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Ethiopia’s Running Town’s Budding Stars Race Beyond Covid-19

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A Running Legacy

225 kilometres south of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, lies Bekoji — a town renowned for producing running stars who have collectively brought home 18 Olympic medals to date.

Pandemic Pause

However, recent months saw the town’s eucalyptus forests — typically transformed into a training ground for aspiring running, extremely bare after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March had the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government declare the country in a state of emergency.

A lockdown decision that consequently disrupted athletic gatherings (among many other things) to be lifted months later in September.

Back on Track

This is the latest sign of a return to normalcy for Bekoji’s runners after pandemic-related disruptions and a huge boost of inspiration for the young runners who saw the pandemic put their athletic dreams on hold.

Fatiya Abdi, local rack coach, shared her take on the current energy amongst the town’s young runners, “We stopped training after the first coronavirus case. However, I started meeting with them weekly and giving them advice to keep them motivated. I told them that Coronavirus is a killer but we shouldn’t be neglectful of our training. We have to defeat the virus with our relentless effort.”

Hanna Awugichew, a 16-year-old ambitious teen who trains with Abdi by way of the Girls Gotta Run organisation has been itching to get back into the swing of things ever since the coronavirus prevention restrictions were put in place eight months ago and is happy to once again be instructed in person alongside her mates, “We had prepared for the competition and trained well, I was very excited to reach my goal but we couldn’t compete because of coronavirus, and that was very disappointing.”

Champions in Training

Awugchew — who qualified for a national competition in the 400-metre dash, aspires to be Ethiopia’s next elite runner. Just like many of her mates who hope to emulate Bekoji’s numerous international running stars — household names like Kenenisa Bekele, Derartu Tulu, Fatuma Roba and Tirunesh Dibaba, and carry on the town’s legacy.