Ethiopia

Bekoji. The Runners’ Town

If you look at the birth certificates of the best Marathon runners in the world, you will discover that many of them come from Bekoji, Ethiopia. This small and isolated town lies in the south of the country and is becoming famous for being the “town of runners”. In recent years, 6 runners from Bekoji won at least one Olympic gold medal for long distance running. Amongst the town’s most famous runners are Kenenisa Bekele, world record holder in both the 5000 metres and 10,000 metres for men, and Tirunesh Dibaba, the women’s 5000 metres world record holder.

Wha’t’s Bekoji’s secret? It seems to be a combination of environmental and social factors: the 2800 meters elevation gives it thin and clean air, beside this there are no cars, but the main thing is the hard training and the will to succeed. At 6am at least 50 teenagers gather together in the forest near Bekoji to train among the trees, roots, and mud, running up and down the trails. They do it six days a week from the age of 16. The running fever affects the whole town. Almost everybody wears running shoes even though they are farmers, barbers or stone breakers. When the running shoes get old, there are cobblers specialized in fixing them, recycling fabric and rubber from other objects. Usually they are runners as well. In a few years, some of these kids will win gold medals, stay in luxury hotels and sign contracts with Nike or Puma. But they’ll never forget where they come from and how they reach success

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