Ethiopians as world record setting runners, Is it genetic or nutrition?

By Mitiku s Berhane


Long-distance running is a way of life in the Arsi region of Ethiopia. In a country well-acquainted with poverty, famine and war, world-beating athletes are a source of intense pride. Many of the world’s greatest runners hail from Bekoji, a small remote town in the Southern Highlands, located 170 miles (280Km) south of capital Addis Ababa. According to Ethiopian government census report, Bekoji has a population of 33,000.


In the Beijing Olympics, runners from the town won all four gold’s in the long distance track events – more medals than most industrialized countries. It is interesting to know that Bekoji, a small town of farmers and herders in Ethiopian highlands has consistently yielded many of the world’s best distance runners. The athletes attended the same primary school, Bekoji Elementary School, trained with the same coach, a Mr. Eshetu who worked until recently as a Physical Education instructor in the school. See the video of local people watching daughters on TV as they triumph in the Beijing Olympic.

The question is why are the Ethiopian athletes so successful? Usually , when one asks about Ethiopian runners dominating in middle and longs distance running, and when we look at just what it is that makes these guys so good—is it training, is it genes, is it diet, it is geographical location, or is it all of the above? Today I will like to focus on two of the most important factors in my opinion play main role to produce those athletes. Let us look! If nutrition and genetic factor play role in Bokoji town runners:


Is it nutrition? Is it Teff? is well known by Ethiopians and Eritreans for its superior nutritional quality. It contains 11% protein, 80% complex carbohydrate and 3% fat. It is an excellent source of essential amino acids, especially lysine, the amino acid that is most often deficient in grain foods. Teff contains more lysine than barley, millet, and wheat and slightly less than rice or oats. Teff is also an excellent source of fiber and iron, and has many times the amount of calcium, potassium and other essential minerals found in an equal amount of other grains. When teff is used to make engera, a short fermentation process allows the yeast to generate more vitamins .Teff is nearly gluten-free, and is gaining popularity in the whole food and Health food industry in the U.S. as an alternative grain for persons with gluten sensitivity. Teff may also have applications for persons with Celiac Disease. I am not here to prove Teff is the main reason for their dominate success in the athletics world, but as a nutrition student and contributor, I like to explore the possibilities .


Is it genetics? - The great distant runner of all timeHaile Gebresellassie is a product of this small town, Kenenisa Bekele, Tariku Bekele and Dibaba sisters Ejegayehu, Tirunesh and Genzebe, and Matawet Tufa , Derartu Tulu were born in Bekoji. A small village in Ethiopia with a population of 33,000, with such a small population there is a big chance this guys are related one way or another. See the story on Bekoji, the village of athletes.


Most of the great distance runners come from Bekoji can point out something that needs further investigation by researchers and scientists to come up with the right answer based on concrete scientific findings. My hypothesis is traditional, not experimented, but I strongly believe it is worth to investigate, and see the possibilities of genetic factor and nutrition if they are playing major role to produce those very effective athletics. There might be other factors that contribute for the dominant athletes who are friends, brothers and sisters and most of them are from one primary school. All of them eat the same kinds of food; they all go to the same school, one coach. Training and geography might have some role to play in their success, but in my opinion genetic factor and nutrition play an important role to produce effective athletes.

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