Q & A WITH … DR. AYALEW TILAHUN

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Country: Ethiopia

Profession: Medical doctor

Dr Tilahun is a veteran medical doctor with a career spanning over three decades. He has served as Ethiopian track team doctor to seven Olympic Games and more than ten World Championships.  

Please tell us more about your journey to your current role of national track team doctor.

My journey in sport medicine started in the most unusual way. I loved watching live sports events, and when I was told that as a sports doctor I would be able to attend and get into any competition, I knew it was the career for me! Since then, I have been doing it with passion for the last three decades.

What made you want to study medicine and become a doctor?

I did well at school and so had the luxury to choose any discipline to study, including medicine. But, you know what, it was another bizarre reason that made me decide to join medical school: I wanted to have that title “Doctor”. As simple as that.

Over your seven Olympic Games, what has been your best Olympic moment?

I will definitely say, Barcelona 92 Games. I was there when Derartu Tulu became the first Black African female athlete to win Gold in the 10,000m, and it was also the first Olympic Games I attended which made it very special.

How has a sports medicine changed in Ethiopia over the course of your career?

I can’t say there is too much to be proud about its progress over the past 30 years.  Even though there has been some change and we know now that sports medicine is a very crucial aspect of the sport industry, it still has not been given the attention it deserves. 

What changes would you like to see in place to help manage and improve athlete health and wellbeing?

I would like to see a well-structured national sport medical institution where, for example, you can teach, treat the athletes, and do research. Now all the efforts regarding this are just done on an individual basis – there is no coordinated, structured approach. 

You have been very active in the fight against doping in the sport. What have been some changes and success of the anti-doping campaigns?

We still have a long way to go in the fight against doping. However, there are still some positive steps that encourage us to keep on fighting; for example we are creating more awareness amongst the athletes about the issue, and there is progress in punishing those who have been caught doping.

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