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Shura Kitata wins Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials in sprint finish, Tigist Girma wins women’s race

Ethiopian runners booked their tickets to the Tokyo Games after a 35K qualifying race near Addis Ababa on Saturday

Photo by: FloTrack

Shura Kitata and Tigist Girma won the Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday in Sebeta, a city just outside the nation’s capital of Addis Ababa. The 35K qualifying race saw a thrilling finish in the men’s event, with Kitata, the 2020 London Marathon champion, edging out two-time Boston Marathon winner Lelisa Desisa in a sprint to the line. Girma’s win was much more comfortable, and she crossed the line 22 seconds ahead of her next-closest competitor. As things stand now, the top three men and women from Saturday’s race will represent Ethiopia in the Olympic marathon this summer. 

The women’s race 

With a PB of 2:19:52, Girma, the 2019 Ottawa Marathon champion, owns one of the fastest marathon results in history, and she ranks 14th among Ethiopians all time. She ran this result at the 2019 Amsterdam Marathon, where she finished second. While Girma doesn’t have any big wins on her resume, she has recorded several top-10 finishes at competitive races, and along with her run onto the podium at the Amsterdam Marathon in 2019, she posted fifth- and sixth-place finishes at the Tokyo and Valencia marathons in 2020. 

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Girma’s win on Saturday is perhaps the biggest of her career so far, not because it was a major event (it wasn’t), but because it gives her the opportunity to race at the Olympics for the first time. Her 1:59:23 finish in the 35K trial race in Sebeta put her on pace for a 2:23:56 marathon. 

Second place went to Birhane Dibaba in 1:59:45. Dibaba owns the sixth-fastest marathon result in Ethiopian history, with a PB of 2:18:35, which she ran in her second-place finish at the Tokyo Marathon in 2020. Dibaba has run to multiple podiums at World Marathon Major events, including a pair of wins in Tokyo in 2015 and 2018. Like Girma, the Tokyo Games will be Dibaba’s first time racing at the Olympics. 

Roza Dereje won the third and final spot on the Ethiopian marathon team headed to Tokyo this summer, crossing the line in 2:00:16. Dereje’s marathon PB of 2:18:30 is the third-fastest ever run by an Ethiopian and 10th-best in world history. She, too, has never raced at the Olympics.  

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The men’s race 

Kitata has tremendous momentum going into the Tokyo Games. In October, he won the London Marathon in a sprint finish, crossing the line in 2:05:41, just one second in front of Kenya’s Vincent Kipchumba. Similarly on Saturday, Kitata’s finishing kick lifted him to victory, and he beat Desisa by one second, stopping the clock in 1:46:15 (which was on pace for a 2:08:06 marathon). With a two-race win streak in a pair of competitive races, Kitata is likely brimming with confidence, and he will be riding a huge wave of momentum as he works toward his first Olympic race. 

Desisa went home disappointed on Saturday, but he has still guaranteed himself a chance to race in Sapporo, Japan, where this year’s Olympic marathon will be held. While Desisa also hasn’t raced in the Olympics before, he is no stranger to big events. Along with his two Boston Marathon victories in 2013 and 2015, he won the New York City Marathon in 2018, and he has five other podium finishes at the two races. He is also the reigning marathon world champion, as he won the world title in Doha, Qatar in 2019. 

Sisay Lemma finished in third, just as he did in London when Kitata also won the race. Lemma crossed the line in 1:46:19, just a few seconds behind Kitata and Desisa. Although his ticket is booked for the Tokyo Games on paper, Lemma can’t celebrate his run just yet, as it has been reported that Ethiopian running legend Kenenisa Bekele has challenged the qualification decision of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. 

Bekele opted not to race the trials, saying that the run is too close to the Olympic marathon race date on August 8 and that he wouldn’t have time to fully recover. He has also said he is unhappy with the Ethiopian Athletics Federation, as officials originally said the marathon team would be selected based on who ran the fastest times in the qualifying period. After the pandemic hit, officials changed the qualification process and added the trials race instead. 

Bekele ran his PB (and the second-fastest marathon result in history) of 2:01:41 in September 2019, and he assumed that would guarantee him a spot on the Ethiopian Olympic team. As things stand now, however, he will be left off the start list in Tokyo. However, if Bekele’s appeal with the national federation is successful, then he will be added to the team and Lemma will likely be let go, seeing as he was the last man to qualify in Saturday’s race. 

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