Ethiopia’s highs’ and lows’ in the London Olympics


Ethiopia collected seven medals, three of them gold, a silver and three bronze at the London Olympics. That gave them second place in the continent next to South Africa and 24th in the world. This is a pretty excellent mark in the Olympics. It is great compared to a country like Greece that returned home with only two gold medals and the emerging economic power, India that has no gold.
In the country’s 56 year history of Olympic participation, Ethiopia earned record high medal in Sydney Olympic in 2000; eight in total of which four of them gold. The irony of history is this: Ethiopia first participated in Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956, in which the athletes returned home barehanded. But in the other city of Australia, Sydney, the country managed to set a new national record. The other surprise in Sydney was winning the men’s marathon after a lapse of 32 years. Ethiopia never collected marathon gold after Mamo Wolde in 1968 in Mexico up to Sydney in 2000. Gezahegn Abera brought back the fourth gold to the country. No other country so far earned four marathon gold in Olympics history.
The number of medals earned in London is equal with the medals earned in Athens and Beijing. But the major difference between London, Beijing and Athens is in the number of gold medals. Four years ago in Beijing, the country earned four gold medals through Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, both collected double gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. In Athens in 2004 the number of gold was only two. In London it is three. In Barcelona Ethiopia earned one gold and two bronze medals while in Atlanta two gold and a bronze. All in all Ethiopia managed to collect 45 Olympic medals, 21 of them gold, seven silver and 17 bronze since the 1960 Olympic marathon gold obtained by the barefoot Abebe Bikila.
It is interesting to note that except two medals from the men’s 3,000m steeplechase in Moscow Olympics in 1980 through Eshetu Tura and in the same women’s event through Sofia Asefa, all others were collected from just three events – 5,000, 10,000 metres and the marathon.  
In London what was most impressive was the win of Tiki Gelana in women’s marathon setting a new Olympic record at a time of two hours, 23 minutes and seven seconds. This big win was earned for the second time in the span of 16 years. The first Olympic women’s marathon gold medal was obtained by Fatuma Roba in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. 
The other impressive and most exciting race was the win of Meseret Defar in women’s 5,000 meters at a time of 15 minutes and 45 seconds. Though the Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot took silver What the Ethiopian duo did to outpace the others was remarkable. Tirunesh had taken the lead until the final lap even when the bell rang she had looked on course to record a historic London double, having won the 10,000m on August 3.
Until 75 meters to go she was still in front and looked firmly on course to replicate her 5,000 and 10,000m double in Beijing. But as she drew to a close her expected surge never came and she was outpaced on the final stretch by her compatriot Meseret who surged ahead on the final 50 meters to win in 15 minutes 4.25 seconds to reclaim the Olympic 5,000m title she last won in Athens in 2004. Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot won silver while Dibaba came in third for bronze. Though failed, their attempt was to take the top two spots denying the Kenyan. But it was no to be so.
The women’s 10,000m race was the other sensation. The Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot was sure that she would dethrone Tirunesh Dibaba in London. Cheruiyot said prior to the race, “I’m in great shape for the big event. I’m well set and what remains is to compete.” She didn’t stop there.
“I know this is my year and I want to tell Kenyans to play for us because we will lift our flag high since we are heading to battle,” the confident Cheruiyot underlined with the kind of belief of victory.
Cheruiyot’s comment on Tirunsh was open and clear: “At the long run, we are going to compete together. It does not worry me at all, I’m strong myself. It will reach that time, I’m so happy because this time, we are going to race with Dibaba. I need that gold badly, it’s the only medal I do not have in my athletics career, I want it badly and in my heart, I know I will do it.”
Winning title with that spectacular finish over the Kenyan immodest rival was indeed superb. That was what Tirunesh did in London. 
The London Olympics also brought promising young talents though they missed collecting medals due to minor error. For the first time Ethiopia participated in short distance race like 400 and 800 meters in London. In the women’s 800m Fantu Migeso was expected to get medal but injury prevented her from competing. In the men’s 800m Mohamed Aman performed well but finishing problem cost him not to be listed in the medal table. The women’s 1,500m contender, Abeba Aregawi, has all the potential to win gold medal. She lost medal simply because she began surging at a wrong time and wrong timing. 
The big disappointment in London was the men’s marathon that took place in the closing day of the London Olympics, August 12. That day was indeed was the day of sorrow for Ethiopians. For a country marathon is a synonym, producing marathoners who fail to go through to the finish is a mystery. 
The men’s marathoners, Ayele Abshiro, Dino Sifir, Getu Feleke, were out of the scene after the 21 km mark. But they disappeared when Kiprotich started leading at the 27km mark, despite appearing to suffer discomfort in his leg minutes earlier. That was Uganda’s lone medal earned at London 2012. Uganda’s last Olympic champion was 400m hurdler John Akii-Bua, who won gold at Munich in 1972.
The highly expected Ethiopian trio evaporated right after they were separated from the pack at the 27th km mark. Unable to finish the 42Km and 195 meters distance is without a doubt a disgrace to the participants.