Asnake Fekadu – A win to savour for Ethiopia – Len Johnson(The Age)

October 12th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

MOST things happen at a rapid pace in Ethiopian distance running. (more…)

MOST things happen at a rapid pace in Ethiopian distance running.

As of last month, it takes Haile Gebrselassie two hours three minutes 59 seconds to run a marathon. “Kenny” Bekele whips through a 10-kilometre in a little over 26 minutes. On the women’s side, Tirunesh Dibaba punches out a five-kilometre in around 14 minutes.

It’s nice to report that some things take a little longer, even for the all-conquering Ethiopian distance runners. For example, it has taken them 52 years to win a marathon on the MCG, a feat accomplished yesterday by Asnake Fikadu when he won the Melbourne marathon.

Fikadu is one of an Ethiopian national squad of no fewer than 40 marathoners. They train at Etoto, just outside Addis Ababa, at 2800 metres above sea level.

Fikadu dominated yesterday’s race virtually from the start, breaking away after 10 kilometres and steadily increasing his lead. Only the northerly wind, which blew stronger as the morning progressed, caused him any problems, slowing the winning time to two hours 17 minutes 46 seconds. In better conditions, Fikadu may well have threatened Bill Rodgers’ race record 2:11:08 set in 1982.

Such did not appear to worry Fikadu, who has a best time of 2:10:26. He had history on his mind, not records. In halting English he explained he was pleased to come to Melbourne because it was here, in 1956, that Ethiopia first competed in an Olympic Games.

Not with the distinction we have come to expect now as routine, but Ethiopian Olympic history began in Melbourne. Mamo Wolde, a future Olympic marathon champion, competed in the 4 x 400 metres relay and the heats of the 800 and 1500 metres. In the marathon, Gebre Birkay finished 32nd of 33 finishers. Like the others, though, he was there.

“Melbourne is special for me,” said the winner. “I came here because of Ethiopia’s history with the MCG. It was our first time for the Olympic Games. The race is good, the people are good, but it is very windy.”

The wind aside, about his only other problem was that he had to finish twice. Not everyone caught his first run through the finish tape, so he obligingly re-staged it for those who had not been paying attention. He looked as if he could have done the 42.195 kilometres again had anyone asked.

Joshphat Mwangi of Kenya was second in 2:21:20. Like Collingwood, he is compiling an unenviable record of runner-up places on the MCG. He was second last year as well, when the race first finished on Melbourne’s most famous sporting venue. Yared Mekonnen of Ethiopia was third in 2:25:12.

The first Australian finisher was David Criniti of NSW in fifth place in 2:29:08. Magnus Michelsson, a former winner, was first Victorian in sixth place and Dean Cavuoto of the ACT, a former Australian world cross-country representative who has overcome a cancerous tumour in his right shoulder, was 12th in 2:38:14.

Just two seconds behind came Mai Tagami of Japan who, like Fikadu, had a runaway win in the women’s race. A 2:29:43 runner, she was a red-hot favourite and won in a manner justifying the tag. Like Fikadu, Tagami faces an uphill battle to win national representation. Japanese women’s marathoning is probably the country’s strongest event and Japan has provided two of the past three Olympic marathon gold medallists.

Michelle Bleakley finished second, and first Victorian, in 2:49:02, with Jenny Wikham of NSW next in 2:50:17.

Bleakley led last year’s women’s race for a long way before failing to finish with gastric problems. Soon after that, a mammogram revealed areas of “bad tissue” and, given a close family history of breast cancer, she decided to have a double mastectomy.

Shane Nankervis and Cassie Fien won the men’s and women’s half-marathons, in 65:58 and 75:14, respectively. Ballarat’s Nankervis won from Scott McTaggart and Rowan Walker, both representing the ACT. Fien beat Victoria’s Nikki Chapple and Bilinda Schipp of NSW.

The races were national championships with the ACT winning the men’s teams title and Victoria the women’s.

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