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Woman of the World: Tirunesh Dibaba Comes of Age

Posted by addisethiopia on March 8, 2015

dibaba2As Tirunesh Dibaba takes the track, it’s hard to reconcile her baby face and slight build with her fierce reputation. She’s the marquee distance runner at the 2006 Reebok Boston Indoor Games, a track meet known for distance races, and everyone in the packed Reggie Lewis Center is expecting her to break her own world record. Yet everything about her appearance suggests that she is no more than a girl.

Her older sister Ejegayehu, who is also racing, has braided Tirunesh’s hair and painted her fingernails with playful black and white designs. As the announcer introduces each athlete, Tirunesh takes the steam out of the mounting excitement by accidentally acknowledging the cheers meant for her sister. By the time the confusion is over, she’s taken the start line, having missed out on the final, dramatic introduction. Crouched, waiting for the start, she is dwarfed by the other competitors. Once the gun fires, though, she quickly shows why she was the top distance runner in the world last year.

Tirunesh runs upright, her straight back giving the illusion that she’s taller than 5 feet, 1 inch. Her arms pump furiously across her body while her legs swing back in long, arcing kicks. She explodes forward with each stride, her hips moving on a level plane with no wasted up-and-down motion. Whether she masks her labor or doesn’t really labor at all is hard to discern, for she always seems to have another gear.

Eventually, though, the rabbits drop out and Tirunesh’s record pace begins to slow. Her forehead bears only the slightest hint of sweat as she breaks the tape in 14:35.46, the second fastest indoor 5,000m ever.

Later in the evening Tirunesh returns to the track to watch her boyfriend, Olympic silver medalist Sileshi Sihine, in the men’s two-mile. Bundled in her sweats, she blends into the crowd. She shows no emotion as the race unfolds until, on the final lap, she can’t contain her nerves any longer. Suddenly the woman who was circling the track with such confidence two hours earlier is bouncing up and down like a little girl. Grasping the sides of her head anxiously, she peeks out between her arms to watch as Sihine strains for the finish, coming up just short of victory.

Continue reading…

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