Feyisa Lilesa

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Feyisa Lilesa
Berlin-Marathon 2015 Runners 3.jpg
Feyisa at the 2015 Berlin Marathon
Personal information
Born (1990-02-01) 1 February 1990 (age 30)
Jeldu, Ethiopia
Event(s)Long-distance running
Chicago Marathon: 2:04:52 (2012)

Feyisa Lilesa (Afan Oromo: Fayyisaa Leellisaa; Amharic: ፈይሳ ሌሊሳ ; born 1 February 1990) is a long-distance runner from Ethiopia. A member of the Oromo people,[1] he became the youngest man to run under 2:06 when he ran 2:05:23 in the men's marathon at the 2010 Rotterdam Marathon.[2] He set his personal best of 2:04:52 in the marathon when he came in second place at the 2012 Chicago Marathon.[3]

Feyisa Lilesa during 2013 London Marathon

He won the Dublin Marathon in 2009 in his debut race and then won the Xiamen International Marathon in 2010. He was the bronze medalist at the 2011 World Championships marathon and the silver medalist in the 2016 Rio Olympics marathon. On the final day of the 2016 Rio Olympics (21 August), as he was crossing the finish line of the Men's Marathon and winning his silver medal, he raised his arms in a gesture of solidarity with protestors against the killing of the Oromo people in his home country of Ethiopia. Citing fear for his life if he returned to Ethiopia, he said in a press conference following the race that he would, "try and move to another country."[1] One of the countries he mentioned was the U.S. and the State Department was asked about this possibility.[4]

After the resignation of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in March 2018, his successor Abiy Ahmed encouraged him to return home to his country in October 2018, ending his two year exile.[5]


He entered international competition in 2008 and his first major competition was the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, where his 14th-place finish in the junior race helped the Ethiopians to the team silver medals.[6] He ran at the inaugural edition of the World 10K Bangalore in May and was fifth in a time of 28:35.[7]

Feyisa made his senior breakthrough the following year, stepping up a level at the 2009 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and scoring a senior team silver medal by finishing in 12th place.[8] That April he headed to the United States to compete in the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans. He set a 10K best of 28:20 to finish as runner-up behind Mark Kiptoo.[9] He upped the distance by running at the Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon in September. He set a time of 1:02:15 but again he was beaten into second place by a Kenyan rival, this time in the form of William Chebor.[10] He made his marathon debut he following month, competing at the Dublin Marathon. He took the lead from two-time winner Aleksey Sokolov and went unrivalled in his first race over the distance, beating Solokov by a margin of a minute and a half. His time of 2:09:12 was a strong debut run, although he missed the course record by five seconds.[11]

He improved further at the Xiamen International Marathon in January 2010, breaking Samuel Muturi Mugo's year-old course record with a time of 2:08:47 to gain his first win at a major marathon.[12] He knocked a significant margin off that time at the Rotterdam Marathon, where he finished in 2:05:23. This time made him the third fastest Ethiopian (and non-Kenyan runner) ever behind compatriots Haile Gebrselassie and Tsegay Kebede. However, this time only brought him fourth place in Rotterdam as the competition was one of the strongest ever—podium finishers Patrick Makau, Geoffrey Mutai, and Vincent Kipruto all moved into the top-10 all-time fastest marathon runners.[13] He ran at the 2010 Chicago Marathon in October and kept pace with the race leaders, Tsegaye Kebede and Samuel Wanjiru, up to the 20-mile mark. He faded behind them afterwards, however, and finished in third with a time of 2:08:10.[14] Feyisa Lilesa was among the earlier front runners of the Delhi Half Marathon the following month, but eventually finished in fifth place.[15]

He was part of the silver medal-winning Ethiopian team at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, where he finished in seventeenth place.[16] He ran at the Rotterdam Marathon in April, but was somewhat off the pace and finished seventh, more than six minutes behind the winner.[17] He was chosen to represent Ethiopia at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics and ran a season's best time of 2:10:32 hours to take the bronze medal.[18]

He began 2012 with a significant improvement in the half marathon, taking the Houston Half Marathon title with a course record time of 59:22 minutes.[19][20] He entered the RAK Half Marathon the following month but was two minutes slower and ended the race in fifth place.[21] He came third at the New York City Half Marathon in March, finishing behind fellow Ethiopian Deriba Merga.[22] At the World 10K Bangalore he again missed the podium, falling back to fourth in the latter stages.[23] He did not make the Ethiopian team for the 2012 Summer Olympics and that July he was runner-up at the Bogotá Half Marathon.[24] He reached new heights in the marathon at the 2012 Chicago Marathon – he duelled against Tsegaye Kebede in the final stages and finished as runner-up with a personal best of 2:04:52 hours.[25] He retained his half marathon title in Houston at the start of 2013 and came fourth at the RAK Half Marathon a month later.[26][27] Feyisa won the national cross country title at the Jan Meda International, earning selection for the global race.[28]

At the 2016 Summer Olympics, at which he won the silver medal in the Marathon, he crossed his wrists as a sign of support for his Oromo people who face relocation under a government program to allocate land surrounding the capital for industrial development, that prompted fierce demonstrations in November 2015 that lasted for months. The Oromos were using the same gesture in their protests. Feyisa also said that his gesture might lead to retribution on his return, and that he might be forced to leave his homeland.[29][30][31] At a press conference held in Washington, D.C., on 14 September 2016, Feyisa urged the international community, particularly the United States which is an ally of Ethiopia, to put pressure on the Ethiopian government to give the people their rights lest an ethnic conflict follow the recent wave of protests. Despite his protest, he said that he would still like to run representing his country, Ethiopia.[32]

Personal bests[edit]

Event Time (h:m:s) Venue Date
10 km 27:38 Rovereto, Italy 4 October 2008
Half marathon 59:22 Houston, Texas, United States 15 January 2012
Marathon 2:04:52 Chicago, Illinois 7 October 2012
  • All information taken from IAAF profile.


Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  Ethiopia
2009 Dublin Marathon Dublin, Ireland 1st Marathon 2:09:12
2010 Xiamen International Marathon Xiamen, China 1st Marathon 2:08:47
Rotterdam Marathon Rotterdam, Netherlands 4th Marathon 2:05:23
Chicago Marathon Chicago, United States 3rd Marathon 2:08:10
2011 Rotterdam Marathon Rotterdam, Netherlands 7th Marathon 2:11:42
World Championships Daegu, South Korea 3rd Marathon 2:10:32
2012 London Marathon London, England 9th Marathon 2:08:20
Chicago Marathon Chicago, United States 2nd Marathon 2:04:52
2013 London Marathon London, England 4th Marathon 2:07:46
2014 London Marathon London, England 9th Marathon 2:08:26
2015 Dubai Marathon Dubai, United Arab Emirates 4th Marathon 2:06:35
Rotterdam Marathon Rotterdam, Netherlands 5th Marathon 2:09:55
Berlin Marathon Berlin, Germany 3rd Marathon 2:06:57
2016 Tokyo Marathon Tokyo, Japan 1st Marathon 2:06:56
Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2nd Marathon 2:09:54
2017 United Airlines NYC Half New York, United States 1st Half Marathon 1:00:04
2017 Bogotá Half Marathon Bogotá, Colombia 1st Half Marathon 1:04:30


  1. ^ a b "Ethiopia 'hero' runner gets asylum donations after Oromo protest sign". BBC News. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Merga and Lilesa join Chicago men's field". IAAF. 1 October 2010. Archived from the original on 5 December 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  3. ^ "Marathon - men - senior - outdoor". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  4. ^ "U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPEAKS ABOUT FEYISA - SiiTube.com - BREAKING #Oromo and #Ethiopia News and Music Video". Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  5. ^ "Ethiopian Olympic protest runner Feyisa Lilesa finally rewarded". BBC News. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  6. ^ "2008 World XC Championships – Official Team Results Junior Race – M". IAAF. Archived from the original on 3 February 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  7. ^ Krishnan, Ram. Murali (18 May 2008). "Tadese the men's 10km victor, while Abeylegesse and Momanyi share women's spoils in Bangalore". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  8. ^ Powell, David (28 March 2009). "Gebremariam's final burst secures men's senior prize for Ethiopia – Amman 2009". IAAF. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  9. ^ "Crescent City Classic 2009 – All Finishers" (PDF). CCC. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  10. ^ "Chebor and Gelan take Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon titles". IAAF. 6 September 2009. Archived from the original on 23 October 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  11. ^ O'Riordan, Ian (27 October 2009). "Lilesa cruises home in sensational debut". Irish Times. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  12. ^ Cartier, Cyrille (3 January 2010). "Lilesa and Bayisa lead Ethiopian sweep in Xiamen". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  13. ^ van Hemert, Wim (11 April 2010). "Makau storms 2:04:48 in Rotterdam". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  14. ^ Hersh, Philip (10 October 2010). "Wanjiru battles, beats Kebede". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 23 October 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2010.
  15. ^ Murali, Ram. Krishnan (21 November 2010). "Mergia recaptures women's crown, Mutai foils Ethiopian sweep at Delhi Half Marathon". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  16. ^ Lilesa, Feyisa. IAAF. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  17. ^ van Hemert, Wim (10 April 2011). "Chebet impresses with 2:05:27 victory in Rotterdam". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  18. ^ Martin, David (4 September 2011). "Men's Marathon - Final - With runaway victory, Kirui becomes third man to defend title". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  19. ^ "Jufar sizzles 2:06:51 as records tumble at Houston Marathon". IAAF. 16 January 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  20. ^ "Ethiopians dominate 2012 Houston marathon, half marathon". Ethioabay. 16 January 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  21. ^ Hutchings, Tim (17 February 2012). "Keitany wins but records blown off course in windy RAK Half Marathon". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  22. ^ "Kirui and Dado triumph in New York Half Marathon". IAAF. 18 March 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  23. ^ Krishnan, Ram. Murali (27 May 2012). "Kipsang and Kiprop lead Kenyan double podium sweep in Bangalore". IAAF. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  24. ^ "Kirui and Cherono dominate Bogotá Half Marathon". IAAF. 30 July 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  25. ^ Gugala, Jon (7 October 2012). "Course record for Kebede, Baysa dethrones Shobukhova - Chicago Marathon report". IAAF. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  26. ^ "Youth trumps weather in Houston as Ethiopians take clean sweep of titles". IAAF. 13 January 2013. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
  27. ^ Williamson, Norrie (15 February 2013). "Kabuu and Kipsang triumph in high-quality races at Ras al-Khaimah Half". IAAF. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  28. ^ Negash, Elshadai (24 February 2013). "Lilesa and Ayalew capture impressive wins at Ethiopian Cross Trials". IAAF. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  29. ^ "Rio 2016: Ethiopia says Olympic marathon medalist a 'hero', forever welcome back home". OmRiyadat English. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  30. ^ Rio 2016: Ethiopia's silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa makes protest gesture at marathon finish, ABC News Online, 23 August 2016
  31. ^ Sieff, Kevin (21 August 2014). "An Ethiopian medalist just led a protest that could land him in jail". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  32. ^ Feyisa Lilesa full Washington D.C. press conference, retrieved 18 October 2016

External links[edit]