Did Kenenisa Bekele Do Enough at the London Marathon to Make The Ethiopian Olympic Team? The Case For & Against

Bekele hasn't appeared in the Olympics since 2012 but he is the only Ethiopian to have broken 2:05 in both 2023 and 2024

Father Time may be undefeated, but it has been inspiring to watch Kenenisa Bekele, the man whom I regard as the greatest distance runner in history, battle with him, first in Valencia in December and again in London on Sunday morning, where Bekele set yet another masters world record of 2:04:15 to finish second at the 2024 TCS London Marathon.

Mid-race today, messageboard poster John Wesley Harding summed things up perfectly when he wrote, “Can we just appreciate how incredible it is that the 2002 World XC champion just ran a 1:01:30 half marathon followed by a 4:35 mile split?”

And Bekele was just getting started as he was the one to push the pace late in the race. One LRC visitor said they were pretty certain they would cry if Bekele won and another wrote they’d long battled depression and Bekele had inspired them to keep living.

In the end, Bekele didn’t get the fairytale ending of a win, but his dream to get one last shot at the Olympics — some 12 years after he last appeared on the sport’s greatest stage — at age 42 is totally legit. Let’s analyze the case for Bekele and against.

The Case for Kenenisa Bekele

Kieran Cleeves for London Marathon Events

Bekele just finished second in the world’s most competitive marathon. London has the biggest elite budget and Bekele just beat everyone save for one man not from his country. He has now run very well in two straight marathons thanks to his 2:04:19 fourth-place showing in Valencia in December and his 2:04:15 second-place showing today. The list of Ethiopians who have broken 2:05 in both 2023 and 2024 comprises just one name: Kenenisa Bekele.

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Now that doesn’t mean Bekele is a lock for the team. Far from it. The one lock for Ethiopia’s team has to be Sisay Lemma, who just missed Bekele’s Ethiopian record of 2:01:41 in winning Valencia last year when he ran 2:01:48 and then just won Boston on Monday in 2:06:17.

The Case against Kenenisa Bekele

When they select teams, the Ethiopian selectors, particularly when choosing for the track, often simply go for athletes with the fastest time. That hurts Bekele as while he’s the second fastest Ethiopian of 2024 (and 4th in 2023), he’s only the 5th-fastest Ethiopian looking at 2023 and 2024 combined.

The fastest Ethiopian men for 2023-2024
Sisay Lemma – 2:01:48 Valencia 2023
Takele Bikila – 2:03:24 Berlin 2023
Deresa Geleta – 2:03:27 Seville 2024
Dawit Wolde – 2:03:48 Valencia 2023
Kenenisa Bekele – 2:04:15 London 2024

Let’s take a look at the credentials of the three men not named Sisay Lemma on that list ahead of Bekele.

Photo: Chloe Knott for London Marathon Events

Let’s start with the men on the list who ran faster than Bekele in 2023, Takele Bikila and Dawit Wolde — as they are easy to rule out ahead of Bekele. Wolde, who beat Bekele in Valencia, was in London today and he lost contact with the leaders just before 30k and ended up a DNF. So he should be out as his other 2023 results weren’t overly impressive (4th in Rotterdam, 17th in Chicago).

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Takele Bikila is a big talent. He’s only 21 years old and was the 2021 world U20 silver medallist in the steeple. And that 2:03:24 for 3rd in Berlin last fall was his marathon debut. So he’s a big talent. But he hasn’t raced at all this spring so we’re assuming that means he’s injured. He’s out, too.

So that leaves one man who has run faster than Bekele in 2023 or 2024 left to consider: Deresa Geleta. The 27-year-old won Seville in February in 2:03:27. In 2023, he was 2nd in Dubai in 2:05:51 in February and 1st in Beijing at the end of October in 2:07:41.

Why Geleta should be on the team ahead of Bekele: In addition to running faster than Bekele, Geleta has won his last two marathons. In addition to the Valencia win, he won Beijing at the end of October whereas Bekele hasn’t won a marathon since 2019.

Why Geleta shouldn’t be on the team ahead of Bekele: Do you not think that Kenenisa Bekele would win the Beijing Marathon if he ran it? He only runs the world’s most competitive marathons.

And as for Geleta’s time, are you really certain that Geleta’s 2:03:24 in perfect conditions in Seville a better performance than Bekele’s 2:04:15 today? I most definitely do not think it is.

In Seville, the weather was much better for running faster as there was hardly any wind. In London, there was a lot of wind.

And while almost everyone in London apart from Bekele and race winner Alexander Mutiso blew up in the second half, nearly everyone in the men’s race in Seville ran way faster than they had ever before. Of the top 17 men’s finishers in Seville, 15 ran a personal best and one of the other two had never run a marathon before, but he broke his national record. In London, five of the top 10 men at halfway (61:29) dropped out and two others ran enormous positive splits.

Take a look at this spreadsheet from 2024 Seville.

Athlete Seville Time Previous
1 Deresa Geleta ETH 2:03:27 2:05:51 2:24
2 Morhad Amdouni FRA 2:03:47 2:05:22 1:35
3 Gashau Ayale ISR 2:04:53 2:05:33 0:40
4 Yemaneberhan Crippa ITA 2:06:06 2:08:57 2:51
5 Tafese Delegen ETH 2:06:11 2:09:07 2:56
6 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie ERI 2:06:49 2:05:34 N/A
7 Eyob Ghebrehiwet Faniel ITA 2:07:09 2:07:19 0:10
8 Melaku Belachew ETH 2:07:28 2:10:31 3:03
9 Suldan Hassan SWE 2:07:36 NA debut
10 Ibrahim Chakir ESP 2:07:48 2:09:16 1:28
11 Daniele Meucci ITA 2:07:49 2:09:25 1:36
12 Samuel Russom ERI 2:07:57 2:09:36 1:39
13 Rory Linkletter CAN 2:08:01 2:10:24 2:23
14 Petro Mamu ERI 2:08:01 2:09:57 1:56
15 Mohamed El Talhaoui MAR 2:08:03 2:10:10 2:07
16 Phil Sesemann GBR 2:08:04 2:08:49 0:45
17 Carlos Díaz CHI 2:08:04 2:10:26 2:22

So 15 of the top 16 that had run a marathon before ran a PR with an average of improvement of 1:51.67. Even if you include the one guy that didn’t PR, the average time of the top 16 finishers who had run a marathon before was still 1:40 faster than they had run before. That’s crazy. If I was World Athletics, I’d make sure the course was the accurate distance as eight national records were set in Seville this year.

Conclusion: Are the Ethiopian selectors really going to take a guy who didn’t break 2:10 in his first eight career marathons and a guy who has never run a major over the GOAT Bekele? If you are going just by fastest time run during the qualifying window, then Geleta is your man. Otherwise it’s quite easy to make the argument that Bekele belongs in over him. But even if Geleta is selected, then Bekele could take the third slot.

Anyone else to consider?

While the Ethiopians are often focused on time, there are a few other men their selectors should consider. I took a look at all of the Ethiopian men who ran under 2:05 last year or this year to see if any might have a case. New York City record holder Tamirat Tola is the only one I think the selectors would even consider over Bekele (Boston runner-up Mohamed Esa could also have a case, but the selectors may not consider him since he only ran 2:06:58 in Boston).

The case for Tamirat Tola

Like Bekele, the 32-year-old Tola has performed well on the global stage before. He won Olympic bronze in the 10,000 in Rio in 2016. He won the 2022 world title in the marathon for Ethiopia and also won New York last fall in a course record of 2:04:58 after finishing third in London in 2:04:59. If I was an Ethiopian selector, it would be very hard for me not to pick Tola given his pedigree and the fact that he’s proved himself on a hilly, unrabbited course in New York in the fall.

The case against Tamira Tola

He was in London today and got dropped shortly after 30k and ended up a DNF. He also was a DNF at Worlds last year.


It is clear that Lemma will be on the team. And now it’s really down to three people for two spots.

Bekele, Tola, and Geleta.

The more I think about it, the more optimistic I am that Bekele will actually make it.

It’s they pick simply by time, then Bekele has the edge over Tola (although I’ll certainly believe Tola’s 2:04:58 CR win on the hilly New York course is better than anything Bekele has run in recent years even though it was slower). If they go by pedigree, then they should take Bekele and Tola over Geleta.

The only way I see he doesn’t make it is if they want someone with a recent win, then Bekele will be out and it will be Lemma, Tola, and Geleta.

In the end, I think the Ethiopians will pick Bekele as it’s hard to overlook the most recent race and Bekele beat Tola today.

What do you think will happen? Vote in our poll and then talk about Bekele and London our messageboard.

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