By Paul Gains
Ethiopia has produced many great distance runners over the years and Dinknesh Mekash could very well join the higher echelon.
The 28 year old will line up at the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 20th expecting her good fortunes to continue. Although she is ranked only 13th in her own country her spectacular 4th place finish at this year’s Paris Marathon turned heads.
Her time of 2:25:09 there was a personal best by more than three and a half minutes. Most significantly she has developed a habit of running faster every time she lines up for the 42.195km distance.
“I have never been to North America,” she reveals, “I don’t have any information on the Toronto Waterfront marathon, it’s the first time that I will participate in this race. I want to have a good result and a personal best time.”
No doubt she will have been made aware that the Toronto course record is 2:22:43 and was set by Kenya’s Sharon Cherop in 2010, and equaled by Ethiopia’s Koren Yal in 2011. The course record bonus is $35,000 while a victory is worth $20,000.
Her Netherlands-based management group, Global Sports Communications, home of former world record holder Haile Gebrselassie and reigning Olympic champion, Tiki Gelana, have sent athletes to this IAAF Silver Label race previously. And, they will ensure that everything is done to assist her performance in Toronto.
The Paris result doesn’t tell the complete story of her performance in the ‘City of Lights’. According to Jurrie Van der Velden of Global Sports Communications, the night before her race she discovered there were no pacemakers designated to tow her along to her objective. So she decided to go out with the leaders, hard and fast, even though they were looking for a time in the 2:21-22 range.
Some would consider the suicidal pace foolish but she ran with them through the halfway point at roughly 1:10:30. Her personal best marathon at the time was 2:28:46; good, but a major step below her competitors. Indeed, she had no business going out that fast. As predicted, she faded in the latter stages of the race but clung to 4th place. With more sensible pacing she knows she is certainly capable of lowering her best time once again.
The Toronto race organisers will provide pacemakers for the elite women and if the environmental conditions are helpful it will all be up to Mekash to follow through against the world class field. Van der Velden believes a 2:22 - 2:23 clocking is entirely possible.
Dinknesh, which means “wondrous one” in Amharic, grew up in the town of Bekoji, the renowned “Town of Runners” which happens to be the birthplace of the Bekele brothers and Dibaba sisters.
As a young athlete she was brought to Addis Ababa by the organisation ‘Running Across Borders’ and given coaching, accommodation and support to pursue a running career. The founder, Malcolm Anderson says she was the first to be part of the program and a classic example of what they are trying to do in East Africa: use sport to help youth achieve success in life.
In 2010, Mekash traveled outside of her country for the first time, flying to Scotland to participate in the Loch Ness Marathon. She won in 2:46:39.
Anderson recalls her amusement at seeing radiators used for heating the home. The arrival of the mail each day also caught her attention. She was less enthusiastic about the freezing cold temperatures and rain that she experienced during her entire visit. A year later she joined the Global Sports Communication training group coached by renowned Ethiopian coach Getaneh Tessema. The group includes 2012 Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana whom Mekash considers an inspiration.
The management team first entered her in a road race in Uganda. The conditions were less than ideal - hot, humid and at high altitude. They promised her that a top three position would result in an invitation to a top European marathon. Her second place finish earned her a berth in the Hamburg Marathon. Again she surprised with a time of 2:29:56 at the German race.
“I was inspired by Elfenesh Alemu (4th in 2004 Olympic marathon, 2003 Tokyo winner) in the beginning,” Mekesh says. “Tiki Gelana has been an inspiration to me. It’s very interesting training with Getaneh and the group, I am so happy with Getaneh. I train all the best places -- Entoto, Arar, Sendafa and Sululta.”
Earlier this year she also ran 2:28:46 for second place in the Mumbai marathon before her astonishing Paris run. The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will, therefore, be her third marathon of 2013. Nobody would bet against her adding another personal best to her resume.
For further information on Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, see STWM.ca.