Faces of Africa 06/18/2017 Eshetu Sentayehu: The Unsung Hero

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Ethiopia is world known for its prolific athletes. Most of these athletes come from Bekoji

town, a small agrarian town in Central Ethiopia. This small town of less than twenty

thousand inhabitants has brought forth some of the world’s finest runners like the Dibaba

sisters, the Bekele brothers and Derartu Tulu.

The list can go on and on. These professional athletes not only share a track of winning

medals, but they were all trained from a young age by one man, Eshetu Sentayehu. Eshetu

who is popularly known as “Coach” is regarded as a brilliant coach and possibly the world’s

best discoverer of running talent.

Coach Sentayehu Eshetu, showing his medals. He trains and nurtures young running talent in Bekoji, Ethiopia.
Coach Sentayehu Eshetu, showing his medals. He trains and nurtures young running talent in Bekoji, Ethiopia.

“My job is to scout the beginners and take them to a good level. I am satisfied to see these

athletes leave Bekoji and become famous worldwide,” told coach Sentayehu.

Coach Sentayehu Eshetu grew up in the Harar region of Ethiopia, but moved to Bekoji to

teach in the town’s Elementary School in Physical Education in 1970. Here, he began to see

the athletic potential of the children he taught.

Derartu Tulu after her Olympic Gold win in Barcelona in 1992. She became the first Africa woman to take the 10,000m title. Derartu was trained by coach Sentayehu.
Derartu Tulu after her Olympic Gold win in Barcelona in 1992. She became the first Africa woman to take the 10,000m title. Derartu was trained by coach Sentayehu.

Soon one of them, Derartu Tulu, became the first African woman to win an Olympic Gold in

Barcelona in 1992 winning the 10,000m title. Sentayehu started to run daily training sessions

for the town’s youth. To date his sessions are attended by up to 200 young athletes, all

hoping to follow in Derartu’s footsteps. Athletics is becoming one of the most lucrative

sports and many Ethiopians are pursuing athletics as a gateway to prosperity. Some even

drop out of school to concentrate on the sport full time.

Coach Sentayehu with his students during a training session in Bekoji.
Coach Sentayehu with his students during a training session in Bekoji.

Some of the upcoming runners that the coach is training are Mame Girma, Workeneh

Tadase and Meskerem Guta. These three athletes hail from Bekoji and coach Sentayehu

vouches for them as the next professional athletes. Meskerem who is nineteen years old

dropped out of school so she could concentrate on athletics. “I stopped my education

because I could not manage doing both at the same time. Both athletics and education were

tricky for me because when I went to school, that reduced on my training time. So instead of

losing both, I decided to focus on one. That is why I dropped out of school,” she said. With

his track record, coach Sentayehu can get a well-paying job elsewhere but he decided to stay

in Bekoji.

Mame Girma (left) and Meskerem Guta (right) training on their own. They are coach Sentayehu's students and he has high hopes that they will become the next professional athletes.
Mame Girma (left) and Meskerem Guta (right) training on their own. They are coach Sentayehu’s students and he has high hopes that they will become the next professional athletes.

“My desire is to remain here and raise the beginners. I will work to bring out an athlete in

anyone with the desire. I am committed to do what I can at whatever cost,” he explained.

As a result, he has become a father figure to many of the beginners. “He is a great man. He

gave me his own shoes so that I could use them for training and his training has really

changed my life,” told Workeneh – athlete.

The reigning champions (the Dibaba sisters) who have been trained by coach Sentayehu.
The reigning champions (the Dibaba sisters) who have been trained by coach Sentayehu.

For as long as it takes, Eshetu will continue to run royalty and the runners of Bekoji town will

continue to raise the flag of Ethiopia high. His hope is that once successful; his students will

contribute to the development of their communities.

“If they can build schools or libraries and help others, that would make me happy,” he told.

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