ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopian track and field officials will not reconsider selection criteria to allow Kenenisa Bekele a spot on the Olympic marathon team, and they rejected Wednesday strong criticism by Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie and other elite athletes.
“He (Bekele) has a big place in our athletics history but he has failed to qualify as per our requirements,” Ethiopian Athletics Federation president Alebachew Nigusse said at a news conference.
“That’s final and there will be no re-run of the marathon results. We couldn’t really change the criteria again to bring him back just because he is Kenenisa. We are sorry but that’s not possible.”
Bekele, a three-time Olympic champion and the 5,000 and 10,000 meters world-record holder, was surprisingly left off Ethiopia’s three-man marathon team for the Rio De Janeiro Games. He had missed more than a year of marathon running because of injury but returned to finish third at the London Marathon in April. He won the Great Manchester Run 10-km race last month.
However, the EAF laid down a set of rules for qualifying for Rio — and Bekele didn’t meet them. The criteria included number of wins in major marathons, results from the world championships last year, and best marathon times in competition over the last two years.
Bekele’s injury-enforced absence over the last 12 months meant he didn’t qualify on those rules.
On Tuesday, Bekele, fellow Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie and more than 100 other athletes protested against the national federation outside its headquarters at the National Stadium in Addis Ababa. The athletes disagreed with the qualifying rules, claimed they were told too late about them, but also protested against what they perceived as mismanagement by officials.
Bekele criticized federation officials by saying there is “a clear lack of competence and most them are chasing only personal interests.” Bekele threatened to never run for Ethiopia again.
Officials accepted they weren’t quick enough to communicate the selection process but rejected the other criticism.
“We love and respect our elite athletes but we won’t entertain ideas or recommendations that don’t come through the right procedure,” Alebachew said.