Unsolicited Advice For Kenya & Ethiopiaby David Graham
Everyone enjoys being an arm-chair quarterback, dispensing "advice" on matters for which we aren't responsible.
So in thinking about London 2012, if I were magically given access to Olympic Committees and athletes, what would I say?
I'd express my respect for the athletes and then I'd give the following recommendations:
1. To Athletics Kenya - Don't use the London Marathon as the Olympic Marathon Trials Race.
This strategy happened to work in 2008 (1st & 5th in the Olympics) and did ok in 2012 as well (2nd & 3rd place), but to get optimal results, no spring marathon should be used to determine who is on the team and who isn't. Athletes need a full six months to recover and prepare for the Olympic Marathon.
Recommendation: Use results from the pre-Olympic year(s) to determine who makes the marathon team. AK started to do this in 2011, assuring all winners at the 2011 World T & F Championships that they would have a spot on the 2012 Olympic team, (thus Abel Kirui was given a spot in the marathon) and telling Patrick Makau that his world record in 2011 (not to mention his #1 world ranking from 2010) would also get him a spot on the team. But in the end, AK scrapped both of those plans. AK also ignored Geoffrey Mutai's phenomenal races in 2011 (and #2 world ranking in 2010...and since Mutai ran the world's fastest marathon in 2012 only a month after the Olympics, he certainly would have been in the hunt in London.)
Athletics Kenya has already suggested that a spring marathon will NOT be used to determine Olympic marathon team selection in 2016 and I hope this proves to be true. I hope that however they form their selection process - a difficult one, given the jaw-dropping depth of their athletes - the selection process will be in place by at least 2015 so that athletes and AK will have a better plan for marathon team selection by 2016.
2. To the Ethiopian Athletic Federation - Using a selection criteria of "three fastest times between January and June of the Olympic year" is a poor way to pick an Olympic Marathon team.
You have to factor in a) marathon experience, b) ability to perform well in a rabbit-less, championship race, and c) ability to perform well in warm weather.
The Dubai Marathon of 2012 provided neither b) nor c) and with respect to a) produced one team member whose Dubai race was his only marathon experience (Abshero) and another whose Dubai race was only his second marathon, his previous marathon experience being a decent but far from spectacular race (Sefir).
It was obvious to all (except, apparently, the Ethiopian Olympic Committee) that Tsgaye Kebede should have been the #1 choice for the 2012 Ethiopian Olympic Marathon team: the man always performs well, finishing in the top 3 at the biggies: Olympics, World Champs, Paris, London, Chicago, New York, Fukuoka....Kebede obviously knows how to RACE...but because of what happened in Dubai in January, when a mass fast rabbited race under great weather conditions produced terrific one-time results, Kebede wasn't named to the team.
When Kebede finished 3rd at London in April (showing, again, he knows how to race against competitive fields), then after the Olympics smashed the Chicago course record by almost a minute with a sparkling 2:04:38, it was obvious that the Ethiopian officials goofed up.
And if the EOC had looked at how people race in a high profile marathon, they would have seen that not only did Kebede stick his nose in the thick of the competition in London 2012, but so did Feyisa Lelisa...who, though he ended up 10th was with the leaders in London through 30K...moreover, Lilesa also had a fast time to his credit (Rotterdam in 2010, where he ran 2:05), a World Championships bronze medal from 2011, and a record of running well in warm weather (Chicago 2010 & Daegu 2011). And just like Kebede, Lilesa also ran well under the previous Chicago course record when he ran a sub 2:05 only two months after the Olympic Marathon in London.
But just like Kebede, Lelisa also didn't make the cut for the London Olympics.
Let's hope for a "live and learn" attitude for those who will pick future Ethiopian Olympic marathon team members.