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Tirunesh Dibaba at the Prefontaine Classic 2013
Photo taken from the Prefontaine Classic 2013 site

Ethiopians are said to be good runners. Although this is a bit of a stereotype, there is a big truth behind it.
I think it has to do more with opportunity, easy access and motivation than with any other thing. The same way Argentines are good at soccer, Ethiopians are good at running.
Every little kid in Argentina has a soccer ball, it’s the favorite past time during weekends, it is cheap and entertaining, and often times it is the only chance to get out of poverty by becoming an international soccer star.
If you go to Ethiopia, you’ll see that, specially in the country, people walk everywhere, all the time, for hours everyday. It’s only natural that to decrease walking times, children run. To go to school, to run errands, or simply for fun.
In addition to that, if they live in a high altitude place their bodies build a natural strength to harsh conditions, so if they run well at 3,000 feet, for sure running at sea level is a piece of cake for them.
Also parents encourage running, and children have good role models in already famous Ethiopians that they try to emulate.
We have then the perfect combination for a good runner: motivation and opportunity.
What about Ethiopian kids adopted abroad? Will they turn up to be good runners just because of their birth place?
And here is my surprise… from my three Ethiopians children, two of them do really enjoy running, even when we are not a family of runners.
My son runs for the pleasure of doing it, he just loves to run and run and run and probably if he keeps doing it he will become a good long distance runner.
My oldest daughter arrived home already with the Ethiopian mentality of running as a national pastime, but her reason for doing it is to compete. Although she loves running, she loves winning even more.
She has the lean muscular body of a runner, she enjoys it, and craves for victory.
I do encourage my children running passion, not because I want them to be famous, but because it builds their self esteem, specially my daughter, who is still having a hard time adjusting to her new home.
When she runs, she’s happy. While in all the other fronts she’s struggling, when she runs, she wins.
To be honest, she’s good at any sport she tackles. She went from never knowing what a swimming pool was to swimming full laps in just three months! The same I can say about roller-skating, bicycling, soccer, basketball, etc.
I enrolled my two run loving kids in a track and field camp for this summer and we will see what comes out of it.
We also went to Eugene to watch the Ethiopian Olympic runners at the Prefontaine Classic and we really enjoyed it.
The truth is that for every runner that makes it, there are hundreds left behind, but I don’t see any harm in encouraging children into taking a sport. Time will tell what will come out of it, but at least now, they are having fun and exercising, and in some level they are connecting to their roots.


Why are Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners so good? (.pdf) The Runner’s Physio
East African Distance Runners: What Makes Them So Good?
The Ethiopian town that’s home to the world’s greatest runners The Guardian UK
Town of Runners Film
Ethiopian Athletics Legends