September 2, 2010

Ethiopian distance runner Dejene Berhanu, who was reported dead at the age of 29 last Sunday by his management firm, took his own life.  Two independent sources contacted by Race Results Weekly who had knowledge of the situation, one in the United States and one in Ethiopia, confirmed the news.  Neither source wished to be identified given the sensitivity of the situation.

“It is true that Dejene Berhanu died on Sunday from suicide and was buried on Monday,” said the Ethiopian source.  “The cause of death is suicide. These are the facts I know at the moment.”

Berhanu first became known in 2000 when he took the silver medal at 10,000m at the African Championships in Algiers.  He would eventually improve to make the 2004 Ethiopian Olympic team and finish fifth at the 5000m.  He also won the Great North Run Half-Marathon later that year.  He had lifetime bests of 12:54.15 for 5000m, 27:12.22 for 10,000m, 59:37 for the half-marathon and 2:08:46 for the marathon.

A versatile athlete, Berhanu also ran on the U.S. road circuit, competing in the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10-K in Cape Elizabeth, Me., three times, including a 14th place finish at this year’s race on August 7.  According to a report in the Portland Press Herald, it was in Cape Elizabeth where Berhanu met an ophthalmologist, Dr. Jeff Berman.  Berman diagnosed Berhanu with a droopy eyelid, and arranged for doctors in Maine to correct it through surgery after the 2009 edition of the Beach to Beacon.

“We’re crushed,” Dr. Berman told the Press Herald earlier this week after hearing the news.  “It’s like a member of our family died.  What a tragedy.”

Berhanu left behind a wife and a three year-old daughter.