From left: Ethiopian athletics legends Million Wolde, Gebregziabher Gebremariam, Haile Gebrselassie and Ethiopia’s State Minister of Culture and Tourism Habtamu Sissy Awas with copies of the “Athletics Kenya at 70” magazine during the 20th Great Ethiopian Run press conference in Addis Ababa on January 8, 2021.
By Elias Makori
Editor (Sports), Nation Media Group
What you need to know:
Speaking at a pre-race press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Addis Ababa on Friday, Gebrselassie, a multiple world record holder in distance running, said the race will continue to make positive contribution beyond prize money
Great Ethiopian Run General Manager Ermias Ayele said they had initially targeted a field of 50,000 runners, but due to the Covid-19 restrictions, 25 percent of that field will be in action on Sunday
All 300 elite athletes Friday underwent Covid-19 tests at the Millennium Hall with the Covid-19 travel-related restrictions also meaning that there will be fewer international runners in this year’s edition
Ethiopia will Sunday host the 20th anniversary of Great Ethiopian Run – Africa’s largest mass participation sports event post-coronavirus lockdown – with founder Haile Gebrselassie confident the 10-kilometre road race will continue serving the greater good.
Speaking at a pre-race press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Addis Ababa on Friday, Gebrselassie, a multiple world record holder in distance running, said the race will continue to make positive contribution beyond prize money.
Already, the distance running legend has built a school with proceeds from the annual race’s sponsorship with plans underway for the construction of another in partnership with the government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
The former world record holder in the marathon and 10,000 metres also paid tribute to the great rivalry between Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes saying it helped raise the bar in African athletics.
He singled out his career-long running nemesis Paul Tergat for his contribution to the sport.
“Without Tergat the sport wouldn’t be as exciting as it is… he’s my friend and I even feel as though he’s right here with us now,” Gebrselassie, also a successful businessman said.
Tergat had been invited for this weekend’s 20th anniversary race but couldn’t travel as he is attending to his brother and other relatives who were involved in a freak road accident in Baringo County recently.
“Haile Gebrselassie, the legend, my brother, my friend and my worthy competitor in our hey days on the track, in cross country and on the roads, stands out tall for bequeathing Africa with such an incredible mass race that celebrates 20 amazing years this weekend,” Tergat wrote in a message to the organisers.
“Haile stands out as a giant, and one great role model to mankind through the way he was a success in his long professional athletics career, and by the way he has been a tremendous success also in his business undertakings after retiring from athletics.”
The press conference was also attended by Ethiopia’s Minister for Culture and Tourism Habtamu Sisay Awas who said the Great Ethiopian Run had helped enhance the country’s image, adding that the Ethiopian government was more aggressively using sports to market the country’s offerings.
Also present at Friday’s press conference were other Ethiopian distance running legends including former world cross country champion Gebregziabher Gebremariam and Sydney 2000 Olympics 5,000 metres champion Million Wolde.
The Great Ethiopian Run has been forced to adjust to Covid-19 protocols that include a reduced number of runners starting the race in three separate waves to avoid congestion and to allow for greater distancing.
Three Kenyans – Solomon Boit, Evans Kipkemei and Kennedy Kimutai – are among a trimmed field of 300 elite runners who will line up at the iconic Meskel Square for the race’s start on Sunday, chasing the winner’s cash award of 100,000 Birr (about Sh280,000).
The home runners will be led by double world 5,000m champion Mukhtar Edris and the Great Ethiopian Run’s 2016 champion Abe Gashahun.
“The Great Ethiopian Run has not only played a role in image building and tourism attraction, but has also become an icon of Ethiopia’s unity, peace and love in general,” Culture and Tourism Minister Awas said.
Great Ethiopian Run General Manager Ermias Ayele said they had initially targeted a field of 50,000 runners, but due to the Covid-19 restrictions, 25 percent of that field will be in action on Sunday.
Great Britain’s former Hamburg Marathon champion Richard Nerurkar, along with Gebrselassie and Ayele – one of the brains behind the Great Ethiopian Run – relived moments when Kenyan runners almost beat their Ethiopian rivals on Addis soil.
Interestingly, in its 20-year existence, no non-Ethiopian has ever won the top prize.
Meanwhile, all 300 elite athletes Friday underwent Covid-19 tests at the Millennium Hall with the Covid-19 travel-related restrictions also meaning that there will be fewer international runners in this year’s edition that has been shifted from the traditional November date owing to the coronavirus-enforced suspension of the race last November.
The Ethiopian government has imposed strict regulations in the fight against Covid-19, including social distancing and wearing of masks in public.
All visitors arriving at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport must produce Covid-19 certificates to prove that they are negative before they are allowed into the country.