Ethiopian athletes fear climate change threat

Mon Dec 7, 2009 1:15pm GMT

By Barry Malone

ASELA, Ethiopia (Reuters) - A full moon dimly lights an Ethiopian hillside as almost 300 teenage athletes shiver in the 6 a.m. chill, some springing into the air to keep warm while others show off elastic stretching positions.

But a coach slowly shakes his head and says that in a few hours it will be time to stop as a scorching sun makes it too tough for the youngsters to train, something that was once unthinkable.

These ridges outside the southern town of Asela have long provided a cool high-altitude training ground for the giants of Ethiopian athletics such as all-time great Haile Gebrselassie.

But now Asela's aspiring athletes fear global warming is affecting even the lush green highlands of Ethiopia, threatening what was a perfect climate for producing world-beaters.

Far away from Asela, world leaders will meet in Copenhagen to thrash out a plan on how to counter climate change and come up with a post-Kyoto treaty deal to curb harmful emissions.

But as the U.N. conference starts, Asela is getting hotter and, in another 20 years, it may be too hot to train at all.

Gebrselassie, who has broken 26 world records and was born 20 minutes away, can scarcely believe how Asela's climate has changed over the years.

"Three weeks ago I was in Asela and I jogged three kilometres," he said in the capital, Addis Ababa. Training with fellow star Derartu Tulu, he thought he was going for an easy run but that's not how it turned out.   Continued...

<p>Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia runs to the finish line winning the men's 10,000 meters final during the world athletics championships at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, August 17, 2009. REUTERS/Michael Dalder</p>
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