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By Jonathan Gault
July 6, 2022
On Tuesday, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation announced its team for the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene. If this sounds familiar, that’s because Ethiopia already named its team on June 13…and then updated it four days later to sub in Dawit Seyaum after she ran 14:25 to win the Oslo Diamond League.
Tuesday’s list — which the federation says is the final roster (it pretty much has to be, since entries were due to World Athletics on Monday) — features even more changes, which will have a major impact on Worlds, which begin on July 15 at Hayward Field. Remember, at World Indoor Championships earlier this year in Belgrade, Ethiopian athletes won eight of the 12 available medals across the 1500 and 3000 meters — including all four golds and a 1-2-3 sweep in the women’s 1500. The country is a distance powerhouse.
Here is the full roster, with changes, followed by some analysis on what it all means.
Men’s 800 (no changes)
Hirut Meshesha (1:58.54 sb) replacing Freweyni Hailu (1:59.39 sb)
Taddese Lemi (3:37.06 sb) replacing Melese Nberet (no races this year)
Gudaf Tsegay (3:54.21 sb) replacing Axumawit Embaye (3:58.80 sb)
Freweyni Hailu (3:58.18 sb, 4th in Olympics) replacing Ayal Dagnachew (3:59.87 sb)
Men’s 3000 steeple (no changes)
Women’s 3000 steeple
Simbo Alemayehu (9:09.17 sb at age 18) replacing Zerfe Wondemagegn (9:27.75 sb)
Selemon Barega replacing Telahun Bekele
Letesenbet Gidey (14:24.59 sb) replacing Gudaf Tsegay (14:26.69 sb)
Dawit Seyaum (14:25.84 sb) replacing Fantu Worku (14:47.37 sb)
Berihu Aregawi (26:46.13 sb) replacing Milkesa Mengesha (27:00.24 sb)
Ejgayehu Taye (30:44.68 sb) replacing Girmawit Gebrzihair (30:47.72 sb)
1) Ethiopia’s team just got A LOT stronger and Ethiopia went from no one doubling to a lot of doublers
In recent years, Ethiopia has been reluctant to allow its stars to double at global championships. Last year in Tokyo, Ethiopia had two huge 5,000m medal threats in Selemon Barega (Olympic 10,000 champ) and Berihu Aregawi (the 10,000 4th placer who would go on to win the Diamond League 5,000 title) but neglected to enter either in the 5,000 meters. Of the three men Ethiopia did enter, two failed to even make the final and the third, Milkesa Mengesha, wound up 10th.
The federation took criticism after that misstep and it looked as if it would double down in 2022 as the initial team named in June featured no doublers. But the final squad features five athletes double-entered: World Indoor bronze medalist Hirut Meshesha (800/1500) and Ejgayehu Taye (14:12 pb, #5 woman all-time), Letesenbet Gidey (women’s 5k/10k world record holder), Barega and Aregawi, all of whom are running the 5,000 and 10,000.
2) The meet is more interesting with the Ethiopians doubling; the men’s 5,000 final is now totally stacked
The World Championships are meant to be about the best against the best. When a world final is over, we don’t want to be asking ourselves, “What would have happened if Athlete X was in the race?” But that’s absolutely what we were thinking after the 2021 Olympic 5000 final without Barega. And it’s been an issue for a lot longer than that. Only once in his career did Haile Gebrselassie attempt the 5,000/10,000 double at a global champs (1993), in part because there were still prelims in the 10,000 in those days and in part because he didn’t want to tire himself for the lucrative post-championship meets in Europe.
That shouldn’t be an issue in 2022 (and if it is, it won’t have been the fault of the Ethiopian federation) as the distance finals are much stronger with Taye, Gidey, Barega, and Aregawi doubling up. The men’s 5,000 could be an all-timer. Not only do you have Olympic 5,000 champion Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, but now we have Olympic 10,000 champ Barega stepping down and Olympic 1500 champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen stepping up. It’s reminiscent of one of the most famous races in track history, the 2003 World Championship 5,000 final in Paris which featured Hicham El Guerrouj stepping up from the 1500 and Kenenisa Bekele stepping down from the 10,000 only for both of them to be defeated by an 18-year-old Eliud Kipchoge.
Having Aregawi in the 10,000 makes for a stronger race as well as he was 3rd at the Ethiopian trials in that event and set a Diamond League record for margin for victory when he ran 12:50 to win the Pre Classic 5,000 by 16 seconds.
3) Gudaf Tsegay’s medal odds went up but her gold medal odds went down
Tsegay won World Indoors comfortably in March (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images for World Athletics)
Tsegay is pretty clearly the #2 women’s 1500 runner in the world. She won World Indoors by 5+ seconds and is 3+ seconds faster than the #3 1500 woman in the world right now. But she’s also not close to double Olympic champ Faith Kipyegon, who beat her convincingly at Pre, 3:52.59 to 3:54.21.
Initially, Tsegay was entered in the 5,000 at Worlds (she ran the 5,000 only at the Olympics last year, earning the bronze medal) and while there’s no overwhelming favorite in that event like Kipyegon (well at least until we see how Sifan Hassan looks this weekend), Tsegay is not as good at the 5,000 as the 1500 (as evidenced by her defeat to countrywoman Dawit Seyaum in the 5,000 in Oslo). By running the 1500, Tsegay has a better shot at a medal but her odds at gold are worse.
4) It just got a WHOLE LOT harder for the Americans to medal
An American medal in the women’s 5,000 or 10,000 was already unlikely, so the Ethiopian roster changes didn’t make a huge impact on the chances of Karissa Schweizer or Elise Cranny. But the medal odds of Grant Fisher, who finished 5th in the Olympic 10,000 last year, are way lower today than they were a week ago (a statement also true for his US teammates Woody Kincaid and Joe Klecker).
Last Wednesday, two of the four men who finished ahead of Fisher in the 10,000 in Tokyo were major question marks. Bronze medalist Jacob Kiplimo hadn’t raced on the track all year, while Aregawi, the 4th placer, was named to Ethiopia’s team in the 5,000 only. Since then, Kiplimo ran 7:29 for 3,000 in Stockholm to show he’s very fit right now and Aregawi was added to Ethiopia’s 10,000 squad. Plus Barega was added to the 5,000.
Those developments will make it significantly harder for Fisher (or any American man in the 5,000 or 10,000) to earn a medal. That said, if an American can somehow medal, it will go down as a monumental achievement since no one can accuse these fields of being watered down.
Sinclaire Johnson‘s medal hopes in the 1500 also took a BIG hit. With Tsegay now in the 1500, two medals seem to be spoken for and new addition Freweyni Hailu, who was 4th in the Olympics last year at age 20, is better than Ayal Dagnachew (who is no slouch herself, world junior 800 champ last year and 3:59 this year).
MB: Rough Week: Grant Fisher Now Under 50-50 to Land a Medal?
5) Ethiopia needs to figure out a better way to do this
One of the most important jobs an athletics federation has is selecting national teams. And for countries that don’t use a “top 3 at the trials” model — which is to say, every country except for the US — things can get prickly as someone, inevitably, is going to be upset they’re missing out on the team.
There are ways to limit the outrage. The simplest solution is the one USATF has already discovered: hold a trials and just pick the top three finishers. Ethiopia actually did this ahead of the Olympics last year. The problem was, they held all the races on the same day, making it impossible for athletes to try out for both the 5,000 and 10,000 teams.
But even if you don’t want to stage a trials, a federation can avoid much of the backlash by announcing a clear criteria ahead of time and sticking to it. You want to pick the team based off season’s bests? Fine. Just let everyone know before the season starts and let them plan their races accordingly. Transparency and consistency are the keys.
Telahun Bekele after winning in Oslo this year. Courtesy Diamond League AG
Heck, even if you want to be subjective and use a selection panel, you can at least cut down on some of the drama by letting the athletes know in advance that they’ll have to run a few performances to impress the selectors.
What you don’t want to do is announce a team well before the entry deadline (and three days before two key Diamond League meets featuring most of your athletes) only to drastically change it three weeks later. Which is exactly what happened in Ethiopia, leaving athletes like Telahun Bekele (winner of the 5,000 in Oslo) to think they’re on the team only to yank it away less than a month later.
In the end, Ethiopia ended up picking the team by season’s best except in the 10,000, where it staged a trial race (and the top 3 there were the fastest 3 on the year). If it had just used that criteria throughout the year and stuck to it, there would be fewer angry people right now. The athletes deserve better.
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