Kenenisa Bekele Will Not Run Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials, His Dream Of Being the 1st Olympic 10,000 and Marathon Champ In 69 Years Won’t Happen Unless The Ethiopian Federation Changes Course

Birhanu Legese and Mule Wasihun Will Also Miss Out, Meaning the 2nd, 3rd and 10th Fastest Men In History Will All Miss The Race

April 28, 2021

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. You can read that document below.

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.

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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.

It appears Bekele has run his last Olympic race

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. With a 2:02:48 pb, Legese is the third-fastest marathon of all time, behind only Kipchoge and Bekele, and has won the last two Tokyo Marathons. Wasihun owns a 2:03:16 pb, good for 10th on the all-time list. The full list of athletes expected to compete can be found here.

If Bekele’s appeal is denied, it’s likely the world will never see him compete in the Olympics again as he will be 42 by the time of the next Olympics in Paris in 2024.

Quick Take by LRC: As fans, we really want Bekele in the Olympic marathon

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It would be amazing to see Bekele in one last Olympics as his Olympic record is sterling: silver and gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 in Athens in 2004, and double gold in the same events in Beijing in 2008, setting Olympic records in both (12:57.82 in the 5,000, 27:01.17 in the 10,000). In his most recent Olympics, in London in 2012, he placed fourth in the 10,000 meters. Only two men have ever won Olympic gold on the track and in the marathon, with Emil Zatopek being the last in 1952. Hannes Kolehmainen, who won Olympic track gold in 1912 and marathon gold in 1920 was the other.

Quick Take #2: If Bekele’s appeal is denied, where does he go from here?

Even if Bekele does miss the Olympics, this does not mean we’ve heard the last of Kenenisa Bekele. Though his marathon career has been marked by setbacks, he is the comeback king. In 2016, he was left off the Ethiopian Olympic team and proceeded to run 2:03:03 in Berlin that fall, missing the world record by six seconds. He entered 2019 having dropped out of three of his last five marathons and produced a shocking 2:01:41 in Berlin, missing the world record — which Kipchoge had lowered from 2:02:57 to 2:01:39 in 2018 — by two seconds.

A calf injury forced Bekele to withdraw just days before his most recent marathon, London in October 2020, but Bekele remains perhaps the most talented long-distance runner to have walked the earth and has said he is healthy. If he can bank some good training this summer, a return to Berlin in September — and one last crack at the marathon world record Bekele has long coveted — certainly seems possible. Only a fool would totally count him out.

Do you want to hear nine minutes of co-founder Robert Johnson‘s talk with Tefere Debebe about Bekele? Join the Supporters Club and listen to the recording now:

VIP SC MB: Great news. An Ethiopian journalist just guaranteed me that Bekele will be named to the Ethiopian Olympic team

Talk about the Ethiopian drama on our messageboard:

MB: Ethiopian Marathon Trials Official Discussion Thread – Bekele Is Out, Can He Get in On Appeal

LRC Note. This article was initially published before we knew Bekele was protesting the whole concept of a Trials race and before we spoke to Tefere Debebe. 

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