26 February 2017
Profile: 16-year-old 53.30 400m athlete Bendere Oboya
An improvement of 21 second over 12 months in the 400 metres is a stunning achievement. These are the numbers summing up the progress of a special 16-year-old talent - Bendere Oboya. David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall spoke to Oboya and her coach for Athletics NSW.
Over the weekend at the 120th NSW Track and Field Championships Oboya defeated one of the strongest ever 400m fields at the NSW Championships, clocking a time of 53.30. In her mid-teens, she is now the 16th fastest under-20 female athlete in Australian history. Not surprising at this early stage she is the world’s leading youth aged athlete. But what is her limit? Her coach Greg Smith admitted after today’s race: “It is scary, I don’t know where we go from here.”
Greg Smith first meet her 12 months ago when she asked for some coaching to prepare for one of the self-funded non-official tours to Canada.
“At the time she knew some of the girls I trained and was impressed by the times they ran,” recalled Smith. “I asked if she had run any 400s and she said yes and I’ve run about 1:15. I helped her prepare for the Canadian trip. We trained up for that trip and when she returned, she was stoked as she ran a 59. Then we trained for CHS (September 20176), bring her time down to 58.46.”
“I never took 400m seriously until I started learning how to run it properly,” said the quietly spoken Oboya.
“Greg has been my coach since February last year. He is a great coach. My time has become so much better. I never thought I would improve that much, but once I started with Greg and learned how to run a four it did improve.”
Born in Gambela in Ethiopia, she came to Australia with her family when she was three. Considering her background is she more suited to endurance running?
“She first told me she wanted to train for the 400m. Just watching her she had a natural stride. I think her most important key is that if she is stressed you don’t see it as she is relaxed,” Greg said.
“She is still intrigued by the eight and wants to run one in the future, but I told her for now just concentrate on the four.”
Oboya started little athletics four years ago, but this season has moved into the seniors.
“We started senior comps this summer,” Smith said. “She hit a 57 and then in January in Wollongong she shocked me when she went 55.67. I then told her ‘now you are a 400m runner’.
In early February she won the NSW junior championships in 55.01.
After her win she said: “My goal is to get to 53 seconds – maybe under 55 seconds for nationals. My goal overall is to do Commonwealths.” Little did she know then, within three weeks she would already have achieved that 53 second goal. On Friday night in the heats of the NSW Championships, she ran 54.14, before today’s stunning 53.30 run.
Why has she improved so dramatically over the last 12 months?
“She had never been taught how to race,” was the assessment of coach-Smith.
After her win in the NSW Championships today, Oyako gave her medal to Smith.
“I want to give it to you coach, as you have done so much for me,” she said.
“She is very humble. She is very quite. She is never over excited. All this success will not go to her head,” Smith said.
The year 11 Pendle Hill high student, has five siblings at home, four brothers and one sister. She arrived in Australia in 2003 with her family.
“I see athletics as the only thing I am good at I see it as something I can switch on and be good at,” Oyako said.
FACTS – Bendere Oboya
DOB: 17 April 2000
Born: Gambela in Ethiopia
Coach: Greg Smith
PB: 400m 53.30 (26/2/17)
Image: Bendere Oboya competing at the NSW Championships (image courtesy if David Tarbotton)