Eventful Great Run

The Great Ethiopian Run began in 2001 and is still going at full throttle. An initiative by Haile Gebrselassie, the most famous Ethiopian runner, if not the most famous Ethiopian, it is a sporting event whose participants have been growing together with the local and international attention it has been getting. Even the HuffPost rated it as one of the 15 most adventurous races in the world in a blog written two years ago. But the 2017 edition will go down in history for the tragic turn of events the race took where two people lost their lives.

Last Sunday morning, there was the 2017 edition of the Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Abeba, where the famous Mesqel Square was preoccupied with the fulfilment of this annual sporting event. Distance runners from all over the country, and overseas, came to participate, for here, history was being made.

The Great Run was the 17th of its kind, where 44,000 athletes reportedly took part, the highest so far, while close to 500 participants were non-nationals, including well-known athletes from Kenya and Uganda. For the most part, everything was tip-top. Runners were enjoying the beautiful sunny weather, despite Addis Abeba’s thin air as a result of its high altitude. Wearing orange T-shirts, they flocked the capital to give it a rare colour it could not have enjoyed on a typical day. The event had even remarkably begun on schedule.

Registrations, T-shirt allotment and miscellaneous inquiries about the event were all efficiently conducted. If tourists participated, which they did, in high numbers, they would not have anything but good news to apprise back home.

But, amidst all that cheer and merrymaking, there was a tragedy. Two people died, one before finishing the race, and the other after crossing the finishing line. The joyfulness of the event was shortlived, which is not surprising given the gravity of the accident. While one died immediately on the scene, the other only lived long enough to be taken to Zewditu Memorial Hospital. For the famous event, this was the first in its 17-year history.

Haile Gebrselassie, an athletics icon, and whose initiative the Great Run is, reflected on the tragic incident. He expressed his condolences and paid tributes.

Haile, however, told reporters that he had attempted to inform participants to do a step-by-step exercise on a daily basis for they need to get used to the rigorous 10Km race through the streets of Addis under what is often a warm weather.

Thus, how all this could have affected Haile is evident for besides the usual sympathetic feelings any human would have for the two men, it was too close to home for him. It is almost as if this occurred under his watch. They may have been taken to the hospital, but in the end, it was to no avail.

It was no more different for all the other participants. It would have been a while before all the tens of thousands of people could notice what has gone wrong, but sadly, for all of that preparation and anticipation, this was the news that dominated the airwaves immediately afterwards.

Notwithstanding the incident, the effort by the organising committee is laudable.  They even marketed the event in the hopes of bolstering its international standing by inviting celebrated Kenyan runners like Vivian Cheruiyot and the Dutch Lornah Kiplagat. Even international broadcasters took note, with the event getting coverage on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cable News Network (CNN), Reuters, and Aljazeera.

Apart from the tragedy, this is an event that should have the Ethiopian people’s backing. It would not be too long before the Great Run would become an international phenomenon, and outperform other such events like the New York Half Marathon in sheer number.

Celebrated runners like Derartu Tulu, Meseret Defar and Fatuma Roba have played and made names for themselves and the country for the world to look to Ethiopia for events such as this.

For who does not want to participate in an event hosted by a country where such great runners hail from?

Those 5,000m and 10,000m races that East Africans, particularly Ethiopia, Kenya and Eritrea are great at, have made the continent noteworthy. Besides that, the weather and altitude of the capital, and the general happy-go-lucky attitude of participants have made the sporting event quite famous.

It is a pity that Ethiopia ranks very low when it comes to football, that there is revelry even when Ethiopia makes it to the first round of the African Cup of Nations. Sure, track-and-field athletics has its share of drama and shortcomings, but it exists on a higher field of professionalism than Ethiopia’s football federation. The present executive committee’s haggling over the election to head the body, according to the international governing body Federation Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) procedures, is akin to a bad sitcom.

In that regard, the athletics’ federation, headed by Major Haile Gebrselassie has by far done a better job. One only hopes that football, which arguably has more fans in the country, despite the limited number of success stories, could learn from the Great Run. From organisation to administration, they stand oceans apart.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Dec 02,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 918]



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