Berihu Aregawi – Ethiopia’s next great hope?

The 10,000m Olympic title belongs to Ethiopia. Selemon Berega’s incredible final 600m took the title away from an expectant Joshua Cheptegui and installed himself as the 25-lap king. Not far behind was another Ethiopian, one used to stalking the more famous stars but who shows increasing signs of setting the pace. Berihu Aregawi could be Ethiopia’s new distance phenomenon.

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    2018 and chasing Kipruto

    Aregawi is from Atsbi Womberta, a small town in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia. He only began to take the sport seriously at the age of 14. He’s caught up fast.

    Aregawi is from a gifted generation. In 2018 he made his debut outside Ethiopia, finishing third over 10,000m behind Rhonex Kipruto and Jacob Kiplimo in the World U20 Champs in Tampere. A good start but not groundbreaking for a nation that has won 40 golds throughout the championship’s history. Only the USA, Kenya and Russia have won more than Ethiopia.

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    Whilst Kiplimo and Kipruto broke barriers, Aregawi made steady progress in the background. In August over 3000m he ran 7.42 and 13.15 over 5000m ten days later. Mind-bending runs for a 17-year-old but efforts we have begun to normalise in an era of incredible junior running.

    At the end of the year Aregawi ran in the Youth Olympic Games Cross-County, being outsprinted by Kenya’s Jackson Muema for gold. It was a solid introductory year to international running.

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    Winning the Great Ethiopia Run

    2019 was quiet for Aregawi but did not go without one highly impressive win. The Great Ethiopia Run is an annual 10km race held at the altitude of Addis Ababa (c. 2,300m). Times should therefore be slow if not for the world-class calibre of the runners.

    Deriba Merga holds the course record from 2006 when he ran 28.18. Since then Mosinet Geremew, Hagos Gebrhiwet, Tamirat Tola and Selemon Berega have all tried to beat it.

    None have come closer than an 18-year-old Berihu Aregawi. 28.23, Aregawi had put the world on notice.

    Senior impressions

    If not for the coronavirus pandemic, Aregawi’s arrival on the senior stage may have come much sooner. In February of 2020, in the days running up to his 19th birthday he won in Metz over 3000m before finishing fifth in the World Indoor Tour in Lievin (7.35.78).

    His only other appearance that year was a narrow defeat to Nicholas Kimeli at the Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi. A 13.08.91 run at altitude represented another step forward but again a mark likely to go under the radar.

    A breakthrough 2021

    Aregawi’s 2021 opener was a return to Lieven. A 7.29.24 clocking in any other year would have had us talking of Aregawi as a Tokyo contender for gold over 5000m. Eighth on the all-time list it was only good enough for fourth on the day as Getnet Wale came within 0.08s of Daniel Komen’s 23-year-old world record.

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    If Aregawi had doubters he answered them emphatically in the Ethiopian Champs in April, beating Hagos Gebrhiwet, Yomif Kejelcha and Tadesse Worku for gold.

    Two months later he earnt his Olympic place in Hengelo running 26.50 for third and ran well for fourth in Tokyo. There is no great shame in either performance but Aregawi has since shown he is aiming far higher.

    Consistent improvement has Aregawi heading for top

    A fifth place at the Pre Classic over two miles (8.11.04) showed good range but it was at Lausanne that he started to show his class. Running 7.33.39 it was the way he pushed Jakob Ingebrigtsen all the way that will have given him the greatest comfort.

    In Zurich he kicked on, dominating Nicholas Kimeli, Birhanu Balew and Yomif Kejelcha to run sub 13.00 (12.58.65) on the city-centre street track.

    Last week Aregawi rounded off the year in style, winning over 5km in Lille and coming within a second of Joshua Cheptegui’s World 5k record. He did so finishing over 30 seconds clear of second place.

    It marks another year of impressive improvement for Aregawi, a man who is still early on in his professional career.

    If he improves once more he may well find himself with no-one left to follow. Ethiopian running and Berihu Aregawi are in rude health.

    Featured image is an edit of original image Meeting-de-la-Tchaux-champsseries-2021-09-09T011342.692

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