Ethiopia is a big country in the world of running. I didn’t know it before Lanky Pole went there to spend a month-long holiday (I already mentioned that this mad man mostly travels for running) but it is the home of running legends such as Haile Gebrselassie and Abebe Bikila, who both held the World Records for Marathon & Half-Marathon in their times, and a plethora of super fast men and women.
I recently watched Town of Runners, a documentary by Jerry Rothwell about young runners in Bekoji, a town in central Ethiopia, famous for producing top notch runners such as the olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and her two amazing sisters Ejegayehu and Genzebe. Unsurprisingly, many younglings in this area train hard (very hard) to follow the footsteps of these giants. For many of them, it is the only hope for a better life, they dream of going to the capital Addis Ababa and then to Europe or North America to make a living out of running or even to become legends themselves.
The documentary follows two hopeful and talented young girls who dedicate their lives to running (on top of going to school and helping their parents at home and in the fields). The beginning made me feel quite optimistic, as we meet their ever-smiling coach who’s confident that he can train world-class athletes, as he has already done. But disenchantment comes soon enough as they encounter cheating and nepotism in competitions they enrol in.
When they finally make it to running academies, things get worse and worse: they’re far from their families, underfed and poorly treated. In short, the documentary isn’t really optimistic and gives us a glimpse into the misery of the masses who fails for a few chosen ones.
You can watch the full documentary on Vimeo or on Netflix UK. Once you’ve watched it, you can read an update one year later, but I got attached to the characters and I wish I could read an update now, five years later.