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Kenenisa Bekele won’t race the Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials

Bekele is reportedly upset with the Ethiopian Athletics Federation, but sitting out the Olympic trials could result in him missing the Tokyo Games

Berlin Marathon Photo by: SCC EVENTS/Camera4

Three-time Olympic gold medallist Kenenisa Bekele will not race Saturday’s Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials, potentially erasing any chance he has of running at the Tokyo Games. According to a report from LetsRun.com, Bekele is displeased with the Ethiopian Athletics Federation’s Olympic qualification process, and although he says he is healthy, he won’t be attending the 35K trials race in Sebeta, a city just outside the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa

Bekele at Golden League 2006, Gaz de France, Paris. Photo: Thomas Faivre-Duboz.

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner of all time, running his PB of 2:01:41 at the Berlin Marathon in September 2019. This result came within the qualifying window for the Tokyo Olympics, which were originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, and Bekele has said he was told that the Ethiopian marathon team would be selected based on the the fastest results in this period. It was only after the pandemic hit that officials changed the qualification process and decided to implement a trials race in which the top three men and women would win spots on the Ethiopian team headed to Tokyo. 

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Bekele penned a letter (which was published on Twitter by an Ethiopian journalist) to the Ethiopian Athletics Federation expressing his disappointment in the qualification process, also noting that he will not be racing in Sebeta due to the race’s close proximity to the Olympic marathon, which is scheduled for August 8. The two races are only 14 weeks apart, and Bekele says this will not give him enough time to fully recover ahead of the Olympics. 

Although he will not race the trials, Bekele is not giving up on his Olympic hopes, and his letter was also an appeal to the Ethiopian Athletics Federation to have the qualification system changed. Despite the fact that Ethiopian marathon coach Haji Adilo confirmed with LetsRun that the top three men and women from the trials will win their spots on the Olympic squad, an Ethiopian journalist named Teferi Debebe has said he believes Bekele will win his appeal and be added to the team headed to Tokyo. 

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“His appeal is very powerful because it comes from Bekele,” Debebe told LetsRun. “Definitely the federation is going to do something in my opinion.” Should the Ethiopian Athletics Federation stand by its current system, though, Bekele will not be in Tokyo, despite owning one of the fastest marathon times in history. If that happens, it very well could be the end of Bekele’s amazing Olympic career, and while he already has four medals (three gold, one silver) on the track, there will always be debate as to whether he could have added another in the marathon if he had had the chance.