Ever since the great marathon runner
Abebe Bikila (Maj) stunned the athletics world by not only breaking the record
time of two hours and 12 minutes but also beating the ground for 42 kilometres
with his bare feet, Ethiopian distance runners have made a name for themselves
over the years. They have also brought honour and reputation to a country that
otherwise has made the headline news with its droughts and famines not to speak
of the civil strife that casted for decades.
People have wondered why on earth
Ethiopian athletes excel at long-distance races, including the marathon. Some
curious sports experts have even ventured out to do research, with the intention
of establishing scientific explanations for the unfaltering success the athletes
have enjoyed time and again.
Questions still hover about their
secret. Could it be their training skills or their exposure to international
meets? Could it be the ingredients of their daily catering? Could it be the high
altitude of the area where they were brought up and trained?
Some of them were even more
sceptical about their assumptions when they found out that many of the distance
runners came not only from Arsi Zone, Oromia Regional State, but from the same
family tree. They contemplate whether the secret is genetic.
It could be anything except one
There have never been any athletic
villages, like in Kenya or other countries, in Ethiopia. It was only last week
that the Yaya Athletics Village was inaugurated some 11km northwest of the
capital on the road from Addis Abeba to Gojam.
Most of the great distance runners
were born and raised in rural places and had to jog for miles, daily, to make it
to school and back in time. In one way or another, running long distances was
not a sport for these students but a way of life, one could say. Indeed, it
later became their economic means of life.
The demand for an athletic village
was previously going to be satisfied when a nationwide fundraising campaign was
carried out in full swing through a telethon show. The project was to establish
an athletics centre at Sendafa, a town 38 kilometres northeast of Addis Abeba.
For some obscure reason, the project
seems to have been aborted. Tirunesh Dibaba Sports Centre in Arsi Zone has been,
so far, the only viable project, the baton carried by owner Tirunesh Dibaba, who
incidentally has returned to race after a long dry spell to win races once
again, sending a threatening message to her London Olympics rivals.
An Athletics Village, however, has,
of late, become a reality, at long last, curtsey of veteran Joseph Kibur, the
40-year old athlete cum investor. The story of the establishment was indeed
The owner was a Diaspora returnee
from Canada some six years ago after living abroad for over 30 years.
One day he packed his backpack with
his sports outfit and went to Addis Abeba’s National Stadium to do some jogging.
To his dismay, the guardsman prohibited him from entering the stadium on the
grounds that only registered members are allowed to use the running track. That
incident was a blessing in disguise, as the unexpected disappointment sparked
the idea of establishing an athletics village in his mind.
The conceived thought was not
aborted. He, having consulted with prominent personalities, translated his
thoughts into the tangible design and construction of an athletics village not
far from the capital.
Negotiating the sloped landscape of
the Addis Abeba to Gojam Road for about half an hour, starting from Menelik
Square, one comes to a pass in the Entoto Mountains where an open checkpoint is
located, closer to which resides the centre.
This area is also a topographical
relief that divides two river basins. Every brook and stream in the area
carrying rainwater drains into the tributaries of either the Awash or Abay (Blue
Nile) rivers, in due course.
After an exclamatory term found in
many African languages including Kiswahili, Yoseph christened his athletic
centre Yaya Athletics Village, symbolising the enjoyment that athletes will find
using facilities and services delivered at the village.
The village, though presently in its
embryonic stage, is an 80 million-Br project, based on a strategic plan divided
into phases. A sandy running track, beach volleyball court, 30 rooms for
lodging, a café on a terrace, a restaurant, bars, a playground for children,
and beautiful parks are already functioning. Horse riding and trekking with a
scout is also available. People interested in sightseeing can even walk a two-kilometre
distance to the checkpoint spot and enjoy the beautiful panoramic sight of the
metropolis and its environs.
Its owner plans to offer free
services and lodging to all Ethiopian athletes registered for the coming
Olympics competition in London, to be held in the coming five to six months. The
village is indeed a cosy place for trekking or lying back in a swinging chair in
a park to read. The fresh air and calmness of the village is a typical feature
that would be treasured by any nature-loving person.
Athletes coming from any country in
the world to be trained in the highlands of Addis Abeba and have taste of
Ethiopian athletes’ endurance can use the services of the village at a rate of
75 dollars per day. Local visitors are charged only 50pc of that.
The most interesting offer is the
one-year athletics training scholarships given to youngsters coming from
anywhere in the surrounding area. Of course, there are criteria to qualify for
the scholarships, to be defined by the Village.
No doubt that the village creates
employment for many people, including 60 people employed on a permanent basis.
In the end, the project will host one of the most attractive resort areas for
families who would like to take their children out for recreational hikes over
In and of itself, however, the
project might indicate the changing landscape of Ethiopian athletics,
ascertaining the historic lead that the nation has maintained ever since Abebe’s