Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Run for Oromia: A Few Really Fast Runners

Last weekend’s Run for Oromia may have been the greatest Twin Cities road race that no one knew about.

Some of the top runners in the world sneaked in and out of town with few people even within the running community aware of their presence. Between the 5k and 10k, around 250 runners participated in the 2nd annual event, which took place at Lake Nokomis. While that is certainly a respectable turnout for a relatively new race, it is surprisingly low given the prize purse of well over $30,000.

Tadesse Tola of Ethiopia took the $5000 Run for Oromia 10K title in 28:21 -- the fastest road 10K ever run in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota's Road Running Information Center records. Tola has placed seventh in both the World Cross Country Championships (2007) and the World Road Running Championships (2006). He recently won the NYC Half Marathon in a blazing 1:00:58.

Likewise, Dennis Ndiso of Kenya's 13:57 5K winning time is the fastest 5K ever run in Minnesota. Teyba Naser of Ethiopia won the women's 10K in a strong 33:34, while two-time U.S. Olympian Elva Dryer won the 5K in 16:14.

Mary Anderson of Anderson Race Managment, which managed the event, said, “I think the turnout was low because of the number of events that were going on this past weekend."

The race was held in conjunction with the annual Oromo Festival. While the festival moves to Atlanta in 2009, the race will be back here in the Twin Cities.

Said Anderson, “We will be sitting down and looking at the calendar in the next few weeks and hope to get it on a weekend where there aren't so many competing races."

Unlike some of the larger races that rely on the entry fees of the masses to fund the prize purse, the Run for Oromia has a benefactor with what seem to be very deep pockets. Mike Abebe, an Oromo real estate developer who lives in Atlanta and is the founder of the Oliqaa Foundation, established the race in order to recognize the Oromo people and the great Oromo running tradition. Minneapolis is home to the largest Oromo population in the United States, many of whom fled persecution in Ethiopia, so it is a natural place to hold the race.

According to the Run for Oromia web site, “the Oromo people, estimated at 40 million, constitute 40-50 percent of the Ethiopian population, and are one of the largest ethno national groups in the whole of Africa.” So why have many of us never heard of Oromia? The Oromo people are governed by Ethiopia, “a nation where their basic human rights, as Oromos, are non-existent," according to the web-site.

Many Oromo running greats have achieved international acclaim under the flag of Ethiopia. Abebe Bikila, Kenenisa Bekele, Fatuma Roba, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Meseret Defar are just a few names in the long line of Oromo running greats. Given this great tradition, it should come as no surprise that the Run for Oromia featured the extraordinary runners it did.

Full results of the event can be found HERE.

Story by Chris Lundstrom

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