This is a piece from Deji Ogeyingbo on Kenenisa Bekele, and his inspiring 2:04.19 reminds all runners over 40 that they have a few more good races in the tank.

Kenenisa Bekele is the former WR holder at 5,000m and 10,000m. Kenenisa won 26 gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 2 bronze medals at the Olympic Games (3 gold, 1 silver), World Champs (5 gold, 1 bronze), one gold at World Indoors, two gold at African Champs, 2 gold at All-African Games, 112medals at World Cross Country (11 gold, 1 silver) and two Marathon Majors. 

He now runs for Anta Footwear. 

Kenenisa Bekele proves his mettle at the Valencia marathon, but his pursuit of an Olympic marathon appearance goes on

If there was any major takeaway from this year’s Trinidad Alfonso Valencia Marathon, aside from reigning 10,000m world champion Joshua Cheptegei’s 37th place finish in 2:08:59, it surely has to be seeing Kenenisa Bekele running in a marathon again. The multiple world and Olympic champion is widely regarded as the greatest distance runner of all time, and many won’t begrudge him if he had hung his running shoes years ago. However, the Ethiopian continues to push his boundaries.

Last year in London, Bekele broke the record by running 2:05:53, but Switzerland’s Tadesse Abraham surpassed him by running 2:05:10 in Berlin in September. Now Bekele has the record again and is the first man over 40 to break 2:06. Does that mean he’s getting back into shape ahead of next year? Certainly not. But if there’s one thing that has characterized Bekele’s career, it’s the sheer zeal to reach unchartered territory. He has held a lifelong dream of competing at the Olympics and this performance in Valencia accentuates why he deserves a chance to be at the Paris Olympics. 

Kenenisa Bekele, 2022 London Marathon by London Marathon

Bekele’s transition to the marathon and subsequent Olympic selections have proven challenging. Despite his remarkable track career, Olympic selection eluded Bekele in 2016 and 2021. The marathon has posed new challenges, yet the allure of the Olympic stage remains a beacon of aspiration for this seasoned athlete.

The Valencia marathon served as a defining moment in Bekele’s relentless pursuit. Before the race, the 41-year-old did not finish at the London Marathon in April and placed 5th the year before.  Still, he proved his mettle in the Spanish City. 

Clocking an impressive halfway mark of 60:58, he displayed remarkable tenacity, pushing through the grueling second half and overtaking multiple competitors. Bekele’s resilience and unwavering determination resonated on the roads of Valencia, epitomizing the enduring spirit that has defined his storied career.

Bekele’s Olympic ambitions have been an enduring pursuit. Despite being a three-time Olympic gold medalist in track events, his transition to the marathon and subsequent Olympic selections have been challenging. Not selected for the Ethiopian team in 2016 or 2021, Bekele’s unwavering dream persists. However, after his recent spectacular performance in Valencia, his Olympic aspirations for 2024 have resurged.

Notably, other Ethiopians like Tadese Takele, Sisay Lemma, and Dawit Wolde have posted faster times in 2023. The likes of Lemma and Tamirat Tola, victorious in prominent World Marathon Majors, currently hold precedence in the selection hierarchy. Despite these challenges, Bekele’s remarkable Valencia feat stands as a testament to his enduring capabilities, positioning him as a potential contender for an Olympic berth.

Kenenisa Bekele ran 2:05.52 in London, photo by London Marathon

The unpredictability surrounding Ethiopia’s selection process adds an air of intrigue to Bekele’s quest. Previous trials witnessed hasty arrangements, leaving Bekele on the sidelines. As the selection criteria remain uncertain, Bekele’s hope hinges on a stellar performance in an upcoming spring marathon. His Valencia triumph has elevated his chances, reviving the prospect of clinching a coveted spot in the Ethiopian Olympic team for Paris 2024.

Beyond the race against time and competitors, Bekele’s pursuit embodies resilience, determination, and an unwavering spirit. His ambition to make a mark in the marathon at the Olympics speaks volumes about his enduring hunger for excellence. Amidst formidable competition and the vagaries of selection, Bekele’s pursuit mirrors the struggles and uncertainties athletes often face in their quest for Olympic glory. His resolve and relentless pursuit of a lifelong dream stand as an inspiring narrative in the world of marathon running. 

It would be nice for the Ethiopia Athletics Federation to give him a shot at the Olympics. I know they probably won’t because they didn’t in 2021, but man, just give him a one-lifetime achievement selection. I don’t think he would be a DNF risk at the Olympics — his experiences the last couple of years, finishing well off the back, have made him more comfortable than someone like Kelvin Kiptum or Eliud Kipchoge would be if he falls off the pace, and he has very little to lose at this stage in his career aside from one appearance fee if he were to run a World Marathon Major instead.