The news came as quite the shock to those who follow elite marathoning. Geoffrey Mutai and Patrick Makau were snubbed by Athletics Kenya following the announcement of their Olympic roster last April. Mutai absolutely dominated the marathon scene in 2011, winning both the Boston and New York marathons in course record times. In fact, Mutai’s 2:03:02 in Boston was the fastest marathon in history. The time is not recognized as a World Record due the net elevation loss and point-to-point nature of the course in Boston. Regardless, these performances vaulted Mutai to the #1 position in the IAAF marathon rankings. Followers of major marathons were predicting with relative certainty that Mutai and/or Makau would be selected to Kenya’s Olympic marathon squad, such was not the case. Kenya instead selected a team of three that didn’t include Geoffrey Mutai or current world record holder Patrick Makau. It’s well known Kenya has an incredible depth of world class distance runners, so the three they chose were by no means slouches.
There came a second shock prior to the Olympic marathon when Moses Mosop was forced to drop out. The surprise however was not that Mosop dropped, it was that once again Makau and Mutai were left out of the mix. Athletics Kenya instead went with the 6th fastest marathoner of all time, Emmanuel Mutai (No relation to Geoffrey). Athletics Kenya has no set guidelines with regards to how they select their Olympic marathon teams, and with the depth they possess picking just three out of that mix is a great challenge. Perhaps it was the 2012 Boston Marathon that cemented Mutai being left off the team. He dropped from the race after 18 miles, original reports cited stomach cramps as the reason for dropping, but Mutai later stated that he did not finish due to the heat which ended up reaching over 80 degrees – forcing over 4,000 runners to not start the race. There are other rumors Geoffrey Mutai was not selected, one suggests that his Adidas sponsorship played a role, and that if it was Nike he would have been picked. This rumor proved irrelevant however following the selection of Emmanuel Mutai, also an Adidas sponsored athlete. Athletics Kenya also viewed the 2012 Boston Marathon as the ‘unofficial’ marathon trials – a race Mutai was unable to finish.
The Olympic marathon has since passed with the gold medal being claimed by Uganda, albeit from a defected Kenya. In the end however the Kenyan flag did not claim the glory. One can only speculate the outcome being different had Geoffrey Mutai or Patrick Makau been present, however last Sunday’s Berlin marathon only furthered that sentiment. Mutai won, again, in a World leading time of 2:04:15 – the 4th fastest time in history. Mutai’s training partner Dennis Kimetto finished one second behind in what analysts are calling a ‘planned event’. There seemed to be no sprint to the finish from either athlete and many are speculating Kimetto allowed Mutai to win, a nice gesture considering Mutai took home $500,000 for winning the 2011-2012 World Major Marathon title. In any case, Athletics Kenya could very well be kicking itself for not making Mutai part of their Olympic marathon roster.
Kenya is world renowned as being a distance running powerhouse, yet they often struggle to medal when it comes to major championship events. London 2012 saw Kenya win only one bronze medal in the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 meter events respectively. In fact, with respect to the men’s 10,000, Kenya has a 44 year gold medal drought; not since Naftali Tamu claimed 10,000m gold at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City has a Kenyan man won that race. Kenya is known for having an incredible depth of elite distance runners and for working together on the track and roads employing strong tactics to fend off competition. The other East African distance running mecca, Ethiopia, is known for possessing devastating finishing kicks which often lead to podium-worthy performances. Kenya and Ethiopia are bitter distance running rivals.
For Kenyans, watching distance running at the Olympics is equivalent to a Canadian’s passion for Olympic hockey. The gold medal is the expectation and anything less is seen as somewhat of a failure. Kenyan’s were no doubt disappointed their two top marathoners were not given the chance to toe the line and potentially bring back a gold medal.
While it’s impossible to know if Geoffrey Mutai or Patrick Makau would have won the Olympic Marathon, do you think they at least deserved a shot? Let us know with your tweets and comments!
Brett is a passionate athlete, writer, and huge fan of distance running. An Ottawa, ON native, @BrettBonisteel trains with the Running Room Racing team under Coach Phil Marsh. When he’s not training or preparing for a road race, Brett is tracking down the World’s best elite runners for interviews. He can be found at major road races, track meets and on press trucks covering the biggest races. Brett is extremely proud to be a Runners Feed contributor and is looking to further develop himself as a writer.