“Ambitious Dibaba Looking for Ethiopian Olympic Place” by Paul Gains

Wednesday, September 7th. By now, I think most of us are aware of the huge Canadian content in this year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon — of it being a defacto Olympic Trials race, with the best group of Canadian men we’ve had in 25 years going head-to-head for 3 places in London 2012.

But this is a relatively new thing. Since 2006, STWM has built a strong, international marathon race, that has helped earn an IAAF Silver Label. Last year, for example, we saw the four fastest men’s times ever run on Canadian soil [5 guys under 2:08:30], and the four fastest women’s times ever run in Canada. Our top 3 women last year ran the 6th, 7th and 8th fastest women’s marathon times in the WORLD in 2010. That earned us a 3rd-best in the world rankings (after only London & Chicago) for our Women’s Race from all-athletics.com; and her 2:22:42 earned Sharon Cherop a much-coveted place on the Kenyan Team at the World Cup in Daegu last week. In her own words, “Toronto changed my life.” The performances of such international athletes has also changed the life of our event, propelling it to a major place on the world marathon circuit — not New York or Chicago, but a Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rome or Tokyo in that very next tier. We’re enormously appreciative of the efforts and accomplishments of our international athletes, who bring their dreams, their tremendously hard work and talents to our city, our country. The excitement they’ve generated for marathoning in Toronto and Canada is indisputable.

So who are the international stars of tomorrow that we’ll be seeing on the streets of T.O. this Fall? Who will be the next Sharon Cherop or Abderrahime Bouramdane [4th in Daegu Men’s Marathon; 2nd at STWM 2006]?

Over the next few weeks, Paul Gains will introduce us to several of the leading contenders. Today, it’s Mare Dibaba. Get to know her a little better. Enjoy racing, running with her on October 16th.


‘Ambitious Dibaba Looking for Ethiopian Olympic Place’
by Paul Gains

 With defending Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon champion Sheron Cherop representing Kenya at the 2011 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Daegu, Korea, last week (andwinning the bronze medal!) the women’s STWM race ought to be wide open. But nobody needs to tell Mare Dibaba that.

 The 21 year old Ethiopian has been on a tear since her debut marathon in Rome in March 2010 where she ran 2:25:38. Seven months later she improved her best time to 2:25:27 in Frankfurt placing 5th in an impressive field. Sandwiched in between were victories in her first two races on North American soil the Bobby Crim 10 miler and the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon. 

It’s abundantly clear she has the potential to do something special in Toronto, October 16th. The race is an IAAF Silver Label event which is the reason it is attracting such prestigious runners. 

“I am expecting to run between 2:22 and 2:23 if I have a good pacemaker,” says the young lady who, it should be noted, holds the Ethiopian national record in the half marathon (1:07:13). “I am looking for a good time so I can go to the London Olympics.” 

Under the watchful eye of coach Haji Adilo – himself a 2:12:24 marathoner – she has been piling on the mileage,  reaching as much as 200 kilometres each week. All of it is run in the thin air of Addis Ababa where the elevation is 2,500m. For a petite woman who stands 5’3” tall that’s an incredible volume. 

The training group has grown to about eighty athletes, men and women, among them a pair of Boston marathon champions, Deriba Merga, (2009 men’s champion) and Dire Tune (2008 women’s champion). Many of them share residences in the city to save on living expenses. 

“I am living with my fiance, Marcos,” Dibaba reveals. “He is a runner too. He ran 2:17 in his first marathon.” 

Dibaba is one of five children born to farmers in the village of Sululta about 25km from the capital.  Though her early life was typical of rural Ethiopians she is not one to complain. And, contrary to the wishful thinkers who would love it if she was yet another one of the siblings of double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, she is not. But she does count Tirunesh, as well as two time Olympic 10,000m champion, Haile Gebrselassie, as her running heroes. 

A school teacher introduced her to running in 2005 andvery quickly it was clear she had talent. Two years ago she joined up with Haji to focus on road races and the marathon in particular. This followed a difficult and somewhat controversial period of her life where she switched allegiance to the oil rich, former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. The circumstances are a little muddy. 

She temporarily represented that country at the 2009 Delhi Half Marathon under the name Mare Ibrahimova. At the 2009 European Junior Athletics Championships officials inspected her passport only to discover she was overage. 

“First of all, I didn’t go there by my choice,” she declares. “I love my country that is why I returned back to my home.” 

Dibaba is careful not to implicate anyone. But it is well known that five Ethiopian runners, all born in the years 1990 and 1991, were enticed by the Azerbaijan federation to change alliance in time for the European championships in Sarajevo. Their citizenships were fast tracked. Since Dibaba had not previously represented Ethiopia there was no argument from their federation. 

Earlier this year Dibaba lined up as favourite to win the Los Angeles Olympics. When she could only manage a third place finish in 2:30:25 questions were raised about her condition. However, it seems that the windy and rainy conditions that day didn’t agree with her and because of her tiny size, she took a beating. 

Last year coach Haji Adilo accompanied some of his athletes to Toronto and had a first hand look at the course. Naturally Dibaba is acutely aware that the course is extremely flat and therefore conducive to fast times. 

“Of course, yes, I am ready to run as fast as possible,” she declares. “I will do some good training with my coach and I want to run the Olympic standard and then I can be selected for the Olympics.” 

With such bold ambitions and with years of running ahead of her Dibaba has not stopped to think what she might do once her career comes to a close. 

“For the time being my main goal is running, running, running,” she declares. “Then I will decide my age of retirement. I want to run the fastest time and win Olympic and world championships.” 

But first, there’s the matter of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

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