Olympian visits

September 28th, 2006 Print Print Email Email

World-record runner promotes Ethiopian youth project

By Chhun Sun |The Salt Lake Tribune

Meseret Defar is a world-record holder at the 5K distance in running and a gold-medal winner at the Athens Olympics. Here she smiles while meeting with the Murray High School cross country team Sept. 18. (Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune )

She stood center stage in the Murray High auditorium with a microphone in her hand and a smile that seemed endless. Her voice just above a whisper, she put the mic close to her mouth while she spoke. The students waited, utterly silent.
Meseret Defar, who stands just under 5 feet, doesn’t seem like a person who has achieved extraordinary things, but the fact is, she has. And that’s why the students, who skipped out on their final period of the day Sept. 18, watched and waited so intently when Defar was on stage.
“Hi. My name is Meseret Defar,” she

Meseret Defar is a world-record holder at the 5K distance in running and a gold-medal winner at the Athens Olympics. (Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune )

started, showcasing that she knows a little bit of English. “Olympic champion, world champion and world-record holder.
“Thank you.”
Just like that, Defar disappeared into the audience to sit with her husband, Teddy. The native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, didn’t want to take the time away from the purpose of the day, which was to let the students watch 10 small Ethiopian children, in their first time in America, perform cultural dances. Defar has a shared experience with the children, knowing that they grew up in a poor country where most either live on the streets or are married by the age of 12.
Defar was there to help Murray’s Norm Perdue promote his cause, The Children of Ethiopia Education Fund. Defar made two more stops in Utah before running in a 5-kilometer race in Logan last Saturday.
The Murray students watched a nine-minute video about the foundation. Then, after the students left the auditorium and the school for the day, Defar spoke privately through a translator to the cross country team.
The runners, still in their school clothes, watched in awe, and even challenged Defar, who holds the world record in the 5K run with a time of 14 minutes, 24.53 seconds, and who won a gold medal in Athens in 2004, to a race with their best runner, Colton McComb, whose best 5K time is a little over 16 minutes.
Just like the world-class runner that she is, she agreed. But, of course, the students weren’t serious.
“You don’t often get a visit from an Olympic runner like her,” coach Ashley McSwain said. “And it makes it even more important that she only came to this school.”
Though Defar had a white and pink jumpsuit on and looked like she could have jumped into a race at any moment, she did not practice with the team, as was rumored to be the case earlier in the day.
She didn’t need to. In the morning, Defar trained at the Cottonwood Complex, the same place where the Murray Invitational was a week earlier.
Defar asked if the cross country team is any good. Immediately, the team laughed, perhaps remembering the boys’ 16th-place finish and the girls’ 22nd-place finish in the invitational.
And just like that, the meeting was over. Then McSwain told his runners to get out on the track. Slightly motivated, the students disappeared out of the auditorium.

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