia in each competition, although some have been shortlisted. EBR adjunct writer Abiy Wendifraw writes.

While welcoming the top-class athletes at the Doha Airport, the Local Organizing Committee of IAAF World Athletics Championships 2019, which begins on Friday, September 27 and ends on Sunday, October 6, would be much excited to see the Ethiopian community who will be in the venues once the competition starts. Qatar wishes to capitalize on the attendance at the Khalifa International Stadium to prove that Doha is a great host for world class events.

Ethiopian colorful fans have always displayed their beautiful support towards Ethiopian athletes in Qatar. A gesture that inspired the organizing committee to stage a unique music concert in 2013 at the opening leg of the IAAF Diamond League where Teddy Afro, the popular Ethiopian singer, performed to flare up close to 10,000 fans including Ethiopians and others of East African origin. A crowd of Eritreans, Sudanese, Kenyans and other nationalities patiently waited for the music event after the diamond league competition was concluded.

While the host nation is relishing the much-anticipated crowd presence at the long-distance races, Bizuayehu Wagaw, an experienced athletics journalist, who reported on a few international championships and Olympic Games, looks uncertain about it. “When I was in Doha for the diamond league in 2015 and later in 2016, the rivalry between the Ethiopian and Kenyan massive crowds made the stadium lively. I still hope we will have a huge crowd to cheer up the great performances in the distance events. But if we give attention to some of the details, we should also expect the unexpected.

“The Diamond League has always been staged on a Friday, which is a day off from work. And there was no stadium entrance fee. The organizing committee’s initiative to invite popular Ethiopian singers was a bonus to attract more fans to the stadium. At times people even get paid to come to the stadium,” argues Bizuayehu.

The cheapest entrance ticket fee for the World Championship is 52 Qatari Riyal (ETB 420). Most of the fans cannot afford to leave their job and pay that much money every day at competitions that lasts for 10 days. “There are people who could afford it. And if the attendance is low, there is the possibility, the organizing committee would make the ticket cheaper or even free to get in to the stadium.” Says Bizuayehu.

Unlike the Local Organizing Committee, The Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) coaches and officials do not look really concerned about the fans’ presence. They are rather eager to see how their athletes react to the weather conditions in Doha. Though the coaches believe the heat would affect their athletes’ performance, they believe Ethiopia lines up talented runners who can overcome the challenges presented.

The Federation’s technical department told the media, two months prior to the championship, that who competes in which category would still be decided considering the weather conditions. “We have shortlisted some 5000m runners in the 10,000m category,” says Dube Jilo, the Technical Director at EAF.

Though the Ethiopian national team is still packed by world champion athletes like Almaz Ayana, Genzebe Dibaba and Muktar Edris, on the other hand, the country’s 5,000m men runners arrive in Doha with a huge expectation.

“I think the 5000m win is ours unless they do some tactical blunder,” says Bizuayehu. Two years after Muktar shocked Mo Farah by knocking off his perch in the same distance at London 2019 World Athletics Championships, Ethiopia seems the favorite to dominate the 5,000m men’s race. Six of the nine fastest times registered in the 5,000m category this year, belong to Ethiopians.

Tilahun Haile Bekele caught more attention recently for his strong performance at the Diamond League setting the season’s best time at 12:52:98. He became Tv commentators’ favorite for taking the breed of legends’ names ‘Haile (Gebresialssie) and ‘Bekele’ (Kenenisa) in his family name. Unlike his compatriots, Tilahun is also known for trying to entertain the fans before and after the races. He says, “I love Usain Bolt. I believe athletes should try to make the spectators happy as much as possible. I take the medal when I win. What are the fans’ share in it? At least I should send them home happy.”

Selemon Barega (12:53:04) and Hagos Gebrehiwot (12:54:92), who closely followed him in the best time pecking order of the year, would be there to challenge him for the gold medal. Yomif Kejelcha, who finished fourth two years ago in London Championships, will also be present.

The 10,000m women’s race is another title Ethiopians are favorite to win. The defending champion Almaz Ayana looked fit again after a lengthy absence from competitions due to injury. The 2015 and 2017 U20 World Cross Country World Champion, Letesenbet Gidey and the 2015 IAAF World Cross Country Championships silver medalist Senebere Teferi will join Almaz in the competition. Netsanet Gudeta, who broke the women’s world record at the 2018 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, will be another big prospect in the 10,000m lineup.

According to Bizuayehu, expecting much from the other disciplines is a bit unrealistic. “We do not have consistent runners in the middle-distance races. We may expect positive results from the Marathon categories. But I think anyone from the East African nations including Ethiopia can win it. This is a race that is always challenging to predict the winner and the weather condition in Doha is also one deciding factor.”

Fortunately, most of the national team athletes have had the experience running at previously organized races in Doha. If the Ethiopian fans flood in to Khalifa International Stadium, the hot weather might work in favor of the Ethiopians.

8th Year • Sep.16 - Oct.15 2019 • No. 78


Abiy Wendifraw

Special Contributor

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