What are they raising their kids on in Bekoji? The remote Ethiopian town at the end of a dirt road nearly 200 miles from the capital Addis Ababa has produced some of the world’s best distance runners. How? Well, there’s the altitude for starters (Bekoji is 10,500 feet above sea level). Then there’s coach Sentayehu Eshetu. He arrived as a PE teacher and is now a kind of Pied Piper, stealing children out of their beds at the crack of dawn – to run, most of them barefoot. His first champion, Derartu Tulu, became the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold, at Barcelona in 1992. And they just keep on coming.
This amazing story might be familiar – it’s one of those tales sporadically recycled by the Sunday glossies. Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell followed two of Eshetu’s star pupils for three years: 14-year-old Hawii and her best friend Alemi. Both girls are selected for elite training and the stakes high: they’re running if not for their lives then their livelihoods.