Meselech Melkamu, the second fastest woman in the 10,000 metres, arrives in Nairobi night where she is scheduled to be the chief guest at Wednesday’s Safaricom Kenya Sports Personality of the Year Awards Gala Night.
The Ethiopian distance running sensation arrives shortly after 1am aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa at the invitation of the Soya Awards founder, former world marathon record holder Paul Tergat of Kenya.
The black-tie awards gala dinner-cum-dance will be held from 6pm at the Nairobi Arboretum Gardens to recognise achievements of Kenya’s sportsmen and women this year.
Rival to big girls
For the first time, this year’s Soya awards will crown an overall top sports personality, a departure from the previous seven editions where the best male and female performers were honoured separately.
Last year, track and field dominated the gala with world 800m record holder David Rudisha winning the men’s award and double Commonwealth champion (800m and 1,500m) and Olympic 1,500m gold medallist Nancy Jebet Lagat the women’s.
Besides the giant mobile telephony and data provider Safaricom, who are the title sponsors, other companies funding the awards night include the Kenya Tourism Board, SuperSport and MultiChoice Kenya.
Others are National Social Security Fund, Communication Commission of Kenya, security firm Senaca and global information and communications technology solutions provider Huawei.
The fourth-born in a family of six children, 26, is the daughter of a former marathon runner Melkamu Haileyesus. She has always been a rival to Ethiopia’s big girls Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar on the track and in cross country.
Meselech made her athletics breakthrough in 2001 when she joined the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation’s track and field club after school in Debre Markos.
Broke 30-minute barrier
Highlights of her career include upsetting the form book to win the 5,000m gold medal at the 2008 African Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa.
She has won four bronze medals at the World Cross Country Championships.
On her attempt at the 3,000m world record of 8 minutes, 29.15 seconds in Stuttgart on February 3, 2007, Meselech pushed the 2004 and 2006 world indoor champion all the way to the line, finishing under the old mark and two hundredths of a second behind then new world mark of 8:23.72 set by Meseret.
In 2009, Meselech became only the fourth woman to break the 30-minute barrier in the 10,000m when she ran 29:53.80, which is the second fastest time over the distance.
Braved the heat and humidity
She was only behind world record holder Wang Junxia, one of famous coach Ma Junren’s “Ma’s Army”, who set the 29:31.78 mark on September 3, 1993, at the Chinese national championships.
At the 2007 Mombasa IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Meselech braved the heat and humidity to take the bronze behind Kenyan-born Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat and the defending champion, her compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba.