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'This is just the beginning' Ethiopia's distance queen Almaz Ayana insists

Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana now looks to defend her 5,000 title (Photo: Getty Images)
by Haileegziabher Adhanom, AIPS Young Reporter, Ethiopia

LONDON, AUGUST, 8, 2017 - With triple world and double 5000-10,000m Olympic champion Mo Farah saying goodbye to his beloved track, one of the questions raised by the eternal fans of distance races and the 10,000m in particular, is who is going to become the poster athlete, for an event on the verge of disappearance.

In winning the women’s 10,000m gold in London, Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana, the world record holder and Olympic champion has put her name firmly atop the candidate list. Her dominance in the 10,000m race saw her go nearly a lap ahead of her competitors in the track, before easing past the finish line. Next is the 5,000m on Sunday night for which she is the favorite. She insists she is ready for it, and for shouldering the responsibility of distance queen and for the growing expectation coming from her country.

Almaz, 26, started her career by running the 3000m steeplechase, but was quick to change her discipline to flat long-distance track races, which brought her success throughout the years.

Since she start competing in the 5000m and 10,000m, she quickly became almost unstoppable at all levels of competitions. Possibly the most dear to her she muses, is her maiden international victory which she won over 5000m at the 2014 African Championships in Morocco, defeating compatriot and favorite Genzebe Dibaba in a championship record time of 15:32.72. Ayana also won the 5000m representing Africa at the 2014 IAAF Continental Cup by over 24 seconds at the same ground.

Many of her opponents in London could do nothing but watch her ease to her first 10,000m gold medal at the World Championships, while fans at London Stadium cheered her in disbelief as she led from the 11th lap on.

The 2016 IAAF female athlete of the year sat down with AIPS before she set out to defending her 5000m title from two years ago in Beijing.

Who is Almaz Ayana?

The name Almaz means "Diamond" when translated from Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language. Born and raised in a large family, she came from a rural town called Wembera, Benishangul Gumuz, in the western part of Ethiopia.

“I grew up looking after my parents cattle,” she told AIPS. Just like every child at her age in Ethiopia he inspiration to become an athlete came “from watching my school mates competing at the local school championships in the area.”

Almaz is married to her childhood friend and longtime partner, Soressa Fida, a former athlete himself, who is also her fulltime coach. She gushes over having a life companion, who knows, understands, and helps on and off the track and who has been there during all low and high times during her journey to becoming who she is now.

Another crucial figure in Almaz’s life is her older sister Degie Ayana, the first person who backed her to continue working on her trainings. When it all began, she was afraid to tell her parents that it was practicing she was running to every morning, as they insisted that she needed to keep her focus on her education.

Calling herself very religious, Ayana reveals that what she loves doing most off the track is going to church and visiting monasteries. But it’s her hard work that makes her the champion that she is, she adds proudly.

“I take my trainings seriously, day and night, and with God’s help, that is really paying off.”

Running style

Asked about her highly demanding new style of running, which sees her kick off her finishing in the early stages of the race, and finishing with the same pace for the large part of the distance, her reply was simple. “It is because I am working hard on the things I am good at it, and it works.”

Technical director of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation Dubie Jillo had words to add on this matter, “[Ayana’s] running style is unique and very demanding, it needs both endurance and speed at their very best level. So if she wants to stay on top of the game for so long, she needs to manage her races carefully, she need to have a good schedule race and recovery time.”

After she become African,World and Olympic Champion, world record holder in 10,000m and the 5000m seems to be on the horizon after she clocked 14:12.59 at IAAF Golden Gala in Rome. The result makes her the second fastest woman ever in the 5000 meters, just 1.44 seconds shy from another Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba’s world record. Many believe that Ayana already poses legendary status, but the young Ethiopian disagrees: “This is just the beginning.”

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