Well, the word has come down from on high, and a little earlier than expected at that. Originally scheduled to be announced April 30th, today at a packed news conference in Naiobi, Athletics Kenya named their highly anticipated Olympic Marathon squads.
Men: Wilson Kipsang, Abel Kirui, Moses Mosop…
Women: Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, Priscah Jeptoo…
“We have selected the athletes based on their individual performances after the major Marathon races they have participated in this season with a lot of emphasis on experience,” AK President Isaiah Kiplagat told the gathering.
The women’s selection held no surprises, top three at London, all of whom have performed well in recent performances before that, including reigning World Champion Edna Kiplagat and silver medalist Priscah Jeptoo. Two-time London champion Mary Keitany is, of course, the lioness herself.
The only other candidate with claim might have been Boston champ Sharon Cherop, the bronze medal winner in Daegu. But even her own team knew her Olympic chance came and went in Dubai in January where, though she ran a PR 2:22:39, it only harvested seventh place. Regardless of her win in Boston, AK was not going to put someone on the team whose third marathon of the year would be the Olympic Marathon.
Men’s team was always the more intriguing selection. But of the six provisional picks, only Wilson Kipsang performed at his best this spring, winning London handily.
M. Mosop 2:05:02 – 3rd, Rotterdam
G. Mutai DNF, Boston
W.Kipsang 2:04:44 – 1st, London
A. Kirui 2:07:56 – 6th, London
E. Mutai 2:08:01 – 7th, London
P. Makau DNF, London
The surprise selection was Moses Mosop whose third place behind two Ethiopians in Rotterdam seemed to eliminate him from the Olympic sweepstakes. But when Geoffrey Mutai DNF’d in the heat of Boston, then Emmanuel Mutai and Patrick Makau showed poorly at London, the door swung open again for last year’s Chicago champion and 2:03:06 Boston runner-up (debut).
Besides, Mosop has had lots of experience repping his nation at major championships going back to his junior years, including seventh at the 2004 Athens Olympic 10,000, bronze in the 2005 Helsinki World Championships in the same event, and a silver medal in 2007 World Cross in Mombassa.
Abel Kirui had his two World Championship gold medals as backup, as he sacrificed for the nation in foregoing lucrative big-city marathon paydays to represent the crossed spears and shield in Berlin 2009 and Daegu 2011. Athletics Kenya couldn’t rightfully ignore that, regardless of Kirui’s deep fade to sixth in London, especially if they ever hoped to get top athletes to run World Championships down the line.
The upset from my perspective is Geoffrey Mutai. If anyone deserved a mulligan for Boston’s heatwave it was G. Mutai. Based on last year’s course records at the only two non-paced majors, Boston and New York City, he’s proven himself a canny racer in Olympic-style marathons. Perhaps we can take something from the response of Geoffrey’s manager in Boston, Gerard van de Veen of Volare Sports who, when asked: “what does Mutai think he has to do?” answered, “I have asked three times what the criteria will be (for selection) and I still don’t know.”
As always, it is difficult to read the AK tea leaves. But recall that after Mutai destroyed the field at last year’s Kenyan Cross Country Championships by 44-seconds the self-coached runner was ordered into the national training camp where he was forced to train under federation chosen coaches.
“He definitely lost shape there,” read my notes from pre-Boston 2011. “His longest run in the camp was 55-minutes. The camp was all intensity, and no endurance.”
Then, when the World Championships in Spain turned tactical he only took fifth in a kicker’s finish before his remarkable turn in Boston one month following. So, it hasn’t all been strawberries and cream between Mr. Mutai and his federation. A factor in the Olympic selection?
Last year Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat came out front publicly and all but declared Patrick Makau and Abel Kirui as having secured Olympic selection by their performances in Berlin and Daegu – world record by Makau, second gold for Kirui. Then the federation walked back from that position by naming six provisional Olympians and saying the selection would be made after Rotterdam, Boston, and London 2012.
And that’s the inherent flaw in the subjective selection method. With no firm criteria, the men felt they had to do something special to stand out. As such, they all seemed to be thinking beyond the race they were in. Mosop had world record dreams in Rotterdam, but came away disappointed with a 2:05:02 in third. But he was the main man in Rotterdam, and even when he fell off pace, the organizers sent the lone rabbit back to try to help tow him back up to the two leading Ethiopians. Hardly an Olympic-style race.
In London, Abel Kirui had to construct a long bridge to rejoin Wilson Kipsang after the latter’s big mid-race move. That effort, which he had not choice but to attempt, proved fatal. Kirui faded late to a hard sixth, a bridge too far. Yet, Martin Lel, the consummate Londoner, bided time, and won the race for second in a signature kick over 2010 champ Tsegay Kebede (that’s three wins and two seconds in London for the elegant Mr. Lel). With no Olympic agenda, he raced as the tactics revealed themselves.
Best intentions and – what the hell, they’re all great – aside, the subjective selection throws the athletes, confounds the fans, and makes dull, apparently, Occam’s razor. Which all leads to the inevitable question if other agendas were at play? As agent and promoter Ray Flynn wrote when asked what the sport needs from its federations: “In an NGB I look for transparency, impartiality, and the ability to be able to lead the sport objectively without getting caught up in the politics.”
Wonder how many federations would pass that muster? None of which will mean anything if one of these men stand atop the podium in London this August to join the late Sammy Wanjiru as the only Kenyans to win Olympic Marathon gold. But if they don’t…
Here’s Makau’s management’s reaction:
All of us at Possosports would like to congratulate all chosen athletes by Athletics Kenya to represent Kenya in women’s and men’s marathon race in 2012 Olympic Games in London and we would like to wish them good health and excellent preparations.
It is our belief that Mr. Patrick Makau, current Marathon World record holder, should have been included in this team and we would like to use this opportunity to reassure all fans that Mr. Makau will continue with serious training in order to continue to challenge human limits on the marathon course and in order to fly Kenyan flag high in the process.
Also, we would like to set the record straight and inform all interested parties – Mr. Makau’s problem in Virgin London Marathon this past weekend was obviously contrary to what we expected, but we have been assured that the injury is not serious. He does have full flexibility in his left leg and we have been assured the issue is not a hamstring muscle strain, but apparently a mild case of sciatic irritation.
Mr. Makau will be back in full training within the next few days and he continues to receive daily treatments in order to be sure that the injury has been dealt with and every preventative effort is being made in order to assist Mr. Makau to whom we, as always, wish all the best.
Possosports, Europe (Prague)