Kenenisa Bekele Will Not Run Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials

Kenenisa Bekele, the three-time Olympic champion on the track and second-fastest marathoner of all time, announced today that he will not compete in Saturday’s Ethiopian Olympic marathon trials, which will be held as a 35 km race in the city of Sebeta, 15 miles outside the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Considering that the Ethiopian Marathon coach Haji Adilo has told the top three finishers across the line on Saturday will comprise the Ethiopian Olympic team, that would mean that Bekele’s dream of becoming the first person — male or female — in the professional era to win an Olympic gold on the track and the marathon would be over.

Bekele, however, is protesting his exclusion from the team as prior to COVID-19 it was stated that Ethiopia would select their marathon team based on who had the fastest times during the qualifying window and Bekele led the pack on that front by over a minute.

For the last month, speculation has flown about whether Bekele, who has not run a marathon since his near-world record of 2:01:41 in Berlin in September 2019, would compete in the trials. Today, we learned that he will not be running the Trials as a protest letter that Bekele wrote in Amharic to the Ethiopian Athletics Federation in which he also addressed the Ethiopian sports journalists was published on Twitter.

According to Ethiopian journalist Teferi Debebe, whom spoke to on Wednesday evening, in the above document Bekele said he was 100% healthy but criticized the Ethiopian Athletics Federation for changing its selection criteria and staging its trials too close to the Olympic marathon in Sapporo, which will be held on August 8. The gap between the two races is 14 weeks. For reference, when Eliud Kipchoge won Olympic gold in 2016, there was a 17-week gap between Kipchoge’s spring marathon (London) and the Olympic marathon in Rio de Janeiro. Fourteen weeks between a 35 km race and a marathon is a relatively tight turnaround and Bekele said he would not be competing as a result. In the document, according to Debebe, Bekele mentioned how countries like the US are honoring selections from a long time ago.

Debebe told us that Bekele started off the letter by reminding the federation that he’s got an amazing resume of success in representing Ethiopia in the past. He’s very proud of his past performances on the world stage while representing the country, as was everyone in the country. He hopes to do so again in 2021 or he says he’ll have to consider “another option.” He also complained that in 2016 he was left off the team according to what he said was discrimination.

We asked Debebe if he thought Bekele’s appeal would be successful and he said yes. In fact, he guaranteed us that Bekele would eventually be named to the team. “His appeal is very powerful because it comes from Bekele. At the end, he says he will consider another option and that will get him a lot of support….Definitely, the federation is going to do something in my opinion.”

Debebe did add that he didn’t really agree that discrimination kept Bekele off the Olympic team in 2016 as while Bekele is from the Oromo tribe, so is Feyisa Lelisa who was selected and famously did his X protest.

Bekele is not the only notable athlete who will be missing Saturday’s Olympic trials, which will be contested over 35 kilometers rather than the 42.2-kilometer marathon distance. A reliable source confirmed to that Birhanu Legese and Mule Wasihun will both miss out as well.

posted Friday April 30th
by LetsRun