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Tadesse Abraham | Swiss Olympics

From a small village in Eritrea to competing in his second Olympic games, Tadesse Abraham is on the move. On caught up with Switzerland's fastest marathon runner on what lies ahead in Tokyo.


Do you remember the first time you started dreaming about going to the Olympics? 


The exact time? I couldn't say. Twenty-one years ago, watching the athletes at the Sydney Olympics, I knew I wanted to do the same. By 2001 I became a professional runner, and by 2004 my journey towards becoming an Olympian in Switzerland began.


How would you describe your relationship with running?


I always wanted to be a cyclist. But when my bike broke, I shifted to running. Now, cycling is still my hobby and running is my job, and it’s an intense relationship. With more than 20 years of experience, you learn a lot – though I could never say I know everything. It is something that I know very closely at this point. We are a mix of salt and water – running and me.



Do you think that training for The Olympics feels different? How do you prepare for that? 


The pressure is always the same. You're representing your country. It stops being about you and becomes much bigger. It is your country on your back, and you run with that honor.


As expected, we have a training program. 7.00 am, we wake up for stretching. 8.30 am, we train, followed by more stretching. 12 pm, I have lunch, and then I have an hour's rest. Then it's back to work for photoshoots and interviews. There is also a second training in the afternoon. Before dinner, I usually call my family and wish them goodnight. And then it's dinner and straight to bed. 


How easy do you find it to stay motivated and train every day? 


Of course, sometimes we have days we don't want to feel motivated. We're human beings. But our goals are important, and I love what I do. It's my job, so I know why I am here and can then find the motivation to keep going. I want to inspire the younger generation. So I try to be motivated to motivate others.



Speaking about motivating others - there won't be Swiss fans in Tokyo due to the pandemic. How does that make you feel? Will it affect you?


We will miss them – the fans. Seeing people you know or who support your goals can raise your energy and motivation, but every athlete will miss it. People calling your name really helps get you ready.


That surely must feel different than when you participated five years ago. Having been to the Rio Olympics, does that experience change how you prepare at all? 


2016 was just about being an Olympian. It was to do my best and to enjoy the race. I really prepared as I would usually, and it was a good year for me. I was happy just to be there. Now, I think there is a little bit more pressure. You need to improve every time. As long as I am healthy, anything is possible. 



How does running with On, a Swiss brand, feel to you? 


It is an honor that On is part of this – having your brand and country come together to support you. It is a pleasure. My On's are my shoes, you know? They're what I wear and reflect who I am. 


Your role models were important to you. How do you feel now that you are a role model to others? 


I am a big fan of Kenyan runner Paul Kibii Tergat. He never gives up. He always has hope. When I came to Switzerland, it was really hard as a refugee. Watching him reminded me to stay motivated. If he can, why not me too. For me, it's not about winning the race it's about chasing your goals. That is winning. I am really happy with my career. On my way, I hope that I can inspire a lot of people too. I love receiving letters from people saying that I inspire them. It reminds me to keep going.



What's next for you? Do you have big dreams to come after the Olympics? 


My dreams… I have three dreams. 1. As a person, a refugee, I want to win life in Switzerland. I am not rich, but my family and I are happy and healthy. 2. As an athlete, I wanted to participate in the Olympics. Not win. To be there is to be an Olympian to me. So i think I already won this in 2016 and 3. To meet and have a coffee with Roger Federer. It is not just because of sport – of course, that's why he's well known – but because of who he is. I would love to meet him. 


I am not a massive dreamer, but for now, I have to focus on the Olympics. The day after, I will be looking for my next steps.


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