Unlike most of Ethiopia’s legendary runners who hail from the countryside, Meseret Defar grew up in Addis Ababa. Instead of running to and from school, Meseret would borrow her brother’s shoes so that she could run before school each morning. Interested in racing, Meseret began her career in Ethiopia’s club system, and before long, earned herself multiple global medals, including double golds at the IAAF World Junior Championships in 2000.
After failing to advance to the final of the 2003 World Championships, Meseret was entered into the 2004 Olympics as a last minute replacement. At Athens, Meseret laid down a devastating kick, relegating the then-world record holder to silver and making herself only the third Ethiopian woman in history to win an Olympic gold medal.
The seasons following her win in Athens confirmed her place among the all-time great distance runners: between 2006 and 2010, she won four world championships and set eight world records and in 2012, she became the first woman to win a second Olympic gold medal at 5000m.
Following her gold medal run in Athens, Meseret was appointed as the United Nations Goodwill Population Fund Ambassador for Ethiopia. Since then, Meseret has consistently used the celebrity she has earned winning gold medals and breaking world records to highlight the needs of malnourished and impoverished children in the developing world.