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Churning out athletes in East Africa

Commentary on the 5000m World Record

2004-06-05

By Robert Hartmann

The world outside of the East African plateaus can only watch and wonder at the running talents growing up there. No European or American can even consider—say nothing of run—a time like the 22-year-old Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele ran for a new world record in the 5000m on Whit Monday: 12:37.35 minutes. Within the circle of his young generation, the talk is already of 12:30. They want to run each 400m lap in 60 seconds.

Back in a nostalgic corner hidden under some cobwebs is the world record time of the Finn, Paavo Nurmi, who ran 14:28.2 in 1924. With a lap average of 69.4 seconds, in a virtual race with Bekele he would have been left behind by one and a half laps. Lucky for Nurmi and his colleagues like the “Czeck Locomotive”, Emil Zatopek, they had never heard of the long hidden world heirs of endurance running. Only with the independence of the young countries did their dominance come to light.

In Hengelo, the first test in the Olympic season took place for the middle and long distances. Leading the way were the Ethiopians and Kenyans, who presented a crazy 18-year-old for the 3000m hurdles, Kipruto Brimin, who is a serious candidate for a medal, running a time of 8:05.52 minutes in Hengelo.

One look at the list of the results shows which way the journey is going. Countries like Rwanda, Eritrea, and Uganda appear. The runners come from Tanzania and Burundi, even from the Sudan. As the fighting there ends, they are sending their hungry, eager, and very well-trained runners out into the world.

The East African countries are churning out new athletes day and night. New names are being brought up out of nothing, well-known names disappear again quickly. Those athletes that survive longer in this system are the true stars. One of them is called Haile Gebreselassie, the most popular track athlete in the world, and Bekele’s predecessor. In Hengelo he dropped to the 21-year-old Sihine Sileshi in the 10,000 m. Soon it will be time for a changing of the guards. And that even though Gebreselassie is only 31.
He is thinking about alternatives though…he can still run the marathon.


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