ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Kenenisa Bekele took a swipe at the Ethiopian Athletics Federation on Wednesday after he was left off the marathon team for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, calling his exclusion “unjust” and claiming the selection criteria is “biased.”
In an interview with The Associated Press after the EAF confirmed Bekele wasn’t part of the four-man team for Rio, Bekele said athletes were informed way too late that they must run in at least two major marathons in the 12 months before the team was picked to be eligible.
“I am very disappointed by the announcement that the Ethiopian Athletics Federation made about the selection of athletes competing in [the] marathon,” Bekele said in an interview at his office in Addis Ababa. “The selection process was biased and the result unjust.”
The federation’s decision to leave out Bekele, the world-record holder and three-time Olympic champion in the 5000m and 10,000m, was a major surprise.
EAF secretary general Bililign Mekoya told Ethiopian television on Tuesday, when Bekele’s absence was confirmed, that “the requirements we set are clear.”
“In Kenenisa’s case, he hasn’t met the requirements, so he couldn’t make it to Rio,” he said.
Bekele missed most of the last year with an Achilles injury. He returned from that lengthy layoff to finish third at the London Marathon in April. That’s the only marathon he’s run in the last year, although he won the Great Manchester Run 10km last month.
“We were told of the selection criteria too late in the year for us to try and meet any one of them,” Bekele said. “This affected me and a number of other fellow athletes. I cannot get the chance to compete [at the Olympics] now, and there is nothing I can do about it.”
At least 12 athletes have protested to the federation over the selection criteria, although Bekele isn’t one of those yet. Bililign, the EAF secretary general, said athletes are able to lodge protests.
Bekele was one of the greats at 5000m and 10,000m. He has followed in the footsteps of another of Ethiopia’s favorites, Haile Gebrselassie, by switching to the marathon in search of Olympic success at the longer distance.
Bekele won his debut marathon in Paris in 2014 before his injury struggles last year.