Runners Update

We finished shooting Town of Runners during Easter 2011 and in November I took a rough cut of the film back to Ethiopia to view it with Coach Sentayehu, Hawii, Alemi, Biruk and their families. For Alemi’s mother, it was the first time she’d seen her daughter run, and for Hawii’s family it gave a sense of some of the struggles she’d had over the past few years in the clubs.

Since the end of the film, Hawii’s second club, Assela, had managed to find its way out of its financial difficulties. Hawii rejoined it, regained her fitness and has been competing and doing well in races across the Oromia region.

Alemii meanwhile decided she wanted to leave her club in Holeta and return home to Bekoji once her two year contract was up. She came home to live with her parents and train once again with Coach Senteyahu. It’s a chance for her to pick up her education again after a break of two years. A few months later she transferred to the Oromia Police Club, near Addis.

Bethlehem (Betty) and Freya, the two girls who went with Hawii to the club in Woliso, finally ran away and returned to Bekoji. By the time they left, they said 50 of the club’s 52 athletes had done the same, because of the lack of facilities and training. Bekoji, meanwhile had managed to establish its own club, with the help of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and Betty won a place there. Freya meanwhile, gave up athletics and has returned to school in Bekoji. The film opened the Addis Ababa film festival in May 2012 and Hawii, Biruk and Betty introduced it with producer Dan Demissie.

Biruk is still living in Bekoji. He’s now finished his education and looking for work. When some British runners went to Bekoji to train as part of Running Across Borders’ Visit and Train programme, Biruk worked as their guide and training partner.

Coach Sentayehu came to the UK with the film during its theatrical run in April – his first time out of Ethiopia and a chance to visit and build partnerships with UK athletics clubs, universities and schools. Together with the coach we’ve developed an outreach programme to support the training of assistant coaches in Bekoji, offering athletes a career beyond their own running. So far the programme supports 12 runners and 3 assistant coaches. If you are interested in contributing to this work, contact Running Across Borders. Through the programme Coach Senteyahu oversees a group of athletes who are therefore able to develop their careers for longer in their home town (and so continue their education and live with their families) and support them to travel to competitions, both in Ethiopia and abroad.

Coach is keen to build a legacy for his work in Bekoji – he means to continue coaching for many years to come, but wants to know that coaching skills are being developed by younger athletes as an option for those who don’t make it as elite runners.

Five runners from Bekoji will be running in the Olympics in London 2012. Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba will be defending their Olympic titles in 5000m and 10,000m. Kenenisa’s brother Tariku will also be running, and Tirunesh’s sister, Genzebe Dibaba will be running in the 1500m. Earlier this year she became world indoor champion and looks on form to follow in her sister’s footsteps to an Olympic medal. In the Women’s Marathon, Tiki Galana will take part in her first Olympics. No doubt the town will be out in force in the DSTV bar on the main street to cheer them on.

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