Woldemeskel Kostre : Veteran as Tall as Ethiopian Athletics

: In light of Ethiopia's achievement in athletics, Woldemeskel Kostre's death is a sad story. His service as a coach for the national athletics team by far outweighs the few complaints heard. His name will certainly stay in the hearts of athletes, fans and the Ethiopian public.

One of the most solemn and serene farewell ceremonies has been accorded to veteran athletics coach, Woldemeskel Kostre (PhD). His funeral was held last Tuesday afternoon at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where hundreds of tribute-paying athletes and respective officials were present. Analogically put, the veteran athletics coach has run his final race.

After the bare-footed runner Abebe Bikila made Olympics history by breaking the 1964 Marathon record in no other place than in Rome, repeated and improved records were achieved again in Tokyo. Since then, Ethiopia’s name has been associated with long distance victories and has attracted the world’s attention.

Many researchers have wondered if there is a natural explanation for the achievement. Some tried to justify their speculations by studying the impacts of the altitude. Others tried to study the type of food our athletes were eating. There was no specialty in the contents of the food. In a poor country like Ethiopia, where there were scant facilities and materials to support the athletes, it was difficult to explain such achievements.

But the facts were not mysterious miracles. The explanation was in the background of the school day where potential athletes had to walk or at times run covering long distances. Some of them had to cover up to 20Km back and forth from their homes to school carrying their luggage of books and stationery. That gave them the impetus to run as fast as their legs could carry them. Most of them share those experiences.

The inter-school sports competitions conducted in the academies of the Emperor and the Royal Escort also played their part. Fast track athletes like Negussie Roba, Mekonnen Dori, Ketebo Dissasa, Hussen Roble, Sora Jarso and Belete Awoke were just a few. Female athletes, such as Yewohalashet Sigou, also made their mark in the historical records.

Negussie Roba later became a coach of the national team and he was replaced by Woldemeskel. Fortunately, for Ethiopian athletics, the baton did not fall in the wrong hands. Woldemeskel was educated in Hungary, up to the doctoral level, and made history in his success of producing some of the best distance runners in five successive Olympics the world has ever known.

The veteran has now passed away but his name is to remain immortal as Ethiopia’s unique achievement has had strong impact, to the extent that most countries in the western world seem to withdraw from long distance running. With some exceptions, this form of athletics seems to have become the exclusive right of Ethiopia and Kenya, with their athletes mastering the event. In fact, the World Athletics Federation seems to be putting all sorts of sanctions on the athletes under scrutiny of doping and tests of that sort.

It has just transpired that even home-grown coaches are being pressed by money laundering men who try to make money by letting athletes cheat. Partly, this has come with the commercialization of athletics.

Woldemeskel was always trying to guard and protect the amateurism and dedication the athletes ought to commit themselves into giving more importance to honouring the national flag. He never had any compromise on this issue. Sometimes, he seemed to be risking his personal relationships with some athletes who were carried away by personal vested interests.

That was not beyond understanding. Money and property are winning the times. Some of the well-to-do investors these days have been people with athletics backgrounds.

For varied reasons, including marriage, the petro dollar countries of the Middle East seem to be easy destinations to run for a purpose. The veteran Woldemeskel survived these attractions. There could not have been anything more gratifying than seeing the fruits of his lifetime efforts succeeding in the Olympics. Of the medals the athletes had won in the successive Olympic years, about 28 medals of them had been won during his time as a coach. The coach had a firm stance in selecting those who fulfilled the standards.

There could have been some suffering as there could not have been enough space for all. But these are only dressing room complaints, to use the parlance of sports, as it were. They were minor points that were tolerated and taken lightly by all of his disciples.

I noticed with a sense of gratitude that members of the media not only gave prominence to the sad news but they give him due coverage of headline importance. Behind any athlete worth his name, his achievements will be remembered. A lasting name is always better fragrance than any flora or fauna could ever produce.

Call any well-known athlete since the 1972 Munich Olympic changed the name of the long-distance game, Woldemeskel is always there. The athletes who were once catching the world’s attention as “green overflow” have, of late, shown a dangling record specially after the coach disappeared from the camera.

It is a pity that the great veteran had not been heard from for a few years. His death therefore came as a shock. We may, however, raise our voices loudly after his funeral for a few weeks and then forget about him just like that, without giving him the lasting respect and honour commensurate with his values.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on May 24,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 838]



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