Before she went off Twitter to focus on Rio, Genzebe Dibaba’s last activity was a retweet on May 2. It had an Indian connect. The original tweet was by Allyson Felix: “The harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph—S. Sivananda.”
Born in Tamil Nadu, Swami Sivananda worked as a doctor in Singapore and lived mostly in Muni Ki Reti, Rishikesh, where he founded the Divine Life Society. Felix won the women’s 200m gold at London 2012, and became the women’s 400m champion at the 15th IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August 2015. Her time, 49.26, is a world record. And, yes, Genzebe. Well, where do we begin?
There are seven Dibaba siblings. All of them run, and three sisters are stars. Ejegayehu won the women’s 10,000m silver at Athens 2004. Tirunesh is the most successful, with three Olympic golds. Genzebe is expected to pick up her first Olympic medal in Rio. Not that she is unaccomplished otherwise. She is the 2015 IAAF World Athlete of the Year. And, the 2014 Laureus Sportswoman of the Year; the sportsman was Novak Djokovic.
The Dibabas’ cousin Derartu Tulu was the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold. Her event is the women’s 10,000m, from which she has three Olympic medals—golds in Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000, and a bronze from Athens 2004.
Belonging to the Oromo tribe, the girls hail from Ethiopia’s Arsi highlands. They were all born in Bekoji, home to Olympic long-distance legend Kenenisa Bekele. In his book The Sports Gene, David Epstein says Kenya and Ethiopia produce long distance runners because they lie in the “sweet spot” when it comes to altitude—6,000ft to 9,000ft. The height is enough to cause physiological changes, but not high enough to make the air too thin for hard training, Epstein says.
Ok ok, more about Genzebe. When not in Nike, she prefers to wear Zara. And, reportedly, has a boyfriend, who is not a runner. Favourite musician: Beyonce. She is 5,5” and about 52kg. The sisters are quite close and she lives with Tirunesh, who took a year off to deliver and raise her son, Nathan. Tirunesh is married to Olympic medallist Sileshi Sihine.
Genzebe’s diet includes teff, an ancient super grain native to Ethiopia. Rich in calcium, iron and protein, teff is gluten free. And, she does not mind a dollop of niter kibbeh with her flat breads. Niter kibbeh is almost like Indian ghee, but seasoned with cumin and cinnamon, and everything in between.
This June, Genzebe had a bit of a shocker when her coach Jama Aden was arrested in Sabadell, Spain, in an anti-doping operation. The Spanish police later confirmed that erythropoietin was found in the Somali’s room. Popularly known as EPO, the glycoprotein promotes the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow.
The sisters train on the slopes of Mount Entoto, which overlooks Addis Ababa. In an interview, the Dibabas said hyenas were not uncommon on the slopes. No worries, they said. Just clap loudly and send a rock sailing in the animal’s general direction. They need no mental coach to toughen them up, eh?