Alemu on own course in Boston tomorrow

Husband Abera will run in London Marathon today


April 18, 2004|By Frank Litsky | Frank Litsky,THE NEW YORK TIMES

BOSTON - The almost newlyweds parted temporarily on Tuesday. He went to London for work. She came here for work. They will be back together this week, maybe even tomorrow, weary after a tough weekend on the job.

He is Gezahegne Abera, the 2000 Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia, who will try to defend his title in the London Marathon today. He may fly to Boston hours later to watch his wife race. She is Elfenesh Alemu, also an Ethiopian, who has won major marathons in Amsterdam; Nagano, Japan; and Tokyo. She is a favorite in the Boston Marathon tomorrow.

He has run a marathon, the 26 miles, 385 yards, in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 54 seconds. She has done it in 2:24:29.

As Alemu indicated Friday through an interpreter during a news conference here, parting was sweet sorrow. "We do our training together in Ethiopia," she said. "He inspires me. We inspire each other. We learn from each other. We will go to the Olympics together."

They have mixed feelings about their previous Boston marathons. In 2000, Abera was outleaned by Elijah Lagat of Kenya in a race so close they were given identical times; it was the tightest finish in the 108-year history of the race. In Alemu's debut in Boston in 2002, she finished third, more than five minutes behind the winner, Margaret Okayo of Kenya. After that race, she learned that she had injured her left leg and had surgery.

Alemu is 28, 5 feet 5 1/2 and 110 pounds. The most memorable of her more than 20 career marathons came in November, when she won in Tokyo, beating the 2000 Olympic champion and the former world-record holder, Naoko Takahashi of Japan, on Takahashi's home turf.

One moment last year was even more memorable than that for Alemu: her wedding ceremony. On June 8, she and Abera married in Addis Ababa Stadium before 25,000 people, including 2,000 invited guests. The train on her wedding dress was more than 500 meters long (almost a third of a mile) and was carried by 200 students.

The reason for the excess, she said, was to promote awareness of HIV and AIDS.

"AIDS is so high in Ethiopia," she said. "After the wedding, we cut the gown into 1,000 strips. We had wedding guests sign a pledge on each strip to protect themselves against the diseases."

Alemu's running career began late.

"I was 18," she said. "I liked sports very much, and I wanted to do a sport in school. Running was the first I did."

When did she realize she could be a world-class runner? "I'm still not sure I'm world class," she said.

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