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Eritrean refugee Abel Tsegay running for Invicta East Kent at top level long-distance athletics events

Refugee runner Abel Tsegay is in the form of his life but is struggling to make ends meet in pursuit of his athletics dream.

The 21-year-old from Eritrea trains at Invicta East Kent AC and on Sunday finished second in the Vitality London 10,000 race - just eight seconds behind British Olympian Andrew Butchart.

That run came just a week after Tsegay’s impressive seventh-placed finish at the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs.

Invicta East Kent runner Abel Tsegay at the Vitality London 10,000 Picture: Peter Mullervy
Invicta East Kent runner Abel Tsegay at the Vitality London 10,000 Picture: Peter Mullervy

His coach Peter Mullervy believes he can go all the way to the top of the sport - but there’s one big obstacle in the way.

Tsegay is officially stateless and can’t compete at international level until he obtains British citizenship.

Mullervy said: “I’m told he’s still two years away from being able to apply for that so effectively at the moment he’s stateless.

“They will insist on putting him down as Eritrean in the results but he’s got leave to stay here in the UK as a refugee and come the day he gets British citizenship, he’ll be making British teams and he will be going to major championships - whether it’s World Championships, Olympics or World and European Cross Country Championships.

“He’s matched anyone else I’ve ever coached.

“He’s a fantastic role model for any aspiring kid today. He’s got a fantastic work ethic, he’s self-sufficient, driven, determined and nothing fazes him.

“Even in the early days when his English wasn’t very good, it didn’t stop him desperately trying to interact with us so he could be part of the running scene over here.

“He’s a brilliant role model for anyone else I coach because they can see that if you put that kind of work in, that’s what you can expect back.”

Tsegay clocked 29min 26sec at the London Vitality 10k having run 28.59 at Highgate.

Mullervy said: “He was already the lead under-23 over 10,000m on the track the previous weekend. That was also a British Championship and a selection race for the World Championships.

Abel Tsegay with his silver medal at the Vitality London 10,000
Abel Tsegay with his silver medal at the Vitality London 10,000

“He acquitted himself very well, running the first 4k with people like Andy Vernon, who went on to win it. That gave him the confidence to chase Andy Butchart (on Sunday) and run away from the rest of the field on the road.

“He spent a month at altitude training in Font Romeu in an effort to get in shape for the Night of the 10k. Everything he did in training, post-Font Romeu, suggested he was in the form of his life and he’s demonstrated that two weekends running.”

Tsegay is in Aarhus, Denmark, for a 3,000m race in Aarhus on Friday night and he’ll then compete over 5,000m in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday.

A quick enough time there will see him entered for the televised Ostrava Grand Prix in the Czech Republic next month.

Mullervy said: “To be away from home when you’ve got to continue to pay rent here and then pay rent somewhere else to train at altitude, that’s how driven he is.

“He’s spending every last penny he has trying to make the dream. Sponsorship has to be his next step.

“Because he’s stateless, he can’t get shoe contracts from any of the traditional running shoe manufacturers. The standard he’s at now, you’d think Nike and Adidas would be queueing up to offer him a shoe contract.

“Anybody at his level would have a shoe contract which means they get bonuses for performances and all their running kit provided.

“He doesn’t have any of that - he’s still buying his own running shoes. Financially, it’s a struggle for him.”

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