Ethiopia has birthed so many world-class distance runners over the decades that the country is literally referred to as “the land of runners.” Despite all this, oddly enough, there had never been a marathon race held on Ethiopian soil, that is, until now.
Over the weekend, history was made as Ethiopia held its first ever international marathon in the city of Hawassa (170 miles from the nation’s capital). The race, which was organized by Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebrselassie, featured 150 elite Ethiopian athletes, along with 150 foreign “fun runners.” And while the race had a modest turnout, it should serve as a solid building block for a country who has ramped up its efforts to change the landscape of its athletics program in the last couple of years.
“Two years ago there was nothing here, athletes they wanted to come to Ethiopia to train there was no facility,” said Gebrselassie. “Believe me, we can produce more big names, we can produce more marathon runners, more Olympic champions, world champion and world record holders.”
When it was all said and done on Sunday, race winner and Ethiopian native Guidissa Shentema had this to say about winning for the first time on his home soil:
“I've been competing in different countries but this one gives me a lot of motivation to continue.”