As journeys go, it’d be hard to find a more remarkable one across the length and breadth of Irish sport. From Eritrea to France, onwards to Ireland and finally, two years later, standing proud on a European podium in Portugal.
It was no surprise that Efrem Gidey had to take a quick time-out as he relived some of it after winning a brilliant bronze medal at the European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon. The emotion of the whole occasion had finally caught up with the 19-year-old, who is fast maturing into one of Irish athletics’ most exciting prospects.
He fled Eritrea in 2016 and spent six months at a refugee camp in Calais before arriving in Dublin in March 2017. “It was a hard life, very tough,” he said of that period.
Gidey was unable to speak any English when he arrived but progressed rapidly after enrolling in Le Chéile Secondary School in Tyrellstown, where he sat the Leaving Cert earlier this year. He has since progressed into one of Ireland’s most promising athletes, training at Clonliffe Harriers under the guidance of Joe Cooper.
Over the past two years, he struggled at times to juggle his academic commitments with his training, and he admitted that it occasionally held back his performances. “With English lessons sometimes my time is gone a bit, sometimes I only do a little bit of training because I use that time with my translator,” he said.
Although he attained Irish citizenship, Gidey was only a late addition to the team after officials at Athletics Ireland secured the necessary travel visa earlier this week, and he travelled to Lisbon on Friday on a later flight than the rest of his teammates.
Gidey was hoping for a top-10 finish in the U20 men’s race, but shocked himself by finishing third. “I’m so happy, I don’t believe it,” he said. “It’s just amazing.” What made it all the more impressive was that he had recovered from illness last week to produce a stunning performance on his international debut. “It was very fast at the start and a little bit hard, but my body is very strong,” he said.
Gidey also helped the Irish U20 men’s team to fourth place, but the team was heartbroken to discover their final position after the official results initially put them third. They finished with the same points tally as Portugal but lost out on bronze due to Portugal having the highest final scorer, which is the rule used to separate teams that finish with the same tally.
Nonetheless it didn’t spoil in any way what was truly a special day for Gidey, who was as proud of his teammate’s performances as he was his own.
“I’m so happy because every time I’m looking for the Irish team, what places we finish,” he said. “My (goal) was for Ireland, my country, to win.”