Tirunesh Dibaba is part of an Ethiopian running dynasty, one of four family members competing at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Known as the ‘baby-faced destroyer’ she turned 31 this summer and won her sixth Olympic medal in Rio, just over a year after giving birth to her first son, Nathan Sileshi. Although it was not the gold she would have wanted, Dibaba was full of praise for her winning compatriot. Dibaba opens up about her experiences so far.
It was amazing to come back to the Olympics and win a medal. Although it was not gold, what was your reaction?
I was really very happy that Almaz came first because a new champion is coming; a new cheetah; a new heroine. It’s good for me. Considering I had a short time of training, I was concentrating a lot but it didn’t go well. Fortunately, I got a bronze. This is really fantastic for me, my family, and all Ethiopians. I would like to thank everyone and my family. Thanks to everybody I now have a bronze – the bronze can be for my son.
As you come from a family of runners and your husband is a two-time Olympic medallist. Will Nathan be a to runner too?
Our children will have their own say what they want to do in their life. We will not push them in any direction towards running. That will be completely up to them.
Can you tell us more about where you’re from?
I am a long-distance runner from Bekoji. I grew up doing errands, running to fetch water from the river after school to help my mother. That is how I was raised. Bekoji has produced so many great athletes starting with Derartu Tulu.
At the Beijing Olympics Kenenisa Bekele and I both won gold medals each, so you can see Bekoji has strong runners. We began running because of Derartu (Dibaba’s older cousin who won three Olympic 10000m medals). From the beginning I’ve only ever run. That’s the only job I’ve had.
You say it is a job, but can you enjoy it too?
Running is my job and also a source of enjoyment. It is because of running I am well-known around the world, so for me it is the ultimate thing.
How much pressure is there on Ethiopian runners?
My country is like no other country. When you compete for Ethiopia you must bring back gold. The people in our country do not accept anything less. Silver and bronze in our country is no better than fifth or sixth. I want to make people happy and therefore I try to finish first.
To try to achieve that, what is your typical daily routine and diet away from the Olympics?
I wake up at 6am and am in bed by 9pm. I work on speed sessions in the morning and do light training in the afternoon and evening. My diet mainly involves pasta and rice.
You are the world 5,000m record holder and only ran in the 10,000m in Rio. What about talk of moving up to the marathon?
I come from a place far from the main city. I’ve come from a small place and have achieved big things. It shows anyone can work hard and achieve great things. I have done everything expected of me as an athlete.
I have won many competitions, but I have yet to run a marathon. I will compete in one. I want to do something that is historic and unforgettable. I believe the Olympic marathon is what I have left to achieve.
What do you think about your ‘baby-face’ nickname?
I was so young when I started that it was a fitting description – I was sort of a baby with a baby face so I understand why it came about. It has never bothered me. I actually like the name.
You have moved into the hotel business in Ethiopia too. Why is that?
I am in hotels because it is the beginning of my next career. I have started this venture with a view to something I can do when I have finished my athletics career.
What about away from sport and business? What music do you like and what about films?
Michael Jackson is my favourite musician. I prefer Amharic films but I like anything with Angelina Jolie in it.