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The running world was denied an opportunity to witness a historic race when it was announced by the Ethiopian Athletics Federation that they did not choose Kenenisa Bekele to compete in Tokyo – what were they thinking? The head-to-head matchup between Bekele and Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge was highly anticipated.

Kipchoge, who owns the world record at 2:01:39, took gold in Tokyo in commanding fashion. Bekele has run as fast as 2:01:41, he should have been there.

Ethiopian Olympic Trials

For some strange and unknown reason, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation decided to make their Olympic Trials marathon take place at altitude, in cool temperatures, and failed to provide a 42.195km-length course. The athletes ran just 35kms. Not indicative of what they would anticipate in Sapporo, Japan. And the trials did not come close to matching the conditions their athletes would face.

The Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials were held Saturday in Sebeta City, Ethiopia, a town located in the geographical centre of the country at more than 7300 feet (2,356m) of elevation. 

On social media, Ethiopian running fans expressed concern about Bekele being absent and commented in Amharic, translated to, “If the Olympics do not come without Kenenisa, we will ask you for treason. The aspiring athlete will only promote the name of our country by participating in the gold medal. If not, we consider you an OLF soldier.”

It was a failure of epic proportions.

The result? All three Ethiopian marathon runners in the men’s field retired early due to the heat. On the other hand, Eliud Kipchoge won, defending his Rio Olympic title, and finished 1:20 ahead of his closest competitor. Kipchoge clocked a 2:08:38. The Netherlands’ Abdi Nageeye finished in second place in the time of 2:09:58. Taking third was Somali-born, Bashir Abdi, who was representing Belgium. He clocked a 2:10:02 finish time.

The second Kenyan athlete finished in fourth position, Lawrence Cherono, also clocked a 2:10:02. It was a strong showing for Kenya and a devastating blow to Ethiopia. Heads should roll.

The Berlin marathon

Berlin offers a fast course, typically perfect weather conditions, great competition, pacers, and generally an environment that is favourable for elite athletes to perform at their best.

Kipchoge’s world record was set there in 2018. The following year, in less than ideal weather conditions, Bekele ran 2:01:41. The latter is arguably a slightly better performance. Can Bekele improve upon Kipchoge’s record? It is very possible that he would have in 2019.

Again, the running world is denied the opportunity to witness the two great marathon runners go head-to-head, as Kipchoge is non-commital about his future and confirmed that he will not be running London on Oct. 4.

Berlin is home to 12 of the 31-fastest men’s marathons of all time and four of the top-six.

For 16 years, Bekele held the world records in the 5000m and 10,000m events at 12:37.35 and 26:17.53, respectively. They were finally taken in super spikes in 2020 by Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei.

At ages 36 and 39 it is unlikely that we will see the great rivalry that could have been in the marathon.

Perhaps Bekele can demonstrate – not that he hasn’t already – that the Ethiopian Athletics Federation erred when they did not choose him for the Olympic team.

Top finishers

1KENKIPCHOGE Eliud2:08:38
2NEDNAGEEYE Abdi2:09:58
3BELABDI Bashir2:10:02
4KENCHERONO Lawrence2:10:02
6JPNOSAKO Suguru2:10:41
7TANSIMBU Alphonce Felix2:11:35
8USARUPP Galen2:11:41
9MAREL GOUMRI Othmane2:11:58
10BELNAERT Koen2:12:13
11MAREL AARABY Mohamed Reda2:12:22
12FRANAVARRO Nicolas2:12:50
13ISRTEFERI Maru2:13:02
14ERIKIFLE Goitom2:13:22
15COLSUAREZ Jeison Alexander2:13:29
16EORGABRIYESOS Tachlowini2:14:02
17FRAAMDOUNI Morhad2:14:33
18MARSAHLI Hamza2:14:48
19CHNYANG Shaohui2:14:58
21ESPMATEO Daniel2:15:21
22ERIGHEBREGERGIS Yohanes2:15:34
23DENULAD Adbi Hakin2:15:50
24AUSADAMS Liam2:15:51
25BRNEL ABBASSI El Hassan2:15:56
26GERRINGER Richard2:16:08
27ESTNURME Tiidrek2:16:16
28ISRAMARE Girmaw2:16:17
29USARILEY Jacob2:16:26
30GERPETROS Amanal2:16:33
31ARGMUNOZ Eulalio2:16:35
32CHNPENG Jianhua2:16:39
33ESPGUERRA Javier2:16:42
34SAGELANT Elroy2:16:43
35ERIRUESOM Oqbe Kibrom2:16:57
36NZLROBERTSON Zane2:17:04
37ISRALAME Haimro2:17:17
38POLNOWICKI Adam2:17:19
39BDIIRABARUTA Olivier2:17:44
40NORMOEN Sondre Nordstad2:17:59