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.
“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.
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.
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
“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.
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.