Million Wolde, Sydney Gold Medalist, Returns, by Pat Butcher


Million Wolde, the 2000 Olympic champion at 5,000 meters and the 2001 World Champion silver medalist at 5,000 meters, slipped out into athletics minutaue, from which he had emerged ever so quickly in 2000.

Now, in a come back, the junior standout, at the ripe old age of 28, will be running the RAK half marathon on Friday, February 8. Pat Butcher, our man about the world of athletics, has sent this correspondence on the night before the RAK half marathon:

Ras Al Khaimah, Thursday, February 7, 0900gmt

It was no surprise when an Ethiopian won the men’s Olympic 5000 metres
title in Sydney 2000. What was a shock was that it should be Million
Wolde. Sure, he’d had a good junior career, notably winning the World
Junior title at the same distance two years before in Annecy, France,
in 1998. But his only international form in early 2000 was a 15th place
in the world cross short course (4k) in Vilamoura, Portugal five months
before Sydney.

Speaking in Ras Al Khaimah on Thursday, the day before his return to
competition in the RAK half-marathon in the tiny Emirate (UAE), Wolde
concedes that there were many men faster than him in the slow-run
Sydney final. “(Ali) Saïdi-Sief was fast, and so was (Brahim) Lahlafi,
but on the last lap, I was faster. I always thought I could win”. Wolde
ran the last lap in 53 seconds, relegating the much fancied Saïdi-Sief
of Algeria to second and Lahlafi of Morocco to third.

But unofficial Ethiopian team manager, Getaneh Tessema sums up the
general feeling, even for Wolde’s colleagues. “Of course it was a big
surprise for everybody. Million, Olympic champion? Nobody expected him
even to be in the top three. Even his expectation was not like that”.

But Wolde underlined his new status by going on to win the 5000 metres
silver medal in the World Championships in Edmonton the following year.
He ran some reasonable, if not scintillating times in 2002, but since
then, we’ve barely heard a word from him.

“I started to get problems in 2003,” he says, “first in my back and
then in my right leg. I had treatement in Addis, and in Germany, and in
Saudi (Arabia). I had a small operation, and was in plaster for almost
three months. I started back running in the swimming pool, but I
couldn’t run properly for a year or more”.

Wolde, now 28, had an chronic version of the common affliction for the
distance runner, known as ‘shin splints,’ severe inflammation of
connective tissue in the front of the leg. Whereas the enforced rest
usually clears up the condition in weeks, if not months, Wolde’s
incapacity would stretch to five years. “My normal weight was between
58 and 62 kilograms, but I went up to 79”.

He attempted a comeback two years ago in a four miles road race in
Groningen, in the Netherlands. “I was tenth, but the problem came back.
But now, I’ve been able to train for six months without a problem”.

Wolde is unusual in that he is one of the very few Ethiopian athletes
of renown to hail from the capital, Addis Ababa. “We even call him
‘city-boy,’ says Getaneh, who is married to Gete Wami, incidentally.
“The reason most athletes come from the provinces is that they walk a
long way to school, so get a good basic fitness that the city children
don’t get, with cars and television”.

Wolde admits that he was a football (soccer) fanatic at school. “But I
also liked running in the forest, and when I was 17, I joined one of
the bank teams”. Within a year, he was finishing fifth in the
steeplechase in the World Junior Championhips in Sydney, a location
where he would strike the purest of athletics gold four years later.

Now weighing in at 68 kilos, still a little more than he’d like, he’s
making no promises or predictions for the RAK ‘half’ on Friday, a race
packed with current stars from neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania. “I’d
like to run a marathon, but I need to lose a little more weight, get to
beteen 62 and 65 (kilos). Tomorrow will show what I need to do”.

Last year’s race was won in 58.53, and with four sub-60min men in
Friday morning’s event, organisers confidently expect at least two or
three of them to go close to 59 minutes, if not faster. Someone
suggests 62 minutes to Wolde. He shrugs and smiles. “He’s come here to
do two things,” says Getaneh. “To test himself, and to keep in touch
with the sport. If he can do 62 minutes, it will be really something”.

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