The three-time Olympic gold medallist makes her comeback at the 10km road race, which she describes as being a “test” ahead of Rio
Tirunesh Dibaba will be using Sunday’s Great Manchester Run as a test on her road to the Rio Olympics – a Games which the Ethiopian distance running great says could be her last.
The three-time Olympic gold medallist, who won 5000m and 10,000m gold medals in 2008 and then retained her title over the longer distance in 2012, hasn’t competed since the 2014 edition of the Manchester 10km event after giving birth to her first child, Nathan Sileshi, in March 2015.
Dibaba hopes to make further history in her incredible career this summer by becoming the first athlete to win three Olympic gold medals over 10,000m, or indeed the first woman to win three successive Olympic titles in any individual event, and the next step on that journey is her return to the roads this weekend.
“I have prepared well for this race,” she tells AW, speaking through an interpreter. “As you know, this is my first race since I gave birth so it is a test for me to run here. I have prepared as much as I can.
“This race will be like a trial test for me,” she adds, “because I have not raced for a long time.”
“This is my first race since I gave birth so it is a test for me to run here. I have prepared as much as I can”
Although now pleased with her preparations, the five-time world gold medallist on the track does admit that initially she found it tough to build her way back.
“I had some doubts because I had a lot of kilos (weight) and things like that and I thought it was not going to be very easy,” she says. “But luckily I have come back faster than I thought.”
On balancing motherhood with her life as an athlete, Dibaba – who is married to two-time Olympic and three-time world silver medallist Sileshi Sihine – adds: “It is a totally new life! I come back from training, I have to be with him, he wants to play with me. It’s not like I could do before, when I could just sleep and do things like that. Now you have to balance between your training and your child.
“He is a very nice boy,” she continues. “His behaviour is good for me and for the family.”
While completing a treble in Rio is the aim for Dibaba this year, in Manchester the 30-year-old will be going for another third title after her wins in 2013 and 2014, the former secured in a course record-breaking time of 30:49.
“It is one of my favourite places so I wanted to run here,” says the 5000m world record-holder. “The atmosphere is good and I have had good performances here so that is why I wanted to run here.
“I have trained well and I expect to do well but I cannot exactly predict what I am going to do. I am going to do my best.”
On how the women’s 10,000m might have moved on in the time she has been away from competitive action, Dibaba says: “Not much has changed!
“In long distance, the 10,000m, there are very strong athletes – it is a challenge. It is going to be a big challenge.”
“This is a very important Olympics because maybe it could be my last one. I am not sure. My big thing is to get there”
Dibaba is targeting a quick time on the track to help secure her spot on the Ethiopian team for Rio, with her return over 25 laps set to come within the next month.
Ever modest, when discussing the significance of possibly another Olympic title and her position as one of the greatest distance runners of all time, Dibaba insists: “I haven’t thought about that!
“It’s a long way because first we have to get the minimum to qualify for the team,” she adds.
“This is a very important Olympics because maybe it could be my last one. I am not sure. My big thing is to get there.”
Joining Dibaba on the roads of Manchester this weekend is her compatriot Kenenisa Bekele, who had also been intending to use the 10km event as a step on his own road to Rio. After similarly incredible success on the track – including three Olympic titles and five world gold medals – Bekele’s aim this year had been the Olympic marathon.
The 5000m and 10,000m world record-holder finished third in last month’s London Marathon despite only being “70%” fit – not the 90% he says he was quoted as being before the race – after injury, but his Olympic dreams were dealt a blow on Thursday when he was listed only as a reserve, along with Lelisa Desisa and Adhane Tsegay, for the Ethiopia men’s marathon team which features Tesfaye Abera, Lemi Berhanu and Feyisa Lelisa.
“It is a short time to do another race for qualification to change event,” he told AW before the team announcement when discussing whether he would consider a return to the track should he not be selected for the Olympic marathon. “To change events is not easy. After a marathon you need a long time to prepare for a track race, so it will be not easy. I am waiting.”
» A preview to the Great Manchester Run can be found here, with more in the latest AW magazine, while the May 26 edition of Athletics Weekly will include in-depth coverage, pictures and results from the race