For a man who has trained athletes like double Olympic medallist Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba and the national team of Ethiopia, a powerhouse, Tolosa Kotu comes across as an unremarkable 62-year-old in a track suit.
The tall, bald former distance runner from Ethiopia virtually
goes unnoticed as he monitors the training of his compatriots now turning out in Bahrain colours at the Asian Athletics Championships.
Kotu, one of the most accomplished long-distance coaches, is now head coach of Bahrain and trains long-distance runners Dejena Regassa (5000m) Tejitu Daba (women's 5000m), Shitaya Eshte (women's 10,000).
"We have some young runners who are coming up, mostly Ethiopians who are representing Bahrain for the last four years," said Kotu, who nurtured Bekele for seven years at his club in Ethiopia and also helped him recover from grief following his fiancé's death that nearly ended his career.
"Bekele is one of the best long-distance runners I have seen in my career. I have also seen Haile Gebrselassie during my days as national coach of Ethiopia but I will pick Bekele because of the soft corner I have for him — he is my boy, like a son," said Kotu, one of the architects of the Ethiopian surge in distance running, having finished fourth in the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
Ask Kotu to compare Ethiopia with the other African powerhouse and you will see rivalry in his eyes. "Ethiopian runners run for the country, for the pride of running. The Kenyans are after money," he claimed with passion. It is another matter that we don't see as many Kenyan runners changing flags and representing another country as the Ethiopians.
Kotu, however, defends this trend and says many an athlete has saved his career by becoming naturalised citizens of cash-rich countries. "There are many talented runners in Ethiopia but not enough resources for all of them. By representing other countries they are finding a chance to participate and show their talent, money is not the only thing," he said.
Kotu picked Tintu Luka as the best distance runner in India but said she has to improve in certain areas if she is to become a threat to the continent's best. Kotu said Tintu does not run at a steady pace — she starts too fast and then loses pace towards the end.
"If she works on her pace, she can be very good. She is talented and I am sure she will improve in the next few years," said Kotu before walking on to the Balewadi Stadium track to make a point to one of his wards.
As calm as a sage, after the words of wisdom to the runner, he wandered to the other side of the track to watch the others warm up.
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