Dado and Deba make New York an Ethiopian affair

Dado and Deba make New York an Ethiopian affair

Provided by IAAF

New York, USA - Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba finished Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon four seconds apart in first and second place, but their paths first crossed long before that. The two women were recruited as youth members of an athletic club sponsored by the Oromia region police in the central Ethiopian town of Asela some ten years ago.

“We were together, myself, Worku and Buzunesh,” said Dado referring to the days the two women and Buzunesh’s now-husband Worku Beyi started out as runners in the hometown of double Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie, where Dado used to live as the daughter of a merchant.

Dado and Deba parted ways several years ago when Deba’s path took her overseas and she settled in New York, and Dado lived in Addis Ababa and left the athletic club. At this IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday, they found an opportunity to work together.

“This year, Kenyans have been very dominant,” said Dado, who briefly discussed the upcoming New York race with Deba before the start. “As we were warming up, we remarked that there are several of us Ethiopians participating here, and it would be good if we could win the top spots.”

When 2:19:19 London champion Mary Keitany took the race out hard, however, that dream appeared to fade. “Because she’d been running so fast from the very beginning, I didn’t imagine we’d catch her,” said Dado. “The early pace was a bit too fast.”

Deba made a couple of surges with Dado in tow, dropping the rest of the chase pack that was over two minutes behind the leader at the half-way mark, and eventually closed the gap on Keitany. “When we did get closer and we saw her, I was very surprised, and I was very happy we were able to catch her,” said Dado, who then pulled ahead of both her compatriot and then the Kenyan.

“It was a tough race and I didn’t expect this result but I’m very happy to have won New York,” said Dado, who earned her first World Marathon Major victory in 2:23:15, nearly a minute better than her previous best of 2:24:13 set in winning Rome in March.

Dado - ‘I thought the race would never end’

She had been a 100m and 200m runner in school before winning regional 800m and 1500m races that earned her entry into the athletic club as a middle distance runner, but running marathons was an idea that neither emanated from her nor appealed to her at first.

“I had no intentions of doing that,” said Dado, who had begun working with road racing coach Haji Adilo and ran no race longer than a 10K when he suggested she tackle more than four times that distance in 2008. “He was the one who encouraged me and pushed me to start the Marathon.”

Her debut was a 2:37:34 effort in Kosice, Slovakia. “I thought the race would never end,” she said, but she nevertheless made the podium in second place and it was only after that unexpected result that she began to train seriously for the distance. She followed her debut up with, among several other marathons, three consecutive victories in Rome on a course that features cobblestoned roads, starting with a 2:27:34 in 2009. “That course really suits me,” she said.

After skillfully handling the various surfaces of New York’s bridges as well as its hills, once she was inside Central Park and in the lead, Dado was once again running while thinking about the end of a Marathon -- only this time with eagerness to clinch an unexpected victory. “I just wanted it to be over because I knew I was winning,” she said.

A Queen’s reception

That evening, a celebration awaited the winner and runner-up at New York’s Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant. The owner and his wife had given Deba a home and work babysitting their children shortly after she arrived in the United States six years ago and was undergoing treatment for an ankle injury and unable to compete. “It was a good day for her to finish second,” said one of Deba’s former charges, Izana Mengistu, now 14. “It made me and our family proud.”

“They are extremely happy, even more than we are,” said Dado of the restaurant’s staff and clientele, whom she and Deba were happy to accommodate by posing for photographs long after they arrived to cheers and applause. “I’m so happy, and I’m very grateful.”

Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF