By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
June 27, 2016
BOSTON — For 99% of elite marathoners in the world, their number one priority and sole focus is to run fast. Not so much for Atsede Baysa, the reigning Boston Marathon champion and two-time Bank of America Chicago Marathon winner. Beautifully dressed in a full length blue gown accented with a diamond necklace, Baysa took to the stage after running yesterday’s B.A.A. 10-K to show off her second talent: singing.
To honor the people of Boston who cheered her on to victory this past April –and to celebrate women’s running pioneer Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb– Baysa ditched her road racing flats for dress shoes following the race. Belting out a song titled “Gurcha Gana,” the 29-year-old mesmerized the crowd on hand.
“I sang today in Boston, like at home,” said Baysa, a very well-known recording artist back home in Ethiopia. “I sang the first time in France, in Paris, and second time in Boston. Boston is so, so special because I won the Boston Marathon.”
In April, Baysa made a ferocious comeback from more than 40 seconds down to win the Boston Marathon crown going away, crossing the line in 2:29:19. While her race was perhaps the greatest comeback in event history, Baysa’s outgoing personality captured headlines in the days after Patriots’ Day.
Throughout race weekend, the Boston Athletic Association had celebrated Gibb and the 50th anniversary of women’s participation at the Boston Marathon. In April of 1966, Gibb famously jumped out of the bushes in Hopkinton and went on to run the 26.2 miles to Boston, becoming the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon at a time when women were not allowed to enter the event. Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to actually enter and complete the race with an official bib in 1967.
When Baysa heard of Gibb’s triumphant and historic run in 1966 –and how Gibb was considered an ‘unofficial’ winner up until this year– she was taken aback. Her coach and manager explained the significance of Gibb’s run, and how it got the ball rolling for women’s participation in distance running. If it weren’t for Gibb and the other pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s, women’s running would not be where it is now globally.
At the Champions’ Press Conference on April 19, Baysa took a moment to reflect on Gibb’s accomplishments and, in a surprise move, gifted her winner’s trophy to Gibb. After all, Gibb never received a trophy back when she finished first in 1966, 1967, and 1968.
“I am moved to tears,” Gibb said at the time she received the trophy. “We just met 15 minutes before, and yet there is this deep connection across all boundaries, across all nationalities, race, age, experience. There is this love between us, and she out of love gave me this.”
Baysa responded simply with “I’m so happy that when I win, she is here. She is an amazing woman.”
Upon accepting the trophy, Gibb pledged to one day return the trophy back to Baysa.
That moment came this morning at the B.A.A. 10-K awards ceremony. While Baysa ran to a disappointing 14th place finish in 33:59 (well behind Shalane Flanagan’s American-record winning time of 30:52) Baysa couldn’t help but smile. She knew she’d be meeting Gibb soon.
In front of a crowd of roughly 2,000 runners and supporters, Gibb took the stage and explained the story of how she came into possession of Baysa’s trophy. Embracing Baysa, Gibb was brought to tears handing over the silver cup.
Baysa felt the most appropriate way to honor Gibb –a sculptor and artist herself– was by singing a song and thanking both her and the people of Boston. The song’s title, translated into English, means “Black Winter” and is about the changing seasons, a new year and looking forward to the beginning of summer.
For six minutes Baysa sang and danced up on stage, getting the crowd to clap along to the rhythm and sway their hips. Television cameras and Iphones could be seen capturing the moment.
At the conclusion of her performance, Baysa bowed and hugged Gibb. Together they paused –without saying a word– and simply smiled, looking into each other’s eyes. The first Boston Marathon champion and the most recent Boston Marathon champion were connected at another level, far beyond the 26.2-mile stretch between Hopkinton and Boston.
“It shows how beautiful a lady she is inside and out,” Gibb told Race Results Weekly. “Her singing was just beautiful, so beautiful. I loved her singing.”
“When I knew she was going to be here by my side standing next to me, I had more confidence to sing in Boston,”
Baysa said. “It was so nice singing to her.”
As if she were Taylor Swift, Baysa was asked by multiple runners to pose for selfies once she stepped off stage. For a moment, Baysa was the rock star on Boston Common, taking the spotlight (briefly) away from the American heroine in Flanagan.
“The people of Boston are so nice and supportive,” she said.
After the festivities came to a close, Baysa posed in Boston Public Garden for a mini-photo shoot, relishing her time with the trophy she earned two months ago. Holding it close, then raising it above her head, the petite Baysa looked like a movie star.
Standing atop the bridge that traverses the Public Garden and rises over the Boston Swan Boats (an iconic city landmark), Baysa stopped and looked over the water. All of a sudden, without prompting, knowledgeable tourists riding the Swan Boats began cheering for here.
When someone announced that she was THE Boston Marathon champion (and not simply a beauty queen raising her trophy or a winner of today’s race), a giant roar and ovation boomed from below. Baysa was the center of attention on land and water.
Taking her celebratory moment in stride, Baysa casually chatted with Race Results Weekly on her stroll. What was up next for the multi-talented superstar? Perhaps an upcoming movie or two?
“I’m already into hotels,” she said, talking about her investments back home in Ethiopia.
When asked if she’ll return for an encore performance –both racing on the roads and singing– at next year’s Boston Marathon, Baysa triumphantly said through an interpreter yes.
“God willing, I will be back!” she proclaimed.