Ethiopian athletes fear climate change threat

Mon Dec 7, 2009 1:15pm GMT

"It was around 9.30 a.m. and you don't believe it ... I was sweating. I asked myself, 'Is this Asela? The place where we were training before? Yes it is'," he told Reuters.


In his gym in Addis Ababa, Gebrselassie said that when he was a teenager he could not have wished for a better climate as he used to run 10 km to school and back. Now he worries that nobody will replace him.

"How important is athletics to Ethiopia?" he asked, as two Japanese tourists peered through the gym's window for a glimpse of the legend.

"It's important economically, it's everything. When you think about Ethiopia, you think about athletics. This is like soccer in Brazil. We need to keep this tradition."

Asela has a legendary pedigree. Kenenisa Bekele, world and Olympic record holder in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres comes from nearby. The biggest hotel in the small town -- and easily the plushest -- is owned by and named after Tulu, the first African woman to win an Olympic gold.

But the country's meteorological agency told Reuters that average temperatures in the region around Asela have risen by up to 1.5 degrees Celsius since 1986.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will represent 52 African countries at Copenhagen and has already threatened to walk out if dissatisfied with the deal. Some climate experts have called for rich countries to pay up to $100 billion annually to counter the impact of global warming in Africa.

The Ethiopian government has opened a training centre for 300 of the country's most promising 16 to 20-year-old runners just five minutes from Asela.   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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