Deji Ogeyingbo wrote this piece on Gudaf Tsegay, who won silver at 1,500m and gold at the 5000m at the World Athletics Outdoor Champs in Eugene, Oregon. Gudaf is running the 1,500m at the Allianz Memorial Van Damme on Friday, 2 September 2022.
Gudaf Tsegay: The only Ethiopian to win two medals at the 2022 World Championships
When Gudaf Tsegay won her first global outdoor title in the 5000 meters at Hayward Field during the 2022 World Athletics Championship; a bearded man wearing dark blue shorts and a white patterned shirt unbuttoned below his chest ran onto the field, lifted Tsegay and Lestesenbet Gidey, and was led away from the track after a brief chase.
If you’ve not been living under a rock and probably following events in Ethiopia over the last year and a half, you may have noticed that the man was carrying the red-and-yellow flag of Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Ethiopian government, the Tigray region has been at the center of a brutal conflict.
Tsegay might not catch the attention of the global audience the way the likes of the Dibaba sisters or even Gidey, but she surely did put Ethiopia on the map at the just concluded World Championships in the United States. The 25-year-Old was the only athlete to notch more than one medal for the East African country at the global Championships as she picked up Gold in the women’s 5000m and Silver in the 1500m.
Prior to 2022, Tsegay’s only global medal over 5000m came at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. It came off the backdrop of winning her National Championships as she won Bronze in the Asian city. Still, she wasn’t the bookie’s favorite to notch Gold in Oregon. It looked certain that there will be a vacancy for a fresh name in the women’s 5000m roll of honor before the championships had begun.
With 2015 winner Almaz Ayana absent from the Ethiopian entry for the event and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, the winner in London in 2017 and in Doha two years later, opting to focus on the 10,000m, it felt like the stars were aligning for Tsegay. And despite she being just a reserve in the team behind Ejgayehu Taye, Dawit Seyaum, and Letesenbet Gidey, she knew it was a massive opportunity for her to get her first global gold medal outdoors.
Still, there was Multiple Olympic and World Champion Sifan Hassan to contend with. The Dutch runner proved her mettle and it was the attack from Hassan at the bell that launched Tsegay into action in the final. Always near the front, Tsegay led through the first 1000m in 3:14.21 ahead of Kazakhstan’s Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui, Seyaum, and Gidey.
Tsegay used her 1500m speed to prevail in a thrilling sprint finish with a final 1500m of 4:14.59 and the last lap of 59.95; the 25-year-old pulled away from Seyaum down the home straight, executing her plan to emerge champion.
“I have been training well for 1500m, and this helps sprint on the home stretch,” said Tsegay, who claimed her 2014 world U20 1500m silver in Eugene. “I know that Sifan is a top athlete, and she is also a 1500m runner, so she has the speed. When she came in front, I sped up even more and won the medal.”
“I was trying to control the race coming from the first place during the run so it was very hard for me … I felt in shape, and my victory confirms it was a good plan. This win is for all of Ethiopia.”
Tsegay joined the likes of Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar, and Ayana as the fourth Ethiopian to win Gold over the 5000m in the history of the Championships.
A few days before Tsegay’s historic Gold, she came head-to-head with one of the greatest 1500m runners of all time in the mold of Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon. It seemed a lost cause because of the Kenyan stellar credentials, but the Ethiopians still put up a good fight.
Tsegay, who won the indoor title in March, was with her nearly every step until Kipyegon pulled away with about 300 meters to go. Tsegay took the silver in 3:54.52, upgrading from the bronze she won in 2019. She was also just a bit slower than she was at the Pre-Classic in May, where she ran 3:54.21.
“I was expecting more from this race, but my opponents were more experienced and luckier, so I have to be grateful for the silver,” said Tsegay, 25, who also will run the 5000m later in the week.
Having shut down her season after the Olympic games in 2021, you wouldn’t put it past Tsegay to put a halt to what has been a successful season in after putting not just her region on the map but entire Ethiopia on the global stage. But, Gudaf did not, as she is running the 1,500m at the Allianz Memorial Van Damme meeting, being held in Brussels, Belgium, on 2 September 2022.