ADDIS ABABA – In a shocking announcement, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation has left Kenenisa Bekele, a world record holder and three-times Olympic gold medalist, off the marathon team list for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
Bekele said the decision to exclude him from participating was “unjust” and the selection criteria “biased”.
But voicing his concern has not swayed the federation.
“I ran the London Marathon before even finishing my training and registered a good point. I did that because I wanted to be considered for the Rio Olympics”, Kenenisa told ANA in an interview at his office this week.
“I am very disappointed with the decision.”
One of the requirements for selection for the Olympics is for an athlete to have represented his country in world championships, and another the ability to handle pressure in competition abroad. Bekele said the federation seems to have ignored his international achievements.
He also charged that other athletes have been compromised by the fact that the federation announced its selection less than two months before the Games, leaving them little time to prepare.
“With only eight weeks left for the competition, there is little time for preparation. I do not know how these athletes will be able to be ready by then.”
He said he was as fit as those who made the cut, having fully recovered from an Achilles tendon injury.
“The Olympics and the world championships are not new to me. I have won more than 20 medals for my country in different competitions. I have recovered from my injury now and it has been a while since we have had a good result in the marathon. I wanted to contribute something for my country.”
The Federation’s decision to leave out Bekele has been a major surprise. His compatriot Haile Gebreselassie was among those who were taken aback.
Gebreselassie said that he was sad when he did not see Bekele’s name, adding that he would have been his first choice for Rio.
“As you know Kenenisa is a well-experienced athlete. He knows how to handle pressure and he knows how to win a race,” the runner told ANA.
“His win at the Great Manchester Run last month after months of injury [meant] he should have been an automatic choice. But as disappointing as this decision is, I still hope to see him running on the 10,000m track.”
Bekele holds the 5,000m and 10,000m world records and is a three-times Olympic champion, but has not raced on the track since June 2013 because of his injury.
Ethiopian sports analyst Tadele Assefa said his presence in Rio would have boosted the Ethiopian team.
“This is worrisome for Ethiopia. It is true our athletes need to be strong now since they are all we have but with Haile Gebreselassie retiring and now with Kenenisa not running it is going to be a tough competition for Ethiopia,” he told ANA.
“The Ethiopian team at the 2012 Olympics dropped out during the marathon for the first time in Olympic history and the decision of the federation this time also puts Ethiopia at a vulnerable position opening an opportunity especially for Ethiopia’s rival Kenyan runners to win.”
Bekele agreed: “It is obvious Kenya will have a winning opportunity now because when I met them at the London Marathon they told me that their major concern is me.”
The three male marathon runners who made the team are 2016 Dubai Marathon champion Tesfaye Abera (2:04:52), 2016 Boston Marathon champion Lemi Berhani (2:04:52), and Feyisa Lelisa.
Jemal Seid, a businessman from Addis Ababa, said: “I cannot believe he is not running. Yes, the athletes on the list are good but just like people like to see a good football game with players like Cristiano Ronaldo on the field, we also want to see him running because the competition is tougher when he is running.”
Africa News Agency