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DIBABA AWAKENS FROM LONG WINTER'S NAP AT REEBOK GRAND PRIX
By David Monti
(c) 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

NEW YORK (30-May) -- A married woman now, double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba looks decidedly less girlish.  The 23 year-old athlete still smiles easily, but it's no longer the mischievous grin she would flash in the past before dominating her next race.  She sits up a little straighter now, hands folded in front of her, and her delivery is more measured.


"Life has changed," she told reporters here earlier this week, referring to her marriage to double Olympic silver medalist, Sileshi Sihine.  "We are very happy together and life is good for us."

Could there be any doubt?  The first woman ever to win an Olympic 5000m and 10,000m double, Dibaba also goes into this season as the defending world champion at 10,000m, a title she will surely defend in Berlin next August.  But she admitted that her 2009 campaign is off to a slow start after last October's wedding festivities.  Her 5000m race later today here at the Reebok Grand Prix at Ichan Stadium will be her first race of any kind since last August, an extensive layoff for an athlete at her level.

"This is my first race," Dibaba said.  "I also missed World Cross Country.  I want to see how my fitness is in New York."

Dibaba admitted that she wasn't yet in top shape, but meet organizer (and Dibaba's agent) Mark Wetmore said that the pacemaker would be bringing Dibaba, and her chief rival Kim Smith of New Zealand, through 3000m at a 14:40 pace, a more than respectable clip.  Wetmore later said that with good weather the pace could even be a little faster.

"I have trained not as much as I want," Dibaba explained, clearly trying to play down expectations.  "I think I will try my best and see... how I'm going to do."

The track at Ichan Stadium is very fast, but the spring weather in New York can be very windy and humid, and thunder storms (which occurred last year) aren't uncommon.  At the Reebok Grand Prix in 2006, Dibaba's nemesis, Meseret Defar, ran a then world-record of 14:24.53, a race few people saw because most of the crowd (and reporters) left their seats after an embattled Marion Jones finished her race.  There's no record pressure on Dibaba, however.  Her 14:11.15 world standard from Oslo last summer stands as one of the sport's greatest marks.

Dibaba enjoys pop-star level fame and riches by Ethiopian standards.  The black BMW 750 sedan she bought last year with her race winnings is worth 100 times what the average Ethiopian produces each year, according to the CIA World Factbook.  She is widely revered, gaining a little ground each year on the legendary Haile Gebrselassie.

"The people in Ethiopia have really appreciated what I have done," she concluded.  "We have a lot of good runners in Ethiopia.  They hold in very high regard what I have done in Beijing."

 *   *   *   *   *

Today's Reebok Grand Prix can be watched on regular over-the-air television in the United States at 4:30 p.m. EDT on NBC.  The show will last for 90 minutes, then coverage will continue with global availability on UniversalSports.com beginning at 5:50 p.m. EDT.  Just click the "LIVE: Reebok Grand Prix" link on the top of their home page.

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