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Teklemariam Medhin: Light at the End of the Tunnel

The fact that Eritrea could prevail in the absence of Zerisenay Tadese was first proved in 2005 in World Half Marathon Championships held in Edmonton, Canada. Yonas Kifle, Yared Asmerom and Tesfahannes Mesfin were surprising with their outstanding results at that time. To find Eritrea placing it self next to Kenya and earning silver medal both individually and in a team level in the 2010 World Cross Country Championship is another testimony that the country can produce other ‘Zeri-Senays’ if only it works harder in the field of Athletics. Thanks for all the inspiration, Zerisenay!

Eritrea and Teklemariam Won World Cross Country Silver Medal

Teklemariam Medhin wrote his name as Eritrea’s most successful World Cross Country runner next to all time Eritrea’s sporting hero Zerisenay Tadese on Sunday 28 March 2010 in Bydgoszcz (Poland).

In the 12km senior men race, Teclemariam Medhin broke away to stand 2nd and earn a silver medal victory at the 38th World Cross Country Championship following Kenya’s golden medalist Joseph Ebuya. Uganda’s Moses Kiprou stood third.

Samuel Tsegay followed Teklemariam to 5th place as Kidane Tadese stood 15th, Kiflom Sium 24th, Tesfahannes Mesfin 35th and Estifanos Tewolde 39th strengthening Eritrea’s team standing in the event. Thus, Eritrea followed Kenya to a second place on the team standings, pushing Ethiopia to third.

Such victory has only been brought to Eritrea by Zerisenay few years back before gripping the coveted and historic World Cross Country golden medal at Mombassa in 2007.

In the junior 8km men’s competition, Eritrea stood fourth as most of its athletes lined up in the list of top 20.


Brazilian world soccer star Pele was once a shoe-shiner before he became world star footballer. Teklemariam has no different story. He was working arduous labor works as ‘minewale’ (construction laborer) up until 2004. During that time, Zerisenay, without any prior notice, brought Olympic bronze medal in the 10,000 meters, which is the first Olympic medal for himself and Eritrea. This was a great inspiration for Teklemariam who was working make ends meet while bearing family responsibility, studying and playing soccer. Inspired by Zerisenay, he knew some day, some how, he could be a successful athlete like him. Thus, he chose to leave the football team he was playing in the 3rd division and shifted to running. Deep in his heart, he knew he could see light at the end of the tunnel if he focused in running.

Teklemariam was probably more of a footballer than an athlete when all time Eritrea’s sporting hero Zerisenay Tadese stood on the podium of World Cross Country Championship in France for the first time in 2005. Zerisenay stood second and earned silver medal in the 2005 World Cross Country Championship event held in St Etienne-St Galmier (France). But, so did Teklemariam on the podium five years after in the 2010 event in Bydgoszcz, Poland. However, he had gone through lots of suffering to finally achieve this result which is one of his best World Cross Country results so far.

I was good at my studies before I joined high school. I was scoring higher than 90% in most subjects and my rankings were always in top 10. However, in 2003, when my family was getting seriously hit financially, I asked permission from my school to withdraw for one year.

I started working labor jobs for only 25 Nakfa a day during that year. With this, I had to help my family. In those years, my father, who was very sick passed away, leaving more family responsibility on me. I decided working day and night shift to face the family responsibility thrown on me and my brothers and sisters.

The next year, in 2004, Teklemariam had to rejoin his school. As he was preparing for a fresh start, that summer, a flash of inspirational event begot on his mind. He didn’t want to let go of it so easily. He knew it would give him some solace if he pushed hard on it.

“2004 was a historic year for the nation. Zerisenay came from no where to win an Olympic medal which was first of its kind for every one in the country. His success brought me an uncontrolled emotion within my self. Knowing how difficult it was to be like Zerisenay, I decided to set out to the field of athletics and mould my self in his dedicated style and character.”


Teklemariam started to prove his dedication by changing his morning school shift to afternoon shift. His home is in a village called Hazega, his school was in another village called Tsada Kristian and his training place in the city of Asmara. Quite separate places to go through day in and out. If he was to show his determination, he knew he had to buy a second hand bicycle for whatever price, which he did. Soon after, he began running in the mornings before going to school in the afternoons.

I used to wake up and leave my home in Hazega at 5:30 in the morning. I ride my bicycle for about one and half hours to reach to my training base, that is, Asmara Stadium, and start my training at 7:30. My training schedule used to last up to 10 o’clock in the morning. After my trainings, I used to buy a quarter kilo of banana with 2 breads for not more than 5 Nakfa for lunch. Putting it in my bag, I used to ride back to a village called Adi Segdo. Adi Segdo was on the way to my school near the village of Tsada Kristian. There, in an open air, I generally take 30 minutes rest in a thorny area under a shadow of a tree where I used to visit it after my trainings. In fact, I used to call it ‘HOME’. It was giving me the peace and rest I needed after my tiring trainings.

There, I eat the banana and the two breads I bought and some Gogo, if any, with a plastic of water. After this, I put out my school uniform from my bag and wear it. I ride to my school as early as I could. If I had some home works, I used to do it in my school by getting there about 15 minutes earlier. After school, I used to return back to Hazega when it was dusk at about 7:00pm. At home, my mother used to treat me to her best. I ask her to boil some tea for my breakfast before she goes to bed late at night. The day after, I kick off my day early in the morning by drinking the cold tea with Gogo.


Soon after his focus on his trainings, Teklemariam participated in his maiden local running competition of 8km and stood 12th. After this, some other competitions followed that helped him along with the training schedules he was taking.

An athletic association called EAAA supported and sponsored me long before I was someone in the field of athletics. They used to say, ‘A man has no greater purpose than to help his fellow men’. They told me I had bright future ahead of me and that one day I could herald a miracle.

I made it to Eritrean national team for the first time in national cross country qualification competitions in 2006.  I got the opportunity to take part in my first international competition in Fukouka (Japan) World Cross Country Championships on the 2nd of April 2006 where I stood 13 as a junior athlete.

Getting started with a gunshot was a new experience for me. In the middle of my race, my shoes got off and I spent a lot of time and energy putting it on again. As my expectation in my first international competition was very wild, I was wondering when the experienced athletes from different country would leave me behind. They were too late for me to do that; or may be I was too close to them till the last few meters.  Surprisingly enough, I finished 13th.

From that time on, Teklemariam has taken part in different world championship competitions where he stood in the list of top 15 athletes. Three years after his introduction to international competitions, Teklemariam was part of Eritrean Olympic team along with his inspiring athlete Zerisenay Tadese. Thus he participated in 10,000 meters in Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In 2009, Tekelemariam was 9th in Amman (Jordan) World Cross Country Championships. A year after, in the 2010 edition, he led the Eritrean senior team to silver medal by standing 2nd in Poland, shoving 7 places in the absence of Zerisenay.

Despite life’s boxes of hiccups, Teklemariam deserves a standing ovation for his determination in search of light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, he believes that his difficult life was the best thing that ever happened to him. That could be one of the reasons behind his success. Now that his difficulties seem to be over, opportunities will come knocking at his door.


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