After Fate Tola had closed the gap on the eventual women’s winner, Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska, to just 15 seconds at the finish in Frankfurt’s Festhalle, she was asked if she might have made up the difference on another day. “Oh yes,” came the swift reply, accompanied by a beaming smile from the woman who had just won her first German marathon title with her time of 2:25:42 in Sunday’s Mainova Frankfurt Marathon.
The response was in no sense intended to denigrate the victory of Mamitu Daska. Instead, it reflected the quiet and growing confidence of a runner who had missed Olympic selection for the marathon this year through no fault of her own and was simply getting on with the job of developing her international career.
Once upon a time, Fate Tola and Mamitu Daska might have been team-mates, wearing Ethiopian national vests. But fate took Tola to Germany, not under a flag of convenience but to make a new life. She speaks German and her linguistic skills are improving rapidly. Her husband and fellow runner Musa Roba Kinkal, also Ethiopian-born, acts as an interpreter for some Ethiopians, but Tola needs no assistance in this respect. It’s a welcome sign for the media in distance running that an athlete is prepared not just for the hard graft of competition but also communicating directly with the press and not content to use an interpreter throughout their career.
During Sunday’s race Fate Tola cut down Mamitu Daska’s lead from over two minutes to 15 seconds at the finish. As so often in the marathon, both had to endure sticky patches, literally in the case of Daska who endured a few seconds of sickness which barely slowed her stride. Tola also showed a cool head and any tribulations were forgotten in her later comment: “I feel so happy today, everything went as planned.”
Not everything has gone so smoothly for her this year and the prime example was through no fault of her own. Having applied for German citizenship, the prospects appeared bright that Fate Tola would be on the start line for the Olympic Marathon in the colours of the Bundesrepublik in Rio. Her hopes were dashed when her German passport arrived…two weeks too late.
“I had to watch the marathon in Rio on television at home, that hurt me a lot,” reflected Fate Tola. From adversity came a fresh chance as a place in the Mainova Frankfurt Marathon beckoned: “It did me good to have this motivation. I tried not to look back but to concentrate on the future.”
Her marathon best of 2:25:14 was set when finishing fifth in Berlin in 2012. She then took maternity leave, or, as it is more charmingly expressed in German, “Eine Babypause.” Their three-year-old daughter Samya is the result.
In Frankfurt she ran her first marathon as a German citizen and won the national title. It has been a seven-year journey so far from her marathon debut of 2:36:54 to win in Thessaloniki in 2009. Her rise to elite status was marked by wins in Vienna in 2011 and the following year. That Fate Tola can mix it at top-class level was confirmed by her eighth place on the rolling hills of Boston in April this year, running 2:34:38.
As the fourth fastest female German marathoner of all time with her time from Frankfurt on Sunday – the chart is led by Irina Mikitenko with 2:19:19, followed by Uta Pippig and Kathrin Dörre-Heinig – Fate Tola is moving up in the world. On the subject of worlds, or rather the World Championships in London next year, her performance at the Mainova Frankfurt Marathon should certainly earn her a place in the German marathon team this time.