May 19, 2016
The Ethiopian Olympic marathon teams were announced today. The big news from a headline standpoint is that arguably the greatest distance runner in world history, Kenenisa Bekele, was left off of the team on the men’s side, as was 2016 world leader Tirfi Tsegaye on the women’s.
Below we give you the members of the team as well as the reserves and then we analyze it for you.
The men’s team is as follows.
Runners/Marathon Credentials Last 2 Years
Tesfaye Abera – 24 yrs old. Winner in Dubai (2:04:24) and Hamburg (2:06:58) this year. Ran 3 marathons in 2:09-2:10 range last year (winning 1, finishing 2nd in another). Top time by an Ethiopian in ’16.
Lemi Berhanu – “21” yrs old, 2nd in Dubai (2:04:33) and winner in Boston (2:12:45) this year. #5 in our world rankings last yr; also won Dubai (2:05:28) and Warsaw (2:07:57) in ’15 and was 15th at Worlds (2:17:37).
Feyisa Lelisa – 26 yrs old. Winner of Tokyo (2:06:56) this year. 4th in Dubai (2:06:35), 5th in Rotterdam (2:09:55) and 3rd in Berlin (2:06:57) last year.
Lelisa Desisa – 26 yrs old. 2nd in Boston this year (2:13:32). #4 in 2015 LRC world rankings; was 2nd Dubai (2:05:52), 1st Boston (2:09:17), 7th Worlds (2:14:54) and 3rd NYC (2:12:10) in ’15.
Kenenisa Bekele – 33 yrs old. 3rd in London this year (2:06:36), Winner of Paris 2014 (2:05:04) and 4th in 2014 Chicago (2:05:51) in two other marathon finishes.
Yemane Adhane Tsegay – 31 yrs old. 3rd in Boston (2:14:02 this year). Last year was #6 in our rankings as he was 2nd in Boston (2:09:48) and Worlds (2:13:08) and 5th in NYC (2:13:24).
The women’s team is as follows:
Runners/Marathon Credentials Last 2 Years
Mare Dibaba – 26 yrs old. 6th in London this year (2:24:09) but our #1 ranked marathoner for 2015 due to 1st Xiamen (2:19:52), 2nd Boston (2:24:59), 1st World Champs (2:27:35).
Aselefech Mergia – 31 yrs old. 5th in London (2:23:57) this yr. Last year was ranked #4 by us due to 1st Dubai (2:20:02), 4th London (2:23:53), 2nd New York (2:25:32).
Aberu Kebede – 29 yrs old. 4th in Tokyo this year (2:23:01). Last year – 5th Dubai (2:21:17), 7th Boston (2:26:52), 2nd Berlin (2:20:48). Honorable mention in 2015 rankings.
Tigist Tufa – 29 yrs old. 2nd in London (2:23:03). #5 in our 2015 rankings with DNF Dubai, 1st London (2:23:22), 6th World Champs (2:29:12), 3rd New York (2:25:50).
Tirfi Tsegaye – 31 yrs old. This year won Dubai in WL 2:19:41 and was 2nd in Boston (2:30:03). Last year: 3rd London (2:23:41), 8th at Worlds (2:30:54).
Before we get into our analysis, let’s make one thing clear: without a trials system, picking an Olympic marathon team for a marathon-rich country like Kenya or Ethiopia is nearly impossible. There are usually one or two runners of each gender that distinguish themselves, but you’re never going to name a three-person team without somebody complaining. Even if you try to be as fair as possible, you have to decide what’s important. Do you want experience? Someone who’s raced in hot weather/championship scenarios before? How much weight do you give an athlete’s most recent marathon? What about their 2015 season? How does a win in Tokyo stack up against a third in London or a second in Dubai? Are athletes who have already raced two marathons this year at risk of breaking down by running another one in August?
Everyone weighs those factors differently, making a truly objective selection process impossible without a trials race. But a trials race also presents its own problems. Where/when would it be held? If it’s at a major marathon, how would appearance fees work if athletes are essentially obligated to run it if they want to be selected for the Olympics?
Being an Olympic selector is a thankless job. With that said, it doesn’t give them a free pass to make a boneheaded decision.
Okay, here’s our analysis.
1) The Ethiopian Women’s Selections Make No Sense – The Two Reserves Got Hosed
So the Ethiopian selectors took two women from the 2016 London Marathon – 6th placer Mare Dibaba and 5th placer Aselefech Mergia – but not the top Ethiopian in runner-up (and 2015 London champ) Tigist Tufa? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Strong arguments can be made for both Mare Dibaba’s place on the team (she won Worlds last year and was our #1 marathoner on the year) as well as Aselefech Mergia (#4 in the world last year) but we don’t know how looking solely at results anyone would put Aberu Kebede on the team ahead of either of the two reserves.
Kebede, who was only an honorable mention in our 2015 world rankings and was just 4th in Tokyo earlier this year in 2:23:01, somehow got put on the team ahead of Tufa, who was 5th in our world rankings last year and placed higher at London (2nd) this year than what Kebede placed in Tokyo (4th). So Tufa had a better 2015 than Kebede and she’s also had a better 2016 (2nd in London in 2:23 is better than 4th in Tokyo in 2:23) and yet Tufa’s not on the team? That’s illogical.
Plus Kebede wasn’t even the best Ethiopian in Tokyo this year. That honor went to Amane Gobena (2:21:51) who isn’t on the team or a reserve.
And so far we haven’t even talked about arguably the most deserving reserve. How does Tirfi Tsegaye not make the team? She’s the world leader this year thanks to her 2:19:41 win in Dubai and she also was 2nd in Boston.
Personally, if we were the Ethiopian selectors, we think we would have probably picked the two reserves as well as Mare Dibaba, the reigning world champ.
2) We Don’t Think Ethiopia Selected Its Three Best Marathoners On The Men’s Side Either But The Picks Are Logically Defensible
The top two picks on the men’s side of the ledger aren’t too controversial as both Tesfaye Abera and Lemi Berhanu, the top finishers in Dubai this year, have run two strong races this year. And the Ethiopians can defend the third selection as Feyisa Lelisa won a major this year – Tokyo.
That being said, we certainly don’t think the Ethiopian men’s team comprises its three best marathon runners. Galen Rupp and Meb Keflezighi, you definitely caught a big break in your quest to win a second Olympic medal. We wouldn’t have put Feyisa Lelisa on the team even though he won in Tokyo. According to tilastopaja.org, Lelisa has finished in the top three in just two of his last nine marathon starts. Yes, he’s done so in each of his last two marathons, but that’s not a track record to brag about.
Contrast that record to that of Lelisa Desisa. He’s finished first or second in seven of 10 career marathon and top-three in eight of 10. That’s an incredible record. And he’s not beating up on minnows either. Here are the 10 marathons he’s run: Dubai (twice), Boston (four times), New York (twice) and Worlds (twice).
If we were the Ethiopian selectors, we’d also have seriously considered not putting Dubai and Hamburg winner Tesfaye Abera on the team. Yes, he’s run two strong races this year. But he’s technically never even run a major marathon. While in our mind Dubai should be considered a major, it’s the only loaded marathon that Abera’s ever run. Now the win in Hamburg makes us feel a little better about him but not totally confident as it’s just Hamburg.
It looks as if the Ethiopians haven’t learned from 2012. In 2012, they took two inexperienced guys who rocked 2012 Dubai – Ayele Abshero (he won Dubai in his debut) and Dino Sefir (he was a 2:10 guy before Dubai) – along with Getu Feleke (who had twice run under 2:06) and ended up with three DNFs.
Our main question surrounding Abera’s selection would be, “If you are going to reward a guy who was a 2:09 guy before this year for running so well in Dubai, then why didn’t you do the same for Tirfi Tsegaye, who won Dubai in 2:19 this year, on the women’s side?”
Regardless, Desisa certainly should have been on the team if he wanted a spot (he told us in Boston he doesn’t like running in hot weather but the Olympics likely won’t be super hot). And as fans, we’d certainly have loved to have seen Kenenisa Bekele on there as well, even if, based on recent results, his selection would be hard to justify (though his third in London is arguably more impressive than Lilesa’s win in Tokyo).
Talk about the Ethiopian selection on our world famous messageboard: MB: Ethiopian marathon team announced: Picks are as debatable as Kenya’s.