Gezaghne Abera

Gezaghne Abera Gezaghne Abera

Old Ethiopian athlete, Gezaghne Abera is the first Olympic marathon champion of the third millennium. Or, using a more traditional way of counting, the last of the twentieth century.

Whatever way you want to look at it, everyone must agree that he is a magnificent champion: he ran his race with intelligence and perfect style, dominating the tough course and, above all, the Kenyan Eric Wainaina who, four years ago in Atlanta, took the bronze medal in this event.

At his age, Gezaghne Abera represents not just the present, but also the future of this discipline: indeed, he is the youngest winner in the long history of the event. He just beat another young marathon winner, Korea’s Hwang Young-cho who took marathon gold in Barcelona in 1992. Both were aged 22, but the Ethiopian won by a month, being born on 23 April 1978, whereas Young-cho was born on 22 March (1970).

Africa dominated the Olympics of fatigue and Ethiopia headed the rankings of this special classification: not only with Abera, but also with Tesfaye Tola, who won the bronze medal this evening. Tola’s merit is not just that of his bronze medal, but also that of guiding his young companion to victory.

It happened at kilometre 38, when Wainaina, exiting Canada Bay onto Western Motorway, launched a blistering attack. Tola was suffering, his muscles weary and with precious little reserves of oxygen to restore them: wisely, he sent on his team-mate, telling him to close the gap and try for the Olympic title. Abera chased after the Kenyan, caught up with him as they came up to kilometre 40 and launched the counter attack.

Wainaina was taken by surprise and, short of breath, was overtaken by Abera who turned on all the gas he had left and skidded across the asphalt as though he was on a conveyor belt, flying towards Olympic glory. Glory tat the Ethiopians have known for forty years, when on a magnificent night in Rome an unknown, barefoot athlete –Abebe Bikila – was the first to pass under the Constantine Arch, also known as the Triumphant Arch. Here in Sydney there was no arch awaiting the young Ethiopian athlete, but seventy thousand celebrating spectators. And hundreds of thousands of spectators – maybe up to a million – lining the 42,196 metres of the marathon course.

This race was particularly demanding not just for the distance, but above all for the wind and the nature of the course. The wind was gusting strongly throughout the city and the athletes had no sails to pull them along. On top of this, the course was like a switchback, a tormented sea on which the runners had to struggle from the crest of one concrete wave to another.

But the athletes courageously overcame every difficulty. For over twenty kilometres the leader was a Botswanan runner, Tiyapo Maso, until the group of champions swallowed him up and left him in the shadows. From that point on – the half marathon was passed in 1 hour 4 minutes and 27 seconds – the real race was on. A challenge without quarter.

In this tightly drawn battle, Africa beat Europe. But give the old continent credit: England’s Jon Brown put up a magnificent struggle to finish in fourth place, as did Italy’s Giacomo Leone (5th) and Spain’s Martin Fiz (6th).

There could have been no more fitting finale to the 2000 Olympics; fatigue, talent and willpower. The three characteristics that unite all the women and men who practice athletics, the sport that has once again confirmed here in Sydney it’s leadership of sports world-wide, through the record 1,500,000 stadium spectators, bettering every other Olympic spectacle, however beautiful.

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Famous Ethiopians, Gezaghne Abera, Famous Ethiopians


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