Focus on Athletes – Zersenay Tadese

Eritrean Sport: ZERSENAY Tadese, Eritrea (10,000m, Cross Country, Road Races)

Born 8 February 1982, Adi Bana, Eritrea
1.60m x 56kg
Coach: Jeronimo Bravo

Younger brother, Kidane Tadese (b. 1 January 1987), is a 5000m/10,000m and cross country specialist, who finished 6th at the World Junior Championships 2006 (5000m), was a double finalist at the Beijing Olympic Games (10th at 5000m, 12th at 10,000m) and again a finalist at the World Championships in Berlin 2009 (9th at 10,000m). He boasts a lifetime best of 27:06.16 set in Neerpelt (Belgium) on 31 May 2008.

Already a quadruple World Half Marathon/Road Running champion (2006-2009) Zersenay Tadese confirmed himself as the leader of the discipline when setting the World record in 58:23 at the Lisbon Half Marathon on 21 March 2010, and will be the man to beat at the 2010 edition of the World Half Marathon championships in Nanning.

Given the background of conflict in his home country of Eritrea, Zersenay Tadese had a relatively trouble-free childhood. One of seven children, he grew up in a family which was neither rich nor poor and which lived some 200km from the capital, Asmara, and was less affected by fighting.

Zersenay began his sports career in cycling, his first love, in the second half of the 1990s, winning a series of races in Eritrea He dreamt of a career as a professional cyclist in Europe but soon realised that, coming from the country he did, it was an impossible dream. He was used to 30-50 km races and was not prepared for European races, which are held over longer distances.

However, Zersenay considers his background in cycling very important to his development as an athlete as it helped to build his endurance base during his teenage years. He was spotted by local athletics talent scouts, who invited him to take part in an athletics race, which he won. He went on to win other races and carried on his running career.

Zersenay began running seriously in 2002, at which time the world’s best known Eritrean distance runner was an American – Mebrahtom Keflezighi, winner of multiple US championships, and surprise silver medallist in the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon. But another surprise in Athens, in the 10,000m, made it clear that the small East African country had begun to develop some of its talent at home. Zersenay collected an Olympic bronze medal for Eritrea, finishing behind the formidable Ethiopian duo of Kenenisa Bekele and Sileshi Sihine (and ahead of Haile Gebrselassie).

Since 2004, Zersenay has established himself as the pre-eminent Eritrean-born distance runner with a series of brilliant performances in his favoured range of 10km to Half Marathon, culminating in three consecutive world titles at the World Road Running/Half Marathon Championships, in Debrecen, Hungary, in 2006 (56:01 for 20km), Udine, Italy in 2007 (58:59 for 21km) and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2008 (59:56 for 21km). He also took the first Eritrean gold medal in the history of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, in Mombasa, in March 2007.

In Mombasa, Zersenay produced one of the greatest upsets of recent athletics history when he defeated Kenenisa Bekele, winner of five long course and short course World Cross Country double titles. In a dramatic race held in very hot and humid weather conditions, Bekele was forced to drop out with stomach problems during the fifth lap of the 12km men’s race.

The Eritrean’s first appearances on the international scene in 2002 were in these same events: he finished a modest but creditable 30th in the World Cross Country 12km, in Dublin in March, and 21st a few weeks later in the World Half Marathon Championships, in Brussels (63:05). He went on in August to finish 6th in the 10,000m (28:47.29) at the African Championships, in Tunis.

The following winter he was something of a power on the European cross country circuit. In six competitions he never finished worse than 3rd. In the 12km at the 2003 World Cross Country Championships, in Lausanne, he came in 9th.

Zersenay improved that position by one in the World Championship 5000m, in Paris, setting a personal and national record 13:05.57, and improved one more position (7th) in his next global competition in October, the World Half Marathon Championship, in Vilamoura, Portugal (61:26).

In March 2004 he bettered his placing yet again, taking 6th in the 12km at the World Cross Country Championships, in Brussels. And, in a low-key meeting in Spain, in June, he ran 10,000m in 27:32.61, another personal and national best, beating an international field by nearly a minute. So for anyone paying attention, Zersenay’s bronze medal in the Olympic 10,000m (27:22.57, a ten-second PB in 30+ degree temperatures) should not have been such a shock. Neither should his 7th (13:24.31) in the Olympic 5000m eight days later.

The following spring, after a busy season on the Spanish cross country and road circuit, he improved from bronze to silver in global competition, taking 2nd behind Kenenisa in the 12km at the 2005 World Cross Country Championships, in Saint-Etienne/Saint-Galmier, France. His relentless progress up the podium slipped at the World Championships, in Helsinki, where he doubled, as he had in Athens. He finished a lowly 14th in the 5000m (13:40.27), perhaps suffering the effects of the punishing 10,000m six days earlier, where he notched a national record 27:12.82 but came in only 6th. He improved the national record again by eight seconds a few weeks later in Brussels (27:04.70 for 7th).

From September 2005, when he won the Great North Run Half Marathon, in what was then a world’s quickest time (59:05), until November 2008, he finished worse than 2nd only four times in 32 races of 9km or more. Those were his 4th places in the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, in Fukuoka, and in the 10,000m at the 2007 Osaka World Championships, in Osaka (27:21.37), his 3rd place at the 2008 World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh and his 5th in the 10000 metres at the Olympic Games in Bejing (27:05.11).

In 2006 and 2007, in addition to his victories in the World Road Running Championships, and the 2007 World Cross Country Championships, Zersenay’s podium finishes over the two years included a 27-second win in the 10,000m at the 2007 All Africa Games (27:00.30 in steamy Algiers), and five 2nd places, including a national record 26:37.25 in the 2006 Brussels Golden League 10,000m behind Kenyan Micah Kogo’s World leading 26:35.63. A few weeks before the 2007 World Road Running Championships, on 23 September 2007 he scored a gun to tape victory in the Dam tot Damloop 10 miles in the Netherlands, winning by 29 seconds in a PB 45:52.

In Udine, Zersenay clinched his second consecutive World Road Running title in one of the greatest half marathon races in history, clocking 58:59 to climb to fourth place in the World all-time list. It was a new national and championships record in what was regarded as a great race in which seven men dipped under the 60 minutes-barrier.

Zersenay’s victories aroused much enthusiasm among his compatriots. Eritrean supporters travelled 650 km from the Eritrean community in Rome to the North-Eastern Italian town of Udine to celebrate the victory of their illustrious countryman. “Today it felt like the whole of Eritrea was running with me,” he said. “I dedicate my win to the Eritrean people.

“The young generations will be motivated by my victories to pursue their dream of a career in athletics. I am now the most popular sportsman in Eritrea, perhaps one of the best-known personalities together with politicians.”

Despite the fierce athletics rivalry with runners from Kenya, he expresses sweet words for them. “We are rivals during the competition but I have much respect for them. Outside competitions we are all like brothers”.

Zersenay, who is based for most of the year in Madrid, where he is guided by t Spanish coach, Jeronimo Bravo, geared up for his World Cross Country title defence in 2008 with a series of IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings. He finished runner-up to Kenenisa Bekele by just one second in Edinburgh on 12 January. The following week he was held off by Uganda’s rising star Moses Kipsiro in another close race in Sevilla.

In his final international test, at the Cinque Mulini, in San Vittore Olona, Zersenay defeated former 5000 metres World champion Eliud Kipchoge in what the Eritrean described as a “very tough race” over a muddy course, which was the best preparation for the World Championships in Edinburgh.

In Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, Zersenay Tadese was unable to repat his Mombasa title, but finished third behind Kenenisa Bekele and young Kenyan Leonard Komon completing a full set of World Cross Country medals: silver in 2005, gold in 2007 and bronze in 2008.

Zersenay then ran very sparingly during the 2008 track season. In his only appearance on the track he finished third in the 3000 metres in Zaragoza (31 May) in 7:45.25.

In the 10,000m metres Olympic Final in Bejing, Zersenay’s brother Kidane Tadese did much of the work in the first part of the race, leading the pack through 5000 metres in 13:48.00. Over the final four kilometres, the race was marked by several lead changes. The leading pack which included Tadese was reduced to six runners in the last kilometre.

Just before the bell Kenenisa pulled away, followed by Sileshi Sihine and Haile Gebrselassie, clocking 53.42 in the last lap to take a second consecutive Olympic Games title in a new Olympic record of 27:01.17. Sileshi collected his second consecutive Olympic silver medal while Kenyan Micah Kogo narrowly edged countryman Moses Masai by just 0.001 in a very close battle for the bronze medal. Zersenay finished 5th in 27:05.11, exactly one second slower than Kogo, but he managed to overhaul Haile in the last lap.

In Rio de Janeiro 2008 Zersenay Tadese scored an unprecedented hat-trick of titles at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. In the Brazilian “Marvellous City” the Eritrean dominated the competition with a solo race from 5km clocking 59:56, nearly two minutes ahead of 2007 World Half Marathon silver medallist Patrick Makau from Kenya (1:01.54) and 2004 World bronze medallist Ahmad Hassan Abdullah from Qatar (1:01:57). In the process Zersenay also contributed to the silver medal for Eritrea in the men’s team contest.

With just 12 minutes on the clock Zersenay killed off the hopes of his rivals to put an end to his reign in this event by taking an unchallenged lead. Tadese passed in 27:55 at 10km leading with a gap of nearly half a minute over his next opponent. By 15km the Eritrean continued to increase his gap to one and half minutes

“It was not my plan to attack at 5km. I just had in my mind that I would test the situation at that point”, commented Zersenay after his win in Rio. “If the leaders were going too slow for me, I would push, but if the pace was good I would follow. The pace was not good. I was confident to win. I went into hard training to prepare especially for this race. My body told me I was in good shape. The third win in the World Half Marathon Championships is very special for me.”

After his win in the Brazilian city Tadese announced his plan to make his debut over the marathon distance in spring 2009.

The 2008 year ended on a joyous note. On 16 November 2008 Tadese married Merhawit Solomon in Asmara. The wedding had 2500 guests and was broadcast live on Eritrean Television.

Before his much-anticipated debut over the 42km distance, Tadese contested some cross country races during the 2009 winter season in preparation for the World Cross Country Championships in Amman.

In his first European cross country race of the season, Tadese finished third in the Bupa Edinburgh IAAF Permit Cross Country race in January on the Holyrood Park course which had played host to the 2008 World Cross Country Championships. In the Scottish capital Tadese, who was runner-up in the two previous editions of this cross country meeting, finished third in a high-class race behind Ethiopian Abebe Dinkesa and Kenyan Mangata Ndiwa (World Junior Cross Country champion in 2006).

At the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman (Jordan) Tadese started as one of the greatest favourites in the absence of Kenenisa Bekele. In the Jordanian capital Tadese, who was in the middle of his preparation for his marathon debut in London, finished third behind Ethiopian gold medallist Gebregziaber Gebremariam and Uganda’s silver medallist Moses Kipsiro. Tadese thus completed seven years in a row in the top ten and five successive years in the top four at the World Cross Country Championships. He was not the only member of his family competing in Amman. Kidane Tadese finished 56th in the senior race, while their younger brother Merhawi crossed the finish-line in 21st place in the junior race.

The London Marathon on 26 April marked the start of his marathon career but his race against a star-studded field led by Olympic Marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru did not go according to plan. Tadese went through 21km mark in a breathtaking 61:36 in the leading group which featured Wanjiru, Emmanuel Mutai, Tsegaye Kebede at a World record pace (Gebrselassie passed in 62:04 in his World record race in Berlin). The leading group reached t25km in 1:13:35, still running at a World record pace (Gebrselassie passed in 1:13.40) but the pace fell behind World record schedule after the 25km mark for the first time during the race. Tadese passed at 30km in 1:29:07 when Wanjiru and Kebede made their first bid to pull away from the rest of the field. Tadese, who had stayed with the leading group until the 25km mark, found the rhythm too tough and dropped out soon after passing in 1:45.44 at 35km (Wanjiru went through in 1:43:18).

At the end of June, Tadese won his first 5000 metres race in three years with a solo race in a Spanish meeting in Malaga, where he clocked 13:07.02 in his only track appearance before the IAAF World Championships in Berlin.

In the German capital, he won the silver medal behind four-time 10000 metres World champion Kenenisa Bekele in a super-fast race. After a slow start in the Berlin Olympic Stadium, moderate km splits (2:46.24, 2:48.00, 2:45.31, 2:45.20) in the first 4 kilometres and a halfway mark clocked in 13:40 (5km split in 2:35.70), Tadese increased the pace in the second half and covered each lap in 64 seconds or faster. Only Bekele, Micah Kogo and Moses Masai managed to follow the fierce pace set by Tadese who continued pushing with the following two km splits clocked in 2:38.30 and 2:38.98. At 9km only Bekele managed to stay with Tadese who led at the bell passing in 25:48.91. Bekele followed on the heels of the Eritrean for most of the race until 400 metres to go before launching his winning kick in the last lap. Bekele won his fourth World title over this distance in a new Championships record (running a staggering 13:05 in the second half).

Tadese, who ran his first 10,000 metres of the year in Berlin, dipped under t27 minutes with an outstanding 26:50.12, the second fastest time of his career. It was the first medal for Eritrea in the history of the IAAF World Championships in Athletics.

“The race was tough because I ran in front for many laps”, said Tadese after Berlin. “I am happy because it is the first time I finished second at the World Championships.”

The talented Eritrean then recorded his fourth consecutive win in the IAAF World Half Marathon/Road Running Championships in Birmingham on 11 October 2009 in 59:35, a Championships record.

In Lisbon, Tadese eclipsed the previous best n 58:33 clocked by Kenya’s Samuel Wanjiru in 2007, running alone against the clock from the 10th kilometre, was four seconds behind the 15km world best, but picked up at the pace from then on to set his first World record at 20km in 55:21 (bettering the 55:48 best registered in 2006 by the great Haile Gebreselassie) before closing the half marathon distance triumphally in 58:23, smashing Wanjiru’s previous best by 10 seconds.

“I’m in a good shape. Kilometre after kilometre I achieved more courage and determination and always believed that I can get the World record,” he told he IAAF website after his exploit, adding, “I hope to be in the same shape and to use the same skills to try for the World record in the London Marathon.”

However, a month later in London, Tadese was only able to achieve what was for him a disappointing seventh in his debut marathon, clocking 2:12:03 in London.

The multi-talented Eritrean, who has won medals at World Championships on track, cross country and road running, now heads to Nanning in search of a fifth consecutive crown in the IAAF World Half Marathon/Road Running Championships.

Note that ZersenayTadese has confirmed that his surname, originally misspelt Tadesse with double “s”, is correctly spelt Tadese with one “s”.

Personal Bests

3000m: 7:39.93 (2005)
5000m: 12:59.27 (2006)
10,000m: 26.37.25 (2006)
10km: 27:24 (2007)
15km: 42:17 (2005) and 41.34 (2007 in Udine on the way to 21km)
20 km: 55:21+ WR (2010) (en route to his HM WR)
Half Marathon: 58:23 WR (2010)

Yearly Progression
5000/10,000m: 2002 – 13:48.79/–; 2003 – 13:05.57/–; 13:13.74/ 27.22.57; 2005 – 13:12.23 / 27:04.70; 2006 – 12:59.27 / 26:37.25; 2007 — / 27:00.30; 2008 — / 27:05.11; 2009 – 13:07.02 / 26:50.12; 2010 – -/-:

Half Marathon/Marathon: 2002 – 63:05/-; 2003 – 61:26/-; 2004 – -/-; 2005 – 59:05 WR/-; 2006 – 59:16/-; 2007 – 58:59/-; 2008 – 59:56/-; 2009 59:35/-; – 2010 – 58:23 WR/2:12.03

Career Highlights
2002 30th World Cross Country Championships
2002 21st World Half Marathon Championships
2002 6th African Championships, 10,000m
2003 9th World Cross Country Championships
2003 8th World Championships, 5000m
2003 7th World Half Marathon Championships
2004 6th World Cross Country Championships
2004 3rd Olympic Games, 10,000m
2004 7th Olympic Games, 5000m
2005 2nd World Cross Country Championships
2005 6th World Championships, 10,000m
2005 14th World Championships, 5000m
2006 4th World Cross Country Championships
2006 1st World Road Running Championships, 20k
2007 1st World Cross Country Championships
2007 1st All Africa Games, 10,000m
2007 4th World Championships 10,000m
2007 1st World Road Running Championships, 21k
2008 3rd World Cross Country Championships
2008 5th Olympic Games, 10,000m
2009 3rd World Cross Country Championships
2009 2nd World Championships, 10,000m
2009 1st World Half Marathon Championships
2010 1st Lisbon Half Marathon
2010 7th London Marathon

Prepared by Diego Sampaolo and John Manners for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project, Copyright IAAF 2003-2010.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.