Meet Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin –’s Athlete Of The Week

After getting malaria and sleeping in the airport for two days, he goes out and nabs a bronze medal.

March 28, 2013

Eritrea’s 23-year-old Teklemariam Medhin, who won bronze in the men’s senior race at the 2013 World Cross-Country Championships on Sunday in Bydgoszcz, Poland, is our Athlete of the Week.

Now considering Medhin, who was seventh in the Olympic 10,000 last year, was second at World XC when it was last held in Bydgoszcz three years ago, and considering American Ben True‘s surprising sixth place finish enabled the US to stun Kenya and earn team silver, many of you may be wondering why we are so impressed with Medhin and naming him and not True (or perhaps race winner Japhet Korir) as our Athlete of The Week.

Well, let us tell you about Team Eritrea’s travel problems. In the post-race press conference, Medhin said the team flew from Africa to Copenhagen on Tuesday around midnight, arriving on Wednesday. However, the team had visa problems so they stayed in the airport from Wednesday until Friday. They finally got out of Copenhagen late Friday and arrived in Bydgoszcz only on Saturday. If that wasn’t enough, Medhin added as an aside he’d been sick at the end of February and had to spend two weeks recovering, so he was very pleased to win bronze.

picture of Teklemariam Medhin Teklemariam Medhin just minutes away from a bronze medal.

“Thanks to God, I am third,” said Medhin.

Stayed the airport with visa problems? You mean they stayed the airport hotel, right?

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No. Without visas, the Eritrean team wasn’t allowed to leave the airport. They stayed in the actual airport.

No beds, no showers and crappy airport food.

Medhin said he slept one night in a chair and one night on the floor as all of the chairs were taken. As for food, he said the Eritrean team ate airport food but didn’t like it as it’s far from what they were looking for as they couldn’t find pasta and had to eat sandwiches.

As for his illness, he said it was “like malaria,” so we’re not sure if he meant full-blown malaria or just some sort of malaria-like symptoms, but regardless, the 23-year-old deserves MAJOR props for not whining about his predicament and taking the easy road out and just going through the motions in the race. Far from it, Medhin instead gave it his all from the first step (he led the race on the first lap and had it again at the halfway point) and was rewarded with a much-deserved third place finish and bronze medal.

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Can you imagine the articles that would be written, if, say a Westerner like Galen Rupp or Mo Farah got malaria a month before the race, overcame that and then had to sleep on the floor of an airport for two days just before the race and then went out and won a medal? We’d rightly never hear the end of it. Yet when someone from Africa does it, they often get zero publicity and that’s not right.

Medhin speaks pretty good English and after the press conference, we caught up with him and did a one-on-one interview with him where he talks about overcoming the recent problems (video embedded on the right) and his upcoming half marathon debut in a few weeks in Prague, where he’ll be racing his countryman Zerseney Tadese, the world record holder in the half marathon, and hoping to break 60-flat. We truly wish Medhin the best. He could be a nice addition to the media circuit if he ends up being either a 10,000 or marathon star.

Eritrean Junior Boys Face Even More Hardship
Medhin’s travel woes weren’t as bad as some of his teammates. Two (or maybe all three) of the Eritrean junior boys weren’t allowed to leave until a day later and didn’t  arrive to Bydgoszcz until 3 am on Sunday. After three days in an airport on the floor and getting to town less than 10 hours before the race started, they must have run horribly right? Nope. They both were in the top 10.

One other Eritrean junior wasn’t even allowed to come to Poland and was sent back to Eritrea, which is a real shame as it cost them a much-deserved team bronze medal.

The results will for the 2013 Junior Boys Team Race will forever be as follows:

Gold: Ethiopia 23
Silver: Kenya 26
Bronze: Morocco 65

But the deserved bronze medalists in our eyes were the Eritreans, who only had three runners competing as a result of the visa SNAFU and thus didn’t end up in the team standings, as four runners score at World Cross-Country.

Through three runners, the results were as follows in the junior boys race:

Ethiopia 10
Kenya 16
Eritrea 19
Morocco 46

Morocco’s top junior boy finished 12th. Eritrea had three in the top 10 and deserved a team medal.

And Medhin deserves some media attention, so he’s getting it from us.

photos of Teklemariam Medhin Teklemariam Medhin leading early at the 2013 World Cross-Country Championships.
photo of Teklemariam Medhin, Imane Merga and Japhet Korir. The three medalists at the 2013 World Cross-Country Championships. Teklemariam Medhin (bronze), Imane Merga (silver) and Japhet Korir (gold).


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