Tirunesh Dibaba, an Ethiopian distance runner, made history by being the first woman to win gold in both the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the 2012 London Olympics, she successfully defended her gold medal in the 10,000 meters, becoming the first woman to win the race in two consecutive Olympics.
She was motivated by a runner’s family. She and her sisters, in fact, have excelled in the realm of long-distance running. The Dibaba sisters — Tirunesh, Genzebe, Anna, and Melat — are the only siblings in history to hold multiple world records at the same time, and they come from a humble background.
They were raised without power in a round mud home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Their parents farmed wheat, barley, and teff as a means of livelihood. In fact, there are seven Dibaba siblings in total, and they all run. Tirunesh, on the other hand, is the most decorated, with three Olympic gold medals to his name. She wanted to go to school, but she chose to join the Corrections (Prisons Police) sports club instead.
She made her international debut with Ethiopia’s junior squad in the 2001 World Cross-Country Championships, finishing fifth. In 2002, she added junior-level silver medals in cross-country and track and field. She became the youngest-ever world champion in her sport when she won the world junior cross-country title in 2003, established a junior world record in the 5,000 meters, and won gold in the 5,000 meters at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world track and field championships.
Genzebe, her younger sister, excels in sports. Their older sister, Ejegayehu, is also an Olympian who won silver in Athens. Derartu Tulu, their cousin, was the first Black African woman to win Olympic gold in 1992. In Sydney in 2000, she won yet another Olympic gold medal.
In 2016, Ato Boldon, NBC’s track commentator, told Vogue, “It’s not a leap to claim they are the world’s fastest family.” The sisters have remained household names in Ethiopia, which, together with Kenya, has produced some of the world’s best runners.
The Dibaba sisters’ mother told Vogue that the siblings’ success is due to the circumstances in which they were raised, particularly the constant supply of milk from the family cows. According to Vogue, much of Ethiopia and Kenya is in an altitude “sweet zone” where the air is thin enough to trigger physiological changes but not so thin that strenuous training is impossible.
The runners’ success is credited to their diet, which includes teff, which is high in iron and calcium, as well as their “compact lightweight physique.” Analysts think the Dibaba sisters have a physical type that is ideal for sports. In 2016, Boldon claimed that if the sisters were a car, they would be a Ford Focus with a Ferrari engine.
The Dibabas are talented athletes, yet they dislike watching sports. They prefer movies, particularly Amharic blockbusters, according to Tirunesh, who married fellow Olympic track and field athlete Sileshi Sihine in a widely broadcast wedding ceremony in 2008.
The Dibabas, like other great athletes, have re-invested their earnings in their communities. The sisters, together with their in-laws, are real estate moguls in Addis Ababa, owning many structures. Despite this, the sisters continue to shine in the sporting world.