It’s Official: David Okeyo And Athletics Kenya Really Don’t Understand The Sport – Announcing A February Marathon Trials In The Middle Of October Is Ridiculous

by Robert Johnson,
October 16, 2015

Yesterday reports started coming out that Athletics Kenya is going to run a marathon Olympic Trials on February 14. Disappointed with recent results at Worlds and the Olympics, the reports seemed to based on a short AFP article which was far from clear. I read the AFP article and figured it probably wasn’t true, people were just misinterpreting a quote or two from David Okeyo, the director of competitions for Athletics Kenya.

I read the AFP article and another article on Capital.FM and found that Okeyo said the following, “The selected athletes must run their last marathon events in February….. We are coming up with a plan and policy which is being developed and as soon as we agree, we will let you know the best way we will select the marathoners.”

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Reading those quotes, I figured that most likely that Kenya was simply saying something along the lines of, “We’ll pick the marathon team on results achieved before February 14, 2016, and anyone who wants to run the Olympics can’t race a marathon after that date.”

Just to be sure, late last night, I emailed a Kenyan journalist friend of mine to see if there actually would be a Trials. He indicated that there would be, as he wrote:

“They set a tentative date of February 14 for the Trials but did not give particulars of venue or location.

As usual, they are just confused, senility is catching up.”

I couldn’t agree more. Well that’s not totally true. Instead of “senility is catching up,” I would have said “senility has taken over.” Athletics Kenya for years has made dumb decision after dumb decision but this has to be one of the all-time epic fails.

Emmanuel Mutai, Eliud Kipchoge and Geofrey Mutai at 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon

Emmanuel Mutai, Eliud Kipchoge and Geofrey Mutai at the 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon

So let me get this straight.

Kenya wants to announce in the middle of October that it’s going to hold a marathon trials, potentially in Kenya at altitude in February, to select a team that will run at sea level in August? That’s absurd.

Here are why this is a ridiculous decision.

1) The whole notion that there isn’t enough time to recover from an April marathon to get ready for an August one isn’t backed up by facts. At least, the last 12 Olympic/World Champs all ran a marathon after Kenya’s cut-off date before their Olympic/World victory.

What do the winners of both the men’s (Ghirmay Ghebreslassie) and women’s gold medals (Mare Dibaba) at 2015 Worlds have in common? They both ran April marathons (Frankfurt and Boston).

What do the winners of the 2013 Worlds gold medals in the marathon (Stephen Kiprotich and Edna Kiplagat) have in common?

They both ran an April marathon (London).

What do the winners of the 2011 Worlds gold medals in the marathon (Abel Kirui and Edna Kiplagat) have in common? They both ran an April marathon (London).

What do the winners of the 2009 Worlds gold medals in the marathon (Abel Kirui and Bai Xue) have in common? They both ran an April marathon (Rotterdam and Dalian; Xue also ran a marathon in March that year).

Ok, you get my point. I’m tired of doing research. The last eight marathon World Champs all ran an April marathon. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

(Editor’s note: Rojo may have been tired but we also looked up the 2008 and 2012 Olympic champs and all four of them ran a marathon after Atheltics Kenya’s cut-off date before their Olympic wins, all of them an April marathon except for 2012 champ Stephen Kiprotich, who ran Tokyo at the end of February).

2. Does anyone remember who is the only Kenyan to win an Olympic marathon? 

I do. His name was Sammy Wanjiru and his 2008 win in Beijing was one of the greatest marathons ever run. It helped move marathoning into the modern era. His performance was so mesmerizing and amazing that it caused coaching guru John Kellogg to write the only race recap he’s every done for our site: LRC 2008 Olympic Men’s Marathon Recap: Outrageous Pace Pays Off; Wanjiru Hammers to Kenya’s First Marathon Gold. How did he prepare for that race? Surely, he rested up and trained for months to be able obliterate the Olympic record by 2:49. Nope. Beijing 2008 was his third marathon in the span of 267 days. He ran and won Fukuoka on December 2 (2:06:39). He ran and finished second in London in April (2:05:24) and then ran and won in Beijing in August (2:06:32).

3. By springing this decision less than four months out from the Trials, the Kenyan marathoners will actually have less time to train for the Trials than they would have to train for the Olympics even if they ran a spring marathon.

The whole rationale for holding a February trials is because Athletics Kenya doesn’t think there is enough time for a top marathoner to recover from an April major (London or Boston) and then get ready for the August Olympics. But guess what? The top Kenyan marathoners will actually have less time to get ready for the Kenyan Trials than they would have had to get ready for Rio if they ran the London Marathon. The 2015 TCS New York City Marathon is in two weeks – on November 1. There are only 106 days between November 1 and February 14. There are 120 days between the 2015 Virgin Money London Marathon and the men’s Olympic marathon and 113 days for the women’s race.

So Kenya will end up selecting a marathon team based on the exact short buildup that they claim to be trying to fix. Brilliant idea guys.

4. The whole rationale for having a Trails – that the performance by the Kenyan marathoners at the last Olympics was bad because the marathoners were tired out from running for cash in the spring – simply isn’t true. 

At the 2012 Olympics, Kenya went 2-3 in the men’s race (and 17th) and 2-4 in the women’s race. Two top-four finishes is the most Kenya had in any distance event.

# of Kenyan Top-4 Finishes at 2012 Olympics
 Event Men Women
800 2 1
1500 0 0
Steeple 2 1
5000 1 2
10,000 0 2
Marathon 2 2

The only events where Kenya did better were the men’s 800 and steeples where they got first and third and women’s 10,000 where they got 2nd and third.

I don’t want to hear about Kenya’s recent showing at Worlds. Yes the men were bad, but anyone with half a brain knows many of the top pros aren’t necessarily going all-in for that event. Plus, Kenya went 2-4-5 at Worlds on the women’s side. That’s really good.

5. $$$$$$$ 

The top Kenyan marathoners in the world are professionals. The top athletes make hundreds of thousands of dollars when they win marathons. I’m assuming there isn’t going to be a lot of money at the Kenyan Trials. I understand wanting to run in the Olympics and represent your country, but asking a Kenyan marathon star to come run for free or peanuts at the Trials is wrong and I wouldn’t have a problem with the top marathoners getting together and saying “We’re not going to run the Trials (unless there is a lot of $).” If Kenya wants its Trials to have the best people then it needs to pay its runners. Otherwise its marathon trials may end just consisting of a bunch of guys wanting to breakthrough.

Does Kenya Want Stars at Its Trials or Just Random People?

Does Kenya want stars at its trials or just random people?


Even though history doesn’t support that assertion that there isn’t enough time to recover from an April marathon for an August Olympics, as a former coach, I understand it as one certainly is pushing it when they opt to try a spring marathon and the Olympics.  The fact that the last 12 Olympic/World champs have all run a marathon after Athletics Kenya’s cut-off date don’t necessarily mean it’s not a valid concern as nearly all of top runners at Worlds are also coming back from a spring marathon. It might be more ideal to be a little more rested. So telling Kenya’s Olympic marathoners that they can’t run an April marathon would be a defensible decision.

But then just select them team based on previous accomplishments. I’ve got no problem with that (other than the late notice — if this was the route they were going, Athletics Kenya should have announced it years ago). But don’t spring a Trials race on the guys and gals less than four months out. Many of them likely have vacation and business plans for the next few months. Now those will have to be scrapped and many of them will have to train for the first time in their lives over the Christmas Holidays.

If Athletics Kenya is going to go through with this plan — and there is some skepticism within the sport on that point — they absolutely must not hold it at altitude. It has to be at sea level. Their best option would be just to work with the Tokyo Marathon organizers. That race is on February 28. That way the runners would at least have a chance to make a decent payday instead of running for peanuts at the Trials. Get them to forgo rabbits and it would be ideal.

The main problem here is that Athletics Kenya wants to act like its important and plays a big role in the country’s Olympic success. It doesn’t. Just pick the team or announce a trials years in advance. Don’t spring a potential trials less than four months before the race and defend the decision with arguments that facts don’t support.

Athletics Kenya claims that its athletes don’t have enough time to recover from an April marathon to properly get ready for the Olympics but now they will end up selecting a marathon team based on an even shorter buildup than they one they claim they are trying to fix. That makes zero sense.

In track, Athletics Kenya (and USATF for that matter) should just stay out of the way and hold the Trials on the last possible day allowed by the IOC.

Questions or comments? Email the author or post them on our messageboard: MB: Athletics Kenya’s decision yesterday to have a February marathon Olympic Trials is totally absurd.

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