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Records Set at Great Ethiopian Run


Tens of thousands of runners participate in 10,000-meter race, proceeds will go to support the care of HIV-positive children in Ethiopia

The ninth annual Great Ethiopian Run was a record-breaker in several ways; in the number of participants, the amount of money raised for charity, and in the course records set by men's and women's winners.

It was a spectacular sight as 33,000 runners lined up in Addis Ababa's main square, all wearing green T-shirts.

Founder of the Great Ethiopian Run, world marathon-record holder Haile Gebreselassie was on hand to start the 10,000-meter race. He shared that honor with the women's world-record holder Paula Radcliffe of Britain, and Ethiopia's Derartu Tulu, who beat Radcliffe to win the New York marathon earlier this month.

The race in Addis Ababa's rarified 2,450-meter altitude was naturally won by world-class Ethiopian runners accustomed to the altitude. A 19-year old upstart, Tilahun Regassa, placed his name on the list of the country's premier athletes, winning the men's title in 28 minutes, 36 seconds. That was 30 seconds faster than the previous course record.

Also shooting to national prominence was 23-year old Koreni Jelila, capturing the women's gold medal in 33 minutes, three seconds, 40 seconds faster than the course standard set two years ago.

The event raised a $41,000, another record. The proceeds go to support the care of HIV-positive children in Ethiopia.

Speaking in Amharic, Haile Gebreselassie said he was pleased at all the records.

He says, If you go by the number of participants, this is the biggest race in Africa. And one of the biggest in the world.

Radcliffe, who was visiting Ethiopia for the first time, said she had never seen anything like it.

"I knew that running is the number-one sport in Ethiopia," said Radcliffe. "But still it is amazing to see so many people out, and to see the atmosphere here, and because everyone is wearing the green T-shirts, it looks extra special, because you look up the road it is all green, you look down the road it is all green waiting to start. So it is special."

The British marathon legend said she had come to Ethiopia out of respect for her friends Haile and Derartu.

"I know when I race against Ethiopian athletes it will be a very tough competition, but also very friendly away from the track, so after the competition, very very friendly," she added.

The Great Ethiopian run has in the past been a proving ground for athletes that went on to world prominence. Past winners have included Haile Gebreselassie and Olympic 5,000- and 10,000-meter champion Tirunesh Dibaba.

In a country where running is both a passion and the national pastime, this event has become a people's race. All but 200 of the participants were Ethiopians, the rest mainly members of Addis Ababa's large diplomatic and aid communities.

Nearly two hours after the start, crowds were still still streaming across the finish line, including grandparents and youngsters dreaming of the day they might compete for the gold.

One elderly finisher, who declined to give her name, said the run has become a family tradition, with some running and others simply collecting a colorful T-shirt and enjoying a Sunday morning stroll.

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