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Haile Gebrselassie’s Great Ethiopian Run sees fast races, tight finishes

A pair of Ethiopians took the wins in some of the fastest times in the event's 20-year history

Runners at a Marathon

On Sunday, the Great Ethiopian Run was held in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and thousands of runners showed up to compete in the 10K race. This marked the 20th running of the event, which was created by Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebrselassie. The elite races, which featured 300 athletes, saw two close finishes, with Ethiopians Abe Gashahun and Tsigie Gebreselama taking the wins in the men’s and women’s races by one and two seconds, respectively. In total, more than 12,000 runners participated in the race, which is reportedly the biggest African sporting event to take place since the start of the pandemic. 

The elite races 

In 2018, Gebreselama finished in third at the Great Ethiopian Run. The year after, she upgraded to a second-place finish. On Sunday, at what was still billed as the 2020 race, she ran to the win, completing a three-year climb to the top of the podium. She crossed the line in 32:33, finishing two seconds ahead of Medihen Gebreselasie and 10 seconds in front of Gebeyanesh Ayele, both of whom are also Ethiopian. Gebreselama’s result is the fourth-fastest time in race history. 

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In the men’s race, Gashahun took the win in 28:20, finishing just one second off the 15-year-old course record of 28:19. This is Gashahun’s second win at the Great Ethiopian Run, adding to his victory from 2016. Gashahun’s fellow Ethiopians Milkesa Mengesha and Tadese Worku made him work hard for the win, and the trio battled for the top spot throughout most of the race. While Mengesha eventually faded to a 28:40 third-place finish, Worku stuck it out until the very end, falling just short of the win in 28:21. 

As noted on the event website, the run takes place at more than 2,300m above sea level, which accounts for slower results than elites would normally run. For context, 76 Ethiopian men have run faster than Gashahun’s 28:20 winning time and 118 Ethiopian women have better PBs than Gebreselama’s 32:33 result. 

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COVID-19 guidelines  

While the Great Ethiopian Run hosted a shockingly large field of athletes, there were COVID-19 guidelines in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved. First, the event was moved from its original November 2020 run date until Sunday to give organizers more time to prepare for a COVID-friendly race.

The next-biggest change was the reduction of the field size from the pre-pandemic cap of 50,000 runners down to 12,500. Masks were mandatory on race day (other than when on the course), all athletes had their temperatures checked before the run and the race featured a wave start to make social distancing easier during the 10K.

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The call to hold the event with such a large field drew criticism from many people in the international running community, but Gebrselassie and his Great Ethiopian Run team ultimately moved forward with their event, reportedly working closely with local health experts and government officials.