Bekoji, a small town in Ethiopia, has an amazing claim to fame. The small town has produced some of the most impressive distance runners in the world. Eight Olympic Gold Medals, 32 World Championships, 10 world records, and they even captured all 4 gold medals in the long distance track events at the Beijing Olympics. What is it about Bekoji that motivates so many to become champions? Town Of Runners, a documentary from Jerry Rothwell, explores the lives of three young runners in Bekoji as they train to reach that goal.
Our lives are full of opportunities, but not everyone is allowed that same freedom. Living in Bekoji, the options for young people are very limited. They can either do well in school, or they can train to become a runner. Thanks to Sentayehu Eshetu, the town of Bekoji has seen great success in the world of distance running. He trained Derartu Tulu, who became the first African woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1996. He went on to train and inspire world champion runners Kenenisa Bekele, Tariku Bekele, and Tirunesh Dibaba. Now he spends his days training over 200 runners, including Alemi Tsegaye, Hawii Megersa, and Biruk Fikadu, the three young runners that the documentary focuses on.
Covering a three year period in their lives, Town Of Runners shows the strength and determination of not only the three youth, but also every person in Bekoji. Life isn’t easy for the villagers; even the track that the runners train on must be repaired each year as grass begins to invade once the wet season is finished. Everyone must gather and dig away the grass which can sometimes take up to a month to complete. This is just a small example of the dedication the runners display. All of that training and hard work is just the first step to a life outside of Bekoji. Alemi and Hawii are able to join a competition, hoping that someone from one of the running clubs will notice them. If they’re able to join a club, they’ll move from their small village to one of the larger cities, earning themselves a salary and getting their first chance to move forward in their sport. Biruk, however, is deemed too young to compete.
We’re able to watch huge changes in the town and the lives of the runners over the course of three years. A paved road is being constructed to Bekoji, and new running clubs are being built in the surrounding cities. This gives Alemi and Hawii a better chance at being asked to join. It’s at this point that viewers start to see the cracks in the system. Some towns can’t support, or don’t want to support, the running clubs. This leaves the aspiring athletes without any proper training. Even food becomes scarce at some of the clubs. Hawii and Alemi must struggle with huge changes in their lives, and the fact that not everyone is as supportive of their dream as they were in Bekoji. It’s inspiring to see the two young runners continue to dream of Olympic gold, no matter what obstacles attempt to stop them.