The riot against European gold is already a classic. But it’s the long journey that Meraf Bahta done that impresses the most. It’s hard to imagine what she went through after the escape to Sweden. Therefore feels the gold all the way into the heart.
Last Friday was the Netherlands Sifan Hassan too strong for Abeba Aregawi in the final over 1500 meters. It seemed to be the same show when Hassan challenged Meraf Bahta the stretch and seemed to relax your grip.
But Bahta replied. Held against. Increased again. And pulled away.
Sweden’s first gold in Zurich came after the hottest duel in the championship. Meraf Bahta showed both mental and physical strength when she broke fancied Hassan.
The Dutch had indeed Friday’s final at 1500 meters in the legs – possibly, it was crucial to the outcome – but Bahta did a perfect race from start to finish.
The decision of Bahta refraining 1500 meters and only invest in 5000 was entirely right. Now she could put full focus on a single race instead of wasting effort and energy into elimination and final of 1500 meters.
A Swedish Euro gold is obviously fun, but on the whole it is immaterial in view of the destiny that Meraf Bahta been through.
The most important thing is that the 25-year-old runner Pour finally got the chance for a new life in Sweden, after fleeing unrest in Eritrea.
Bahta was a very promising junior in Eritrea. She was fifth in the Junior World Championships in 2006 at 1,500 meters and sixth year after the off-road world championships for juniors.
But life took an unexpected turn when she was on a training camp in Spain in December 2008 she was called to the five-year military service, which in practice would mean the end of löparkarriären and an existence characterized by weapons and conflict. Bahta made the decision to flee, found a cheap ticket to Stockholm and ended up as a refugee in Älvsbyn.
Since then she has been refused asylum three times, fluctuated between hope and despair, learned that parents incarcerated and mother died in prison.
To return to Eritrea had almost certainly been consistent with the death penalty because she was regarded there as a deserter.
Finally, after many trips, she first temporary residence permit in 2010, which became permanent in 2012, and finally Swedish citizenship in time for Christmas Eve last year.
Then, finally, she could take a breather – and put all efforts on the run.
Sweden gave Meraf Bahta freedom and security. Everyone who stood up for her during those tough, uncertain years are worthy of admiration and I’m sure they felt great pride when she stretched her arms in the air at the finish line.
Bahtas successful debut in a major championship bodes well for the future. She will be developed further, but the step up to the very best in the world at 5000 meters is still far.
The most important victory yet won.
Meraf Bahta can run and compete in full freedom.