The Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) officially announced the team it will be sending to the Tokyo Olympics, and Kenenisa Bekele was not included on the list. Bekele, a three-time Olympic champion on the track and the second-fastest marathoner ever, was hoping to be named to the Ethiopian marathon team, but the EAF opted to go with the three podium finishers from the May 1 Ethiopian Trials. This is the second straight time Bekele has been left off the Ethiopian Olympic squad.
Three-time champion left out of #Ethiopia Olympic squad
Kenenisa Bekele, 2nd-fastest marathon runner of all time, has not been shortlisted by Ethiopia's athletics body after he boycotted local trials in May. It has been a thorny issue. https://t.co/hEFoqxTDDP via @BBCNews pic.twitter.com/RNc8NwThCp
— Ameyu Etana (@ameyuetana) July 1, 2021
The numbers don’t lie, and Bekele is clearly Ethiopia’s fastest marathoner of the past couple of years. At the 2019 Berlin Marathon, he ran 2:01:41, finishing just two seconds off Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge‘s world record of 2:01:39. That run came inside the qualification period for the Tokyo Games, and Bekele has said he was told that the Ethiopian team would be comprised of the runners with the fastest times.
When COVID-19 hit, EAF officials changed their minds on the team selection, and they decided to create the Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials. This was a 35K race in Sebeta, a city not far from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, and it was decided that the top three men and women would be selected to the Olympic team. Despite this announcement, Bekele said he would not run the trials race, as he thought it was too close to the actual Olympic marathon, which is set for August 8. The two races were separated by only 14 weeks, which Bekele said was not enough time for him to fully recover and resume training.
For most athletes, this would have been the end of their Olympic hopes, but Bekele is a special case, seeing as he has won multiple world championship and Olympic titles for his country. He submitted an appeal to the EAF, claiming he deserved a spot on the Olympic squad. At the time he submitted his appeal, an Ethiopian journalist named Teferi Debebe said he believed that Bekele would win the challenge and make it to the start line at the Summer Games.
— NBC OlympicTalk (@NBCOlympicTalk) July 1, 2021
After two months of waiting, the EAF has officially decided against adding Bekele to the Olympic team. The team features 2020 London Marathon champion Shura Kitata, two-time Boston Marathon winner Lelisa Desisa and 2:03 marathoner Sisay Lemma, the three men who finished on the podium at the Ethiopian Trials.
While the news certainly came as a crushing blow to Bekele, who is now 39 years old and might not get another chance to compete at the Olympics, it had to have been a huge relief for Lemma, who finished third at the Ethiopian Trials and likely would have been the runner to be cut had the EAF added Bekele to the team.