Father an auto mechanic. Three sisters, two brothers.
Married to former Banks club soccer player Tewodros Hailu. Has two adopted daughters, Melat, 10, and Lydia, 5.
Serves as a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Goodwill Ambassador.
Meseret, whose last name means "bold" in Amharic, has been running since primary school, earning several double victories at 3000 and 5000 in Addis Ababa primary and secondary school competitions. In her first race outside Ethiopia, she took silver over 3000m at the 1999 World Youth Championships in Poland (9:02.08). The next year she picked up another silver at 5000m in the Algiers African Championships (15:49.86) and yet another in the 5000 at the World Juniors in Chile (16:23.69).
Grand Prix races in 2001 sharpened her skills, which she demonstrated the following summer with a double gold medal performance at 3000m and 5000m in the 2002 World Junior Championships in Jamaica (9:12.61 / 15:54.94). Over the longer distance, she outkicked the future double World 5000m and 10,000m Champion Tirunesh Dibaba, as she would later do in the Athens Olympics.
Meseret emerged at the senior level early in 2003, taking bronze at 3000m (8:42.58) behind World record holder Berhane Adere at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham. After picking up a 1st at 3000 and a 2nd (behind Tirunesh) at 5000 in Ethiopia’s 2003 national championships, she recorded five top-4 finishes in major Grand Prix races, including a PB at 5000 (14:40.34) in Rome, leading up to the Paris World Championships in August.
Unfortunately, she fell ill before the 5000m heats and failed to qualify for the final. But after this low point, she became practically unstoppable. The next month she picked up gold medals at 5000m in both the All-African and Afro-Asian Games, beating Tirunesh and such other notables as Kenya's three-time World Cross champ Edith Masai.
She then started 2004 with a red hot indoor season, beating Tirunesh and two-time Olympic champion Derartu Tulu in Boston in late January (14:53.14 for 5000m), besting both Tirunesh and Berhane in Birmingham three weeks later (PB 8:33.44 for 3000m), and finally outkicking defending champ Berhane in a tactical 3000 (9:11.22) at the World Indoors in Budapest.
After that, Meseret came off the boil somewhat and she struggled to secure a place on the Olympic team. She had won the 3000m in the Ethiopian national championships, but her 5000m time was the season’s fourth-fastest among Ethiopian Olympic 5000m team hopefuls, and she was named the reserve member. Then in mid-August a controversial shakeup in the distance ranks dropped Berhane, placing Ejegayehu on the 10,000m team and making Meseret a confirmed member of the 5000m squad.
The move turned out well for the selectors. Meseret followed the pace dictated first by former Ethiopian (now Turk) Elvan Abeylegesse, who had set a 14:24.68 world record earlier that season, and then by Ochichi. With half a lap to go, Meseret cut loose with what might be described as the female equivalent of Haile Gebrselassie’s sprint of old, and Ochichi was left to defend her silver medal. With Olympic gold (14:45.65) in her pocket and still at the peak of fitness, Meseret won the World Athletic Final 3000m (8:36.46).
In 2005, she attacked Berhane’s three-year-old 8:29.15 World indoor 3000m record in Boston, but was blocked by lapped runners and missed it by under a second, running 8:30.05, the second-fastest ever.
Outdoors, her fiercest competitors were her compatriots, the year’s double World Cross Country champion Tirunesh Dibaba, Berhane, and World Junior Cross Country Champion Gelete Burka, who defeated Meseret over 3000m at the Addis Ababa track championships. Meseret beat Berhane and Gelete over 3000m in Doha, but over 5000m, her personal best 14:32.90 was only good enough for third behind Tirunesh and Berhane in the Rome Golden Gala meet.
In the Helsinki World Championships 5000, she followed the pace set by Tirunesh (fresh from her 10,000m gold medal performance) and China’s distance duo Xing Huina and Sun Yingjie. But when Tirunesh took off at the bell, Meseret was unable to keep up. Tirunesh (14:38.59, Ch record) became the first women’s distance doubler in World Championships history, and Meseret settled for silver in 14:39.54, as Ethiopians made an historic sweep of the top four places. Meseret avenged her defeat with a series of strong wins, outsprinting Berhane in an African record 14:28.98 for 5000m in the Brussels Golden League meet, and scoring a double victory at the World Athletic Final in Monaco, ahead of Tirunesh and Berhane in the 5000m (14:45.87), and Gelete in the 3000 (8:47.26).
Meseret narrowly missed the World indoor 3000m record again in 2006, running 8:30.94 in Boston and 8:30.72 in Stuttgart. Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova ran 8:27.86 on 17 February, slashing the record and identifying Meseret’s challengers in her World Indoor 3000m title defense in Moscow. But Meseret executed her race there perfectly, dropping the Russians with a sustained kick and final 200m of 27.46, and winning in 8:38.80. In April, Meseret slashed five seconds off the unofficial World 5K road best of 14:51 held jointly by Paula Radcliffe and Tirunesh. Then on 3 June, at the New York 5000m, she ran a 61-second last lap to clock 14:24.53 for her first official World record.
She then set her sights on winning 5 Golden League races over 3000m/5000m for a share of the $500,000 jackpot on offer, setting up a thrilling season of duels with Tirunesh, who had won the first GL meet in Oslo in Meseret’s absence. A series of last lap sprint battles resulted in 2nd place for Meseret in Paris, Rome and Brussels behind Tirunesh. Meseret took other honours in the form of a national record 8:24.66 for 3000m in Stockholm; and a win (in 15:56.00 to Tirunesh’s 15:56.04) at the African Championships in August. Then, as Tirunesh headed for the finish and her GL prize in Berlin, Meseret battled her over the last 250m, winning in 15:02.51 to Tirunesh’s 15:02.87, and denying Tirunesh $125,000 in additional prize money she could have earned as a 6-time GL champion.
Tirunesh avenged the defeat in the World Athletic Final 5000m with a photo finish victory (16:04.77 to 16:04.76) in Stuttgart, but Meseret had the last word in winning the 3000m, finishing in 8:34.22 to her rival’s 8:34.74. As Africa’s representative in the Athens IAAF World Cup 5000m, Meseret led from the start to win in 14:39.11, well ahead of Russia’s Shobukhova. Meseret then ran a World best 8:46.9 for 3K on the roads in Newcastle on 30 September, bettering the 8:53 2001 mark of Germany’s Luminita Zaituc by over six seconds.
But Meseret’s World record ambitions really took off in 2007, starting with the 3000m indoor mark that had eluded her in the past. She slashed over four seconds off the mark in Stuttgart on 3 February, clocking 8:23.72, and running the final 200m in 32.0, while being pushed to the line by compatriot Meselech Melkamu who ran 8:23.74. Meseret attacked the World outdoor two-mile best on the track in Carson City, California on 20 May, running 9:10.47 to better American Regina Jacobs’ 1999 9:11.97 mark. That accomplishment was eclipsed by Meseret’s feat at the Oslo Golden League meet on 15 June when she obliterated her own 5000m World record by clocking 14:16.63, almost eight seconds better than her 2006 14:24.53 mark, after taking the lead before the 3000m point. Meseret easily defended her 5000m All-Africa Games title in Algiers in July, and her Osaka 5000m task was made easier when Helsinki double gold-medallist and Osaka 10,000 champion Tirunesh withdrew due to recurring abdominal pain.
Meseret finally realised her outdoor World Championship dreams after failing to make the Paris 2003 final and losing to Tirunesh in Helsinki. Taking the lead in Osaka with two laps to go in a tactical race, and kicking with 200m left, she won in 14:57.91 ahead of Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot and Priscah Jepleting Cherono. Meseret made up for the slow time when, less than two weeks later, she attacked her own world two mile best at the Brussels Golden League meet and slashed over 11 seconds to become the first woman under nine seconds for the distance, clocking 8:58.58. Enroute, she ran a 3000m personal best, national record and world-leading 8:24.51, as well as a mile personal best of 4:33.07. Nine days later, Meseret led from the gun at the World Athletic Final 3000m to win in a Finals record 8:27.24 ahead of her Osaka runners-up Cheruiyot and Jepleting Cherono. Meseret’s record year was crowned when she received the IAAF Athlete of the Year award.
Meseret returned to Boston on 26 January 2008 in search of another world mark, the world two mile distinction she already held outdoors. She easily shattered the 9:23.38 2002 mark with a blistering last lap and a 9:10.50 finish. This time, there was no Meselech on hand to push her compatriot the way she had done in the 2007 record run. But Meselech did chase Meseret at the Valencia World Indoor Championships in March until a decisive move from the defending champion in the penultimate lap easily clinched her third straight gold over 3000m in 8:38.79.
At the African Athletics Championships in her hometown of Addis Ababa, Meseret was one of the African athletes of the past and present honored for their achievements in a gala tribute and African hall of fame inauguration on 29 April. This recognition came in addition to the honorary UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador role Meseret, who is passionate about the cause of women and children in Ethiopia, takes seriously.
On the track in Addis Ababa, Meseret experienced stomach pains before the 5000m and was outkicked in the bell lap by Meselech, taking silver. Meseret suffered another loss when Tirunesh smashed her 5000m World record in Oslo on June 6, running 14:11.15. Meseret needed a pre-Olympic boost and got it in July from her Stockholm 5000m run in 14:12.88, the second-fastest time ever.
In Beijing, Meseret faced stiff challenges in her Olympic 5000m title defense from Tirunesh, who doubled after winning the Beijing 10,000m, and from Abeylegesse, the new Olympic 10,000m silver-medallist. Spiked two-thirds of the way into the slow final, Meseret saw Tirunesh’s killer last lap secure her place in history as the first woman to win both events at the Games, while a crushed Meseret took bronze behind Abeylegesse. “The Olympics caused me pain because I came away with a result I never expected,” said Meseret.
She charged into the rest of 2008 and the following season with a vengeance, winning both the 3000 and 5000 at the 2008 World Athletics Final and blazing through the 2009 indoor season. She smashed Tirunesh’s 2007 5000m World record of 14:27.42, running 14:24.37 on 18 February, before ending her season with a partially solo run over two miles in which she broke her own 9:10.50 2008 World best with a stellar 9:06.26 on 26 February. “This year has been providing redemption for me from the start,” said a satisfied Meseret, who hoped the Berlin World Championships and its build-up would continue the trend.
Not content with attempting to defend her 5000m World title, Meseret set her sights on the distance double successfully attempted by her compatriots Tirunesh and Kenenisa in recent years. In her first 5000m race that season in Oslo on 3 July, Meseret beat Cheruiyot and Meselech in 14:36.38. A 31:07.34 10,000m in Stockholm on 30 May, while a then world-leading time, did not satisfy her, but a 29:59.20 run in a downpour in Birmingham on 11 July, the fifth-fastest time ever behind the 29:31.78 World record of China’s Wang Junxia as well as Meselech and Tirunesh’s sub-30 clockings of the previous 12 months, gave her the confirmation she wanted.
With Tirunesh out of the Berlin 10,000m due to injury, Meseret prepared to face Meselech (with a faster 10,000 clocking of 29:53.80 from June) over the longer distance on 15 August. But the night before, Meseret fell ill with a bad cold that sapped her energy for the duration of the Championships. “I was very sick,” said Meseret. “I was sweating at night and coughing, and I lacked strength.”
She was nevertheless in the lead heading into the homestretch of the 10,000 final, battling to hold off Meselech, but once that failed, she slowed almost to a halt. Not only did Kenya’s Linet Masai reel in Meselech for the gold, but Meseret lost the bronze to compatriot Wude Ayalew in the final metres, and eventually took fifth. Still in sub-par shape, Meseret made the 22 August final of the 5000, but lacked the fitness to defend her title, taking bronze behind Kenya’s Cheruiyot and Sylvia Kibet.
A recovered Meseret came back with a vengeance at the September World Athletics Final and ended the now-discontinued event as its most decorated athlete when she claimed an unprecedented third 3000/5000 double victory, defeating the Olympic and new World champions Tirunesh and Cheruiyot over 5000, and Cheruiyot and Ayalew in the 3000, which she won in a world-leading 8:30.15.
Meseret’s 2010 indoor season got off to an even more auspicious start when she came within less than a second of both her 3000 and 5000 world marks. On 6 February, she ran 8:24.46 for 3000m, missing the 8:23.72 mark she set in the same Stuttgart venue in 2007 by three-quarters of a second, and running the third-fastest time ever. Her resurgent compatriot Sentayehu Ejigu gave chase, running an impressive 8:25.27 PB herself. On February 10 in Stockholm, the site of Meseret’s 2009 14:24.37 5000m record, the pair ran together again and Meseret clocked a tantalizingly close 14:24.79, less than half a second off-target and the second-fastest clocking of all time. “I am disappointed but I’m pleased my performance hasn’t decreased over time,” she said. “My goal now is the gold at the World Indoor Championships in Doha.”
Meseret took her near-record-breaking form to Doha and, cheered by an enthusiastic Ethiopian showing in the stands, convincingly retained her title over Cheruiyot and Sentayehu, after working with her teammate and taking the lead with two laps to go. Previously having shared the distinction of owning three World Indoor titles over 3000m with Romania’s Gabriela Szabo and Haile Gebrselassie, Meseret became the first four-time winner of the event.
Meseret broke a similar record at the Carlsbad 5000 road race in April when she became its only three-time female champion, prevailing against windy conditions that limited her performance to 15:04. Wind again thwarted her record ambitions over 5000 on the track in Hengelo (14:38.87), where she nevertheless maintained a six-race winning streak for the year. Contesting the shorter 1500m event at the inaugural New York Diamond League competition, Meseret recorded a 4:02.00 PB behind Olympic champion Nancy Langat’s 4:01.60. Meseret came away with an encouraging sense that she could have won the race, despite it being outside her normal range of distances.
Meseret’s last race before the African Athletics Championships in Nairobi was an uncommon defeat (in 8:36.09) over 3000m when she lost to both Cheruiyot (8:34.58) and Ethiopian-born Turk Alemitu Bekele (8:35.19) in Lausanne on 8 July. In Nairobi, Meseret saw the African 5000 title go to Cheruiyot, whose strength she graciously acknowledged afterwards.
The 2006 winner of the 5000m at the IAAF World Cup that preceded the Continental Cup competition, Meseret was a favorite in the Split Continental Cup 3000 on 4 September, where she was accompanied on the African roster by Kenyan Iness Chenonge, and again challenged by Bekele. Meseret controlled the pace and comfortably took the title ahead of the Turk and American Shannon Rowbury. “The race was slow, so it was really easy for me,” said Meseret.
A frequent competitor at the Carlsbad 5000 where she has set a road world best, Meseret has only once ventured over 10K on the road and she made another solitary foray into half marathon territory on 19 September, but she made the venture count. Meseret won the Philadelphia half ahead of Lineth Chepkurui, Werknesh Kidane, Shalane Flanagan and Kim Smith in 1:07:47.
In 2011, Meseret was undefeated in all her races before the World Championships, starting with an indoor 3000m win in Stockholm and three 5000m races outdoors in which she progressively improved her performances. Sentayehu was right behind her and pushing her in each race, but the two pals exchanged warm congratulations afterwards. “Sentayehu and I work together,” she said. “We always follow our training programs together.”
After a season opening victory in Hengelo, Meseret ran 14:37.32 in the rain in Oslo on 9 June, happy for a Diamond League win but not with the rain-affected time that she had hoped would be faster in the distance she planned to contest in Daegu. Exactly one month later, Meseret had made up her mind to double and run the 10,000 as well, and she set the wheels in motion after running a 14:29.52 world lead, again ahead of Sentayehu (14:31.66), at the 8 July Paris Diamond League, where Meseret sported an elaborate hairstyle of braids ending in a long ponytail, and managed to look equally elegant and dominant on the track. “I finished the race without feeling any stress internally, and I’m very pleased about that, that I was able to run this,” she said, after leading Sentayehu, Mercy Cherono and Flanagan to season bests. Five days later, Meseret ran an easy 31:05.05 in a 10,000m race in Nuoro, Italy. With that goal of a 10,000 qualifier accomplished, Meseret ended her pre-Worlds season. “I want to make major preparations for Daegu,” she said.
She entered the 27 August 10,000m in South Korea accompanied by Meselech and national champion Belaynesh Oljira, and the 30 August heats and 2 September final over 5000m with Sentayehu and Genzebe. “In Berlin I was disappointed,” Meseret said. “I got flu and was sick, and after that I lost two races. But this year I’m ready.” Meseret was due to be severely tested in both distances by the in-form defending 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot, who took the 2011 world 5000m lead down to 14:20.87 on 29 July in Stockholm, and who also doubled in Daegu, as did her defending 10,000m champion Kenyan compatriot Masai. “There will be many big competitors from Kenya and Ethiopia,” Meseret said in Daegu, where she appeared as one of only six top stars present at a celebration of the IAAF 2003-2012 Athletics World Plan. “It will be difficult running both the 5000m and 10,000m again, but I’ve trained hard to try to beat them and I will do my best.”
Unfortunately for Meseret, nothing unfolded as she expected, and she dropped out of the 10,000m with 2000m to go, while Meselech took fifth behind four Kenyans led by Cheruiyot. “I contracted a bacteria on the flight from Ethiopia to here,” said Meseret. “The medication to heal that weakened me. … I congratulated the Kenyans on their 1-2-3-4.” She won her 5000m heat, saying afterwards, “I am happy to make the final after the disappointment in the 10,000m. …Today, I wanted to test my sprinting speed.” Cheruiyot proved unstoppable in her quest for double gold when she ran 14:55.36 to win the 5000m final, with her teammate Sylvia Kibet kicking in the ferociously-contested final lap to take silver, relegating Meseret to bronze in 14:56.94 behind the same pair of Kenyans as in Berlin. “I felt much better today,” said Meseret. “I am not happy, certainly not, but it is another medal for Ethiopia.”
Off the track, Meseret, who holds the plight of women and girls in Ethiopia dear to her heart and is already the adoptive parent of a daughter, Melat, 10, added to her family by adopting a second little girl, Lydia Gugsa, 5.
The 2012 indoor season got off to a promising start for Meseret, who was vying to become the first woman ever to win five World Indoor titles. She ran a world leading 8:33.57 for 3000m in Boston on 4 February, only to better that to 8:31.56 in Birmingham two weeks later. “I was planning to run under 8:30 today,” she said in Boston, where she largely ran alone. “It didn’t happen but still, I am pleased with the race I had.” In Birmingham, again leading through 2000m, she came home over three seconds ahead of her runner-up, Kenya’s Hellen Obiri.
At the World Indoor Championships, in Istanbul, Meseret’s Ethiopian teammate was Gelete, who had run 8:36.59 in Birmingham for third. The pair faced Kenya’s Obiri and Kibet. “We’ve prepared well,” said Meseret, adding that she was praying for a successful title defense for the fourth time in a row. Between her 2004-2010 crowns and her outdoor 5000m gold at the Osaka
Her outdoor focus became the London Olympic 5000m, and she ran three Diamond League races over 3000 and 5000m. Despite her determined efforts, she lost in a last lap sprint to Cheruiyot in Doha and Rome in May. “It was a really great race, until the last meters,” she said of her 8:46.49 finish to the Kenyan’s 8:46.44 in Doha. “But Rome especially is one I regret because I missed out narrowly and could have run better.” Meseret ran 14:35.65 there to Cheruiyot’s 14:35.62 after a hard-fought final lap, but she was ahead of Ethiopians Gelete and Genet Yalew, who were seeking Olympic selection.
“These past two years, Vivian has become very strong,” Meseret added. “She’s the one who at these Olympics we consider our chief opponent.”
In Meseret’s last race before the Olympics, it was her old rival who was back in action. Tirunesh was featured in the New York Diamond League and several other Ethiopian women were running the race, including Gelete and Genet again, and Sule Utura. Meseret knew swift clockings there could displace her from the Olympic line-up, so she entered the race.
“A lot of us Ethiopians are here, all looking to be selected for the London Olympics and I’m looking to be one of the three fastest,” she said. “I’ve run 14:35 but for Ethiopia, that’s not that fast a time.”
The match-up of the two rivals however produced a more tactical race. Tirunesh kicked away from Meseret at the bell and won in 14:50.80 to Meseret’s 14:57.02. None of the Ethiopian women who had already run decent 5000m races in 2012 improved their season best times, while Tirunesh, for whom it was her first outing over the distance in nearly two years, ran the fourth-fastest time of the season among her compatriots, behind the Rome finishes led by Meseret.
“I was feeling good, but with about five laps remaining, I had bad stitches in my side,” said Meseret. “But I’m second and it’s fine.” She had met her goal of preserving her spot in the year’s world list and on the London team, even if it wasn’t with the fast time she’d intended.
The three Rome runners made the team with Tirunesh named its reserve. It wasn’t long, however, before it became clear that Tirunesh’s good form may result in her running the distance in addition to the 10,000m especially if she were to win the longer race in a convincing manner in London.
On the opening night of the Olympic athletics program, Tirunesh defended her 10,000m title easily, defeating Cheruiyot (who took bronze behind her teammate Sally Kipyego) and Tirunesh was indeed placed in the Ethiopian 5000m team. She and Meseret ran the same qualifying heat on 7 August. Meseret remained mid-pack much of the race, moving up behind Tirunesh and Kenyan Viola Kibiwot with less than two laps to go and, after looking back to see a safe gap behind the trio, overtook Kibiwot and followed Tirunesh (14:58.48) across the line, finishing in 14:58.70. Gelete also qualified in the second heat, placing all three Ethiopians in the final on Friday night.
“The plan was to save energy,” said Meseret. “I’m in good shape and I’m feeling fine but there are other strong athletes in the field and I will never stop fighting for it.”
With an in-form Tirunesh in the field, Meseret will be fighting for gold and hoping to outdo Cheruiyot and her Kenyan teammates as well, including Sally Kipyego, who took silver ahead of Cheruiyot’s bronze in the 10,000 last week. Meseret’s advantage may lie in her entering the 5000m final with fresher legs than her chief competitors.
3000m: 8:23.72i WR (2007), 8:24.51 (2007)
5000m: 14:24.37i WR (2009), 14:12.88 (2008)
10,000m: 29:59.20 (2009)
Half Marathon: 1:07:45 (2010)
3000/5000/10,000: 1999 - 9:02.08/-/-; 2000 - 8:59.90/15:08.36/-; 2001 - 8:52.47/15:08.65/-; 2002 - 8:40.28/15:26.45/-; 2003 - 8:38.31/14:40.34/-; 2004 - 8:33.44i, 8:36.46/14:44.81/-; 2005 – 8:30.05i, 8:33.57/14:28.98 (AR)/-; 2006 – 8:30.72i, 8:24.66/14:24.53/-; 2007 – 8:23.72i (WR), 8:24.51/14:16.63/-; 2008 – 8:27.93i, 8:43.60/14:12.88 (WR)/-; 2009 – 8:26.99i, 8:30.15/14:24.37i (WR)/29:59.20; 2010 – 8:24.46i, 8:36.09/14:24.79i, 14:38.87/-; 2011 – 8:36.91i/14:29.52/ 31:05.05; 2012 – 8:31.56i, 8:46.49/-,14:35.65/-.
1999 2nd World Youth Championships, 3000m
2000 2nd World Junior Championships, 5000m
2002 1st World Junior Championships, 3000m/5000m
2003 3rd World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2003 1st All-Africa Games, 5000m
2003 1st Afro-Asian Games, 5000m
2003 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2004 1st World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2004 1st Olympic Games, 5000m
2004 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2005 2nd World Championships, 5000m
2005 1st World Athletics Final, 5000m
2005 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2006 1st World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2006 1st African Championships, 5000m
2006 1st World Cup, 5000m
2006 2nd World Athletics Final, 5000m
2006 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2007 1st All Africa Games, 5000m
2007 1st World Championships, 5000m
2007 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2008 1st World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2008 2nd African Championships, 5000m
2008 3rd Olympic Games, 5000m
2008 1st World Athletics Final, 5000m
2008 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2009 3rd World Championships, 5000m
2009 5th World Championships, 10,000m
2009 1st World Athletics Final, 5000m
2009 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2010 1st World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2010 2nd African Athletics Championships, 5000m
2010 1st Continental Cup, 3000m
2011 3rd World Championships, 5000m
2012 2nd World Indoor Championships, 3000m