Emmanuel Bor Explains Why He Won’t Compete at the 2022 World Athletics Indoor Championships
“We greatly respect the talent and dedication of all our Soldier athletes. Sgt. Bor’s safety is our number one priority.”
By Jonathan Gault
March 14, 2022
Editor’s note: The initial title of this article was “Because of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, A US Soldier Has Been Pulled From The World Track and Field Championships.” However, the WCAP’s official position is that Bor is not traveling due to the State Department’s advisory not to travel to Serbia.
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On February 26, the US Army’s Emmanuel Bor finished second behind Cole Hocker in the USATF Indoor 3,000-meter final, earning a berth on the US team for the world indoor track & field championships (officially known as the 2022 World Athletics Indoor Championships), which begin on Friday in Belgrade, Serbia. The result was significant as it would be the first time the 33-year-old Bor would get to represent the red, white, and blue at the World Championships on the track. Last week, he found out that he will not be able to compete there.
Bor is a member of the US Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which allows him to train full-time as he fulfills his military service. In order for a WCAP athlete to compete at an overseas competition, they must be granted leave by the Army. Usually this leave is approved for a World Championship event, as it was for Bor when he represented the USA at the World Cross Country Championships in Denmark in 2019. But on March 8, Bor was informed by his commander, Captain Robert Cheseret, that his leave was not granted, forcing him to miss World Indoors.
Bor told LetsRun his leave was denied for “security reasons” and declined to elaborate beyond that, directing further questions to an Army communications official. But when asked if those reasons had anything to do with Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine (which began February 24, two days before his race at USAs), Bor said, “Yes, correct.”
LetsRun reached out to the Army for an explanation for why Bor’s leave was not granted.
“The U.S. State Department advisory discourages travel to Serbia at this time,” said Cheseret in a statement to LetsRun.com. “We greatly respect the talent and dedication of all our Soldier athletes. Sgt. Bor’s safety is our number one priority.”
The US State Department currently has Serbia on its “Level 4: Do Not Travel” list. The State Department advisory specifies a high level of COVID-19 as the reason for not traveling to Serbia, also noting that “violence associated with organized crime and high-profile sporting events in Serbia is common.”
In the past, the WCAP has been extremely cautious about travel during COVID-19. In December 2020, no WCAP athletes were allowed to run in the Marathon Project in Arizona due to COVID-19 concerns. Then early in 2021, the WCAP put on its own 5000-meter American record attempts out of COVID-19 concerns.
Asked specifically about whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had anything to do with Bor’s leave being denied, an Army communications officer said no.
Belgrade is located roughly just 300 miles from the Ukrainian border – Romania sits between the two nations – and a number of Serbians have been supportive of Russia. Per AFP, “Serbia officially condemned Russia’s actions at the United Nations but [Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic has vowed to refrain from sanctioning Moscow at home.”
With Bor being denied a spot on Team USA, the US will be one competitor short in the men’s 3000. US champ Cole Hocker had already opted out to focus on outdoors so Conner Mantz, who finished fourth at USA Indoors, would be next in line to go to Worlds. But Mantz’s agent Ray Flynn confirmed to LetsRun that by the time Bor announced his withdrawal, the entry deadline for Worlds had passed. That means third-placer Dillon Maggard will be the US’s sole representative in the men’s 3,000 in Belgrade.
Bor, for his part, was in good spirits with the Army’s decision. After coming to the US from Kenya for college (he graduated from Alabama in 2011), Bor enlisted in the Army in 2014 and served three years before he was accepted into the WCAP in 2017. He joined his younger brother Hillary, a two-time Olympian in the steeplechase, on the team, though Hillary has since left the WCAP and now competes for HOKA ONE ONE. As a member of the WCAP, Emmanuel has dropped his personal bests to 7:44, 13:00 (#2 in US history for the indoor 5,000), and 27:22. Rather than dwell on what he will miss out on next week, Emmanuel chose to focus on the support the Army has provided him through the years.
“Actually I’m proud of being in the Army. I’m so happy,” Bor said. “The Army has always supported me. I understand.”
Bor’s situation may be changing, however. He described himself as in a transition phase currently: his army contract expires on June 24, which means Bor will be leaving the Army unless he chooses to re-enlist. That could still happen, but as one of the top contenders to make this summer’s World Championships team, Bor would have interest from shoe companies that could offer him a sponsorship contract. Bor is married with a four-year-old daughter, Olympia, and said he will speak with his family, including wife Anastasia, before coming to a decision.
“I love the Army, it’s been a home for me, serving this country and being able to protect the nation and helping the people,” Bor said. “…I will look at my family and see what my best option is.”
Regardless of what he chooses, if Bor qualifies for the World Championship team this summer in the 5,000 or 10,000 meters, he won’t need to worry about getting his leave approved since the United States will be hosting the championships for the first time ever in Eugene.