An Ethiopian star on horizon

Genzebe, younger sister of Tirunesh Dibaba, has caught the eye with two world records.

In the world of track and field, the name Dibaba evokes awe and admiration in equal measure. It is a name made famous by the exploits of one lady, whose first name has almost always spelt gold in the long distance lane. From a baby-faced destroyer of opposition to a devastating gale force who won as she pleased, Tirunesh Dibaba has kept Ethiopia’s flag flying on the world stage for more than a decade.

As she eyes longer distances, taking baby steps in the marathon world, another Dibaba is emerging to take over but not in the 10,000 or 5000 metres where Tirunesh made her name. Genzebe Dibaba, the younger sister of Tirunesh, is more comfortable at middle distances, and is a storm waiting to sweep over 1500 and 3000 metres.
Genzebe is no stranger to success in athletics. She has tasted it from her junior days in the cross country world. Two years ago, she took a step further with a gold medal in 1500 metres at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul. But that success hasn’t really translated into victories on the big stages in outdoor competitions. As another World Indoor Championships come calling, Genzebe has served notice of her immense potential again, giving indications that the coming season might well see her make the transition to the outdoor competitions with a measure of success.

In a span of just five days this month, she has smashed two world indoor records, in the 1500M and the 3000M, marking her down as a sure gold medal contender in the World Indoor meet in Sopot, Poland, where she will be running the longer distance.
 Genzebe showed the form she was in with victory in the metric mile at the Karlsruhe indoor meeting in Germany on February 1. Timing 3:55.17, she clipped more than three seconds off the world record of 3:38.72 set by Yelena Soboleva. As if that was not enough, the Ethiopian smashed the 3000M record with ridiculous ease at the Stockholm meeting in Sweden last Thursday.

In a sensational run, Genzebe cut more than seven seconds from the previous mark of 8:23.72 belonging to another famous Ethiopian, Meseret Defar. Her blistering 8:16.60 left the reigning world indoor champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya way behind in second spot. It was the fastest 3000M by an African woman ever, indoors or outdoors, a fact that puts her talent in the right perspective. Only three women have ever run faster – indoors or out—Wang Junxia, Qu Yunxia and Zhang Linli in 1993 at the Chinese championships.

Hailing from Bekoji, 170 miles south of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Genzebe had enough inspiration in the family to take up running as a career. Tirunesh had been the youngest to win a world title when she climbed the top of the podium at the 2001 Paris World Championships in the 5000M while her eldest sister Ejigayehu was also an accomplished runner, having won the silver in 1000M at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Of course, it all started with their cousin Derartu Tulu, the 1992 Olympic champion, whose exploits inspired a generation of Ethiopian girls.

Like many Ethiopians runners, Genzebe had an affinity to cross country running, evident from her triumphs in the junior ranks. She was the world champion in juniors at the 2008 and 2009 world cross country championships and a world junior champion in 5000M at the world championships in 2010. In 2012, she showed she was capable of following her sisters’ footsteps on to the track, with that gold medal in the World Indoors.

 Despite that, Genzebe has taken time to blossom into a force on the outdoor track, perhaps unable to find the distance that suited her talent. Having found her range and rhythm now, she will be hoping to use the Sopot meet as a stepping stone before she joins the elite in track and field in outdoor competitions. Karlsruhe and Stockholm could well be the first stops in a long journey for the Ethiopian, who just turned 23 on Saturday.

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