Skip to main content

Africans Among Us: Meet Aspiring Olympian Leul Gebresilasie of Ethiopia

http://mainichi.jp/area/saitama/news/20131203ddlk11040228000c.html

translated by Brett Larner
video courtesy of Ekiden News



With Kawagoe's Tokyo Kokusai University set to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016 its ekiden team, founded in just 2011, hopes to qualify for the Hakone Ekiden for the first time that year.  The driving force behind the team's rapid development is Ethiopian Leul Gebresilasie, 20.  Since arriving at the school's Sakado Campus in April last year, each morning he has arisen early in the team dormitory to head out for morning training.

Morning practice kicks off each day at 5:30 a.m.  Gebresilasie does light warmups together with the other 45 members of the ekiden team before leaving to run 10-15 km at a varying pace.  In his specialty distane, the 5000 m he had a best of 14:06 before coming to Japan, but not long after arriving he showed that he possesses extraordinary talent when he improved this to 13:31.52.  His coach Shuji Oshida, 51, has high expectations, saying, "His true growth is only just getting started.  He has beautiful form and excellent balance."

At the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifier in October Tokyo Kokusai University placed 17th, outside the bracket of thirteen qualifying places for Hakone, but in individual performance Gebresilasie placed 3rd just behind two Kenyans from other universities.  Coach Oshida commented, "He is adapting well to the training environment and is strongly motivated to do his best for the sake of his teammates."

At 171 cm tall, Gebresilasie weighs 56 kg.  His home is in an agricultural area 300 m from the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa.  His father has passed away, leaving his mother Golphe Haile, 60, to take care of both the family farm and raising Gebresilasie, his four brothers and two sisters by herself.  At the age of 16 he began training as a member of the Ethiopian national team, doing the serious training necessary to become a world-class long-distance runner for the first time.  Two years later came his chance to come to Japan. "My mother told me the chance to go to Japan was a great opportunity and that I should make the most of it," he says.  Once a week he and his "darling mother" talk on the phone. "For the sake of my family as well," he says with determination, "I want to accomplish big things here in Japan."

After practice Gebresilasie took us on a tour of his room in the team dormitory.  The room he shares with another team member is roughly 12 square meters.  His bed and desk are lined up neatly next to each other, will his only possessions being a computer and clothes that fit into two bags.  On the small table next to Gebresilasie's bed is a Bible written in Ethiopia's official language Amharic.  A gift from his late father, it is the belonging he holds most dear.  As a devout follower of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church he never fails to pray regularly many time each day.

After graduation Gebresilasie hopes to find a position with a Japanese corporate team and pursue a career as a jitsugyodan runner.  He does not hesitate to put his ultimate dream into words: "To run in the Olympics."

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Kawauchi Breaks Nobeyama Ultra Course Record

2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t) won the longest race of his career to date Sunday in Nagano, taking over six minutes off the Yatsugatake Nobeyama Kogen 71 km Ultramarathon in 4:41:55.

A training run for next month’s Stockholm Marathon, Kawauchi set off solo at a steady pace around 3:45/km. Climbing from 1355 m to 1908 m as he approached 20 km he naturally slowed, but with over 1000 m of descent over the next 30 km he was soon back on track. Hitting the marathon split around 2:39, he was so far ahead of the 2nd placer that the announcer initially forget Kawauchi had already gone by and announced the next runner as the leader.

At 58 km Kawauchi was on track to clear 4:30:00, but hitting the uphills in the final 10 km and feeling the effects of the unfamiliar distance he slowed to almost 5:00/km. But with so much leeway to work with there was never any danger of the 4:48:13 course record slipping out of reach. Kawauchi stopped the clock in 4:41:55, please…

How it Happened

Ancient History I went to Wesleyan University, where the legend of four-time Boston Marathon champ and Wes alum Bill Rodgers hung heavy over the cross-country team. Inspired by Koichi Morishita and Young-Cho Hwang’s duel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics I ran my first marathon in 1993, qualifying for Boston ’94 where Bill was kind enough to sign a star-struck 20-year-old me’s bib number at the expo.

Three years later I moved to Japan for grad school, and through a long string of coincidences I came across a teenaged kid named Yuki Kawauchi down at my neighborhood track. I never imagined he’d become what he is, but right from the start there was just something different about him. After his 2:08:37 breakthrough at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon he called me up and asked me to help him get into races abroad. He’d finished 3rd on the brutal downhill Sixth Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, and given how he’d run the hills in the last 6 km at Tokyo ’11 I thought he’d do well at Boston or New York. “If M…

The Kawauchi Counter

Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …