Ethiopia: Nation's Olympic
By Elshadai Negash
July 31, 2012
Following the emergence of a new generation of medal hopefuls in both traditionally strong and previously unheralded events, those involved with the Ethiopian Olympic team are quietly confident of the nation’s prospects before the athletics events kick off on August 3, 2012, at the London Olympic Stadium.
With a history of 56 years in participation and 52 in medalling, the Ethiopian team has long been Olympic aficionados' pick for medals when the Summer Games come around every four years. The perennial favourites' billing has existed largely due to medals in the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres with sporadic success in the marathon.
But, much of the country's medals hopes in the Games of the 30th Olympiad, began on July 27th in London, rest on athletes competing in events where the country has not previously excelled. For the first time in its history, Ethiopia will have a representative in the men's and women's 800 metres, with both tipped as potential medallists.
It should not come as a major shock that Ethiopia stands a chance of winning medals in these traditionally unheralded events. After all, the country made its Olympic debut in the Melbourne Games back in 1956 and had a finalist in the men's 400 metres and 800 metres. It has also been competing in the 400 metres and 800 metres for some years at continental and junior levels, with some success, at least in continental championships.
But, in Mohammed Aman and Fantu Magiso, the country can look forward to London 2012 with two genuine, young medal contenders to challenge the event's favourites.
Born and raised in Assela, home to many of Ethiopia's famous distance runners including the legendary Haile Gebrselassie, Mohammed made his mark by winning gold in the 1,000 metres at the first ever Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, in 2010. He has consistently improved in major championships in the last two years to rank among the major medal contenders in London 2012.
His two major achievements thus far came late in 2011, when he beat world record-holder and reigning world champion David Rudisha on a rain-soaked track in Milan, Italy. In March this year, he outran the competition to win Ethiopia's first ever world indoor 800-metre gold at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.
In contrast, Fantu has had a more dramatic progression in her short but interesting career. Touted as a possible sprinting hope after reaching the 200-metre and 400-metre finals at the 17th African Athletics Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, in August 2010, and then winning the African junior title in a longer event in Gaborone, Botswana, she became the first Ethiopian to compete in the 400 metres, at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and reach the semi-finals.
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