Ethiopia: Meet the Dibabas: The Fastest Family on the Planet

 Ethiopia: Meet the Dibabas: The Fastest Family on the Planet
Ethiopia: Meet the Dibabas: The Fastest Family on the Planet

From left: Sisters Ejegayehu, Genzebe, and Tirunesh Dibaba, all wearing Nike, and their cousin Derartu Tulu, in Adidas. Genzebe is expected to win gold in Rio, while the other three are already Olympic medalists. Photographed by Ron Haviv, Vogue, April 2016

Meet the Dibabas: The Fastest Family on the Planet

By Chloe Malle|photographed by Ron Haviv

Ethiopia is a running-mad country—but it’s never seen anything like the Dibabas. Chloe Malle heads to Addis Ababa to meet the fastest family on the planet.

The only sound at the top of the Entoto Mountains is the thwack of a cowherd’s staff against the tree trunks as he leads his small herd of oxen home. I am doing my best to keep pace with Tirunesh Dibaba, 30, and her younger sister, Genzebe, 25, two wisplike Ethiopians with wide smiles and a fiercely close bond who may be the most formidable female track stars in the world. In the late-afternoon light high above central Addis Ababa, we zigzag between the majestic eucalyptus trees, paying heed to the uneven ground below and staying alert for the not-uncommon hyena sighting—no problem, the sisters assure me, as long as you clap loudly and throw a rock in the animal’s direction.

The Dibabas’ dominance in the field of distance running has captivated the track-and-field community. “There are a few running families, but not like the Dibabas,” says the Ethiopian track legend Haile Gebrselassie. These are the only siblings in recorded history to hold concurrent world records, and they are as charmingly unassuming in person as they are fearsome on the track. The sisters were raised three hours south of here, in a tukul, or round mud hut, without electricity—their parents subsistence farmers growing teff, barley, and wheat. Their mother, Gutu, credits her daughters’ success to a loving environment as well as a steady supply of milk from the family cows.

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