Elvan Can

Elvan Abeylegesse

Elvan Abeylegesse (also formerly: Hewan Abeye (Amharic) and Elvan Can (Turkish)) (born September 11, 1982) is a Turkish middle and long distance track and field athlete, running in the disciplines of 1500 m, 3000 m and 5000 m, but also 10000 m, 2 miles and cross country. She was once ranked 7th in the world, and held the record for 5000m, at 14:24.68.

She was born Hewan Abeye on September 11, 1982 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and raised with her seven brothers and sisters. She began her career running cross country. In 1999, Hewan started for the Ethiopian junior team at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland and finished 9th. There, she was invited to a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. Coming to Istanbul, she said that she liked it there very much. "I didn't get enough support from my federation in Ethiopia," she said. "My track club in Turkey gave me all the support I needed. So I decided to move to Turkey. The support was much better in Istanbul. I thought it would be easier to reach my goals in Turkey.” To get Turkish citizenship, she got married and became Elvan Can. Since then, she has divorced and is now called Elvan Abeylegesse.

“As a youngster, my heroes were Ethiopian runners. I would follow the victories of Gete Wami particularly”, Elvan said. “I studied all their actions: how they slept, how they ate, how they trained, and how they competed.” Registered in the Enka Sports Club in Istanbul, she is coached by Ertan Hatipoglu, a former triple jumper of Turkish origin from Bulgaria. She still has a friendly relationship with other Ethiopian runners, but there is a problem with her former federation. “The officials don’t allow me to train in Ethiopia any longer”, Elvan Abeylegesse says. “I train now at high altitudes in Turkey as I think that some of my former compatriots see me as a threat. They are uncomfortable with me training in Ethiopia. But I, of course, remain friends with the individual Ethiopian runners.” Her 'defection' has remained an anomaly in the eyes of many Ethiopian athletic fans.

Career highlights

Elvan’s career in the international arena began at the age of 18 in Grosseto, Italy in 2001 by winning the European 3000 m and 5000 m titles, setting a national record for Turkey. Since then she has improved her time in all distances that she runs, progressing and not particularly looking back. She became a world leader with a time of 8:31:94 in the 3000 m in Brussels, Belgium in 2002 and with a time of 3:58.38 in the 1500 m in Moscow, Russia in 2004.

At the Evergood Bergen Bislett Games in Norway on June 11, 2004, the sixth meeting of TDK Golden League, Elvan Abeylegesse broke the women’s 5000 m world record, which had belonged to the little-known Chinese Jiang Bo since 1997 (14:28.09), improving the mark by over three seconds to 14:24.68. With the strain of her effort visibly apparent, the thunderous roar of the capacity crowd of 15,000 pushed her to this record while she was competing against Ethiopian running giants. She became the first Turkish athlete ever to set a world record. "I worked very hard, day and night," Abeylegesse said, speaking through an interpreter. "My target since the first day I started running has been to break world records and become Olympic champion."

By breaking the 5000 m World record, Elvan Abeylegesse has achieved also a historic performance in running, because she is now faster than a running legend. It was almost exactly 80 years ago when the famous Paavo Nurmi ran 14:28.2 for a world record. Elvan Abeylegesse now is the first woman to have run faster than the Finn.

On 3 June 2006 her record time was beaten by Ethiopian Meseret Defar, who ran in 14:24.53 in New York City.

Abeylegesse has been a scholarship holder with the Olympic Solidarity program since August 2002.











WR World record, ER European Record, NR National record, PB Personal best.

Personal bests

Discipline Performance Place Date
1500 m 3:58:28 Moscow, Russia May 30, 2004
2000 m 5:33:83 İstanbul, Turkey June 7, 2003
3000 m 8:31:94 Brussels, Belgium August 30, 2002
5000 m 14:24:68 Bergen, Norway June 11, 2004
10000 m 29:56:34 Beijing, China August 15, 2008

World records

Discipline Performance Place Date Athlete
1500 m 3:50:46 Beijing, China September 13, 1993 Qu Yunxia, China
2000 m 5:25:36 Edinburgh, United Kingdom July 8, 1994 Sonia O'Sullivan, Ireland
3000 m 8:06:11 Beijing, China September 13, 1993 Wang Junxia, China
5000 m 14:11:15 Oslo June 6, 2008 Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia
10000 m 29:31:78 Beijing, China September 8, 1993 Wang Junxia, China

Performance progression

Discipline Season Performance Place Date
1500 m 2004 3:58:28 Moscow, Russia May 30 2004
1500 m 2003 4:07:25 Beograd, Serbia May 25 2003
1500 m 2002 4:11:00 İzmir, Turkey May 11 2002
1500 m 2001 4:11:31 Istanbul, Turkey July 28 2001
2000 m 2003 5:33:83 Istanbul, Turkey June 7 2003
3000 m 2004 8:35:83 Doha, Qatar May 14 2004
3000 m 2003 8:42:29 İzmir, Turkey May 11 2003
3000 m 2002 8:31:94 Brussels, Belgium August 30 2002
3000 m 2001 8:53:42 Grosseto, Italy July 21 2001
3000 m 2000 9:08:07 İzmir, Turkey May 21 2000
3000 m 1999 9:08:29 Bydgoszcz, Poland July 17 1999
5000 m 2004 14:24:68 Bergen, Norway June 11 2004
5000 m 2003 14:53:56 Paris, France August 30 2003
5000 m 2002 15:00:49 Hengelo, The Netherlands June 2 2002
5000 m 2001 15:21:12 Grosseto, Italy July 20 2001
5000 m 2000 16:33:77 Santiago de Chile, Chile October 17 2000
5000 m 1999 16:06:20 Riga, Latvia August 7 1999
10000 m 2008 29:56.34 Beijing, China August 15, 2008
10000 m 2006 30:21.67 Antalya, Turkey April 15, 2006
10000m 2001 32:29:20 Tunis, Tunisia September 12, 2001


Şarık Tara, the honorary president of her club, said, "I am proud of our daughter Elvan. Her achievement is an even greater success than our men's national soccer team finishing third in the World Cup." This statement may well be the clearest expression of the new and modern concept of Turkishness. Her surname is still Abeylegesse. She is not fluent in Turkish and not a Muslim, but her name is inscribed in history as 'the first Turkish athlete to hold a world record.' When she wrapped the Turkish flag around herself with enthusiasm at the finishing line in Bergen, she was reflecting the true pride she felt for her achievement in the name of Turkey.

The day she broke the world record rewarded her with a new life of luxuries. After becoming the first Turkish track and field athlete in history to set a world record, the multi-millionaire president of her running club, honored her achievement by offering her the use of his private jet. She no more has to rush to the airport to take the 6:30 flight back home. She gives her private press conference at the hotel she is staying, then goes out for a little site visit, and packs her bags, including a 50,000 euros bonus for her effort, to take a private jet flight back home.


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