Former Eritrean Immigrant-Turned-Prep Star Looking Toward Paris After Sparking Marathon Debut In Sacramento
By David Woods for DyeStat
INDIANAPOLIS – From East Africa’s high plateau to Indiana’s prairie to Arizona’s mountains, he has been climbing, if not steadily. There have been slip-ups and setbacks, and once even a full stop.
Futsum Zienasellassie’s journey has been one of disparate identities and potholed paths. He has been timid immigrant, young phenom, college trailblazer, scuffling pro. Yet, inevitably, a champion.
He did not run his first marathon until days before his 30th birthday, and now a case could be made he is that newbie all over again.
“I really believe I have so much to give,” Zienasellassie said. “And I know my body has so much to give. Not only 2024, but 2028.
“I really believe I could be at that elite level for the next eight years.”
He is coming off a marathon debut, won in 2:11:01 at the USATF Marathon Road Championships, presented by Toyota,Dec. 4 at Sacramento, Calif. It wasn’t so much his time, or that he won, but the way he won it. WEBCAST REPLAY
He trailed by 43 seconds at the half-marathon and ran in a lead pack of four at 23 miles. From there, Zienasellassie accelerated and built a lead of nearly one minute. From 35K to 40K, his 5K of 14:59 was his fastest of the 42-kilometer race, and 42 seconds faster than eventual runner-up Jacob Thomson (2:11:52).
“If I was going to make a move,” Zienasellassie said, “I wanted to make it as hard has I can for the first kilometer or mile so everyone would give up.”
He ran the second half (1:05:26) faster than the first (1:05:35).
Americans have run faster debuts. To name a few: Leonard Korir 2:07:56, Connor Mantz 2:08:16, Ryan Hall 2:08:24, Alberto Salazar 2:09:41 (in 1980, it was the fastest debut ever by two minutes).
There have been few better debuts.
Zienasellassie won. Afterward, Meb Keflezighi texted him that it took him seven years to win his first marathon. Zienasellassie dispatched a good field. He did, indeed, have more to give.
“This is really just the beginning,” said Alan Culpepper, his coach at HOKA Northern Arizona Elite. “This is nowhere near what he’s capable of in the marathon.”
From now until Feb. 3, 2024, when the Olympic Trials marathon will be run at Orlando, Fla., every step Zienasellassie takes will be on a pathway to Paris.
Starting From The Bottom
The beginning was in Eritrea, a mountainous country bordering the Red…