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A Swoosh Affair: How Kenya’s Olympic Team Selection Points To A Nike Fix

Nike once again proving that they own track and field

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Following months of long lists, short lists, and anticipation, Athletics Kenya has finally announced their final selection for the marathon at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

The men’s selection didn’t bring much surprise, with two-time defending champion Eliud Kipchoge leading the charge alongside Tokyo Marathon champion Benson Kipruto and recent London Marathon champion Alexander Mutiso. Tokyo Marathon runner-up Timothy Kiplagat was named as the alternate.

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The women’s team, on the other hand, contained a surprising final selection. It was no shock when two-time Boston Marathon champion New York City Marathon Hellen Obiri and reigning Olympic champion and London Marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir were named to the team.

The shock came when former world record holder Brigid Kosgei was selected over both Rosemary Wanjiru, who ran 2:16:14 to place second in Tokyo (the fastest time by a Kenyan woman this year), and Sharon Lokedi, who beat Kosgei at the New York City Marathon and was second behind Obiri at the Boston Marathon.

With speculations rising about Nike’s involvement, let’s break down the selections and see what might be at play here.

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Was Eliud Kipchoge The Right Choice?

Last month, Athletics Kenya named five athletes to the Olympic marathon team shortlist: Eliud Kipchoge, Alexander Mutiso, Benson Kipruto, Timothy Kiplagat, and Vincent Ngetich.

Based on their spring performances, Mutsio, who won the London Marathon (2:04:01), and Kipruto, who won the Tokyo Marathon (2:02:16), were pretty much guaranteed to make the team.

Now, that final spot went to Kipchoge, and although he’s undoubtedly been the marathon GOAT for years, we can’t help but raise the question as to whether he was really the right choice, or not.

Kipchoge has a resume unlike most marathon runners. Two-time Olympic champion, 11-time Major Marathon winner, former world record holder, the list goes on. However, his accomplishments have come over a long career, but now, at the age of 39, Kipchoge may be beyond his peak.

Looking at Kipchoge’s last three marathons, two of them have been rather underwhelming. 

With a 10th-place finish at the 2024 Tokyo Marathon (2:06:50) and a 6th-place finish at the 2023 Boston Marathon (2:09:23), there are two key points we can take here.

Firstly, there’s clearly a lack of consistency plaguing Kipchoge over the last two years. As Kipchoge gets older, his ability to recover becomes more of a challenge, and his performance is beyond his peak; it becomes more challenging for him to compete with the young guns.

Secondly, based on Kipchoge’s performance in Boston, challenging, hilly courses aren’t his strong suit…and Paris is far from considered an “easy” course.

So, here’s the hot take: Kipchoge got his spot on Team Kenya primarily because he is the two-time defending champion, and there are more current runners who are in great form that weren’t picked for the team.

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The folks at LetsRun provided a good visual comparison of Kipchoge, Kiplagat, Ngetich, and Evans Chebet (who was surprisingly left off the Olympic team shortlist).

SeasonRunner ARunner BRunner CRunner D
Spring 2023No marathon (59:10 for 3rd at Lisbon Half)6th Boston 2:09:231st Boston 2:05:542nd Rotterdam 2:03:50
Fall 20232nd Berlin 2:03:131st Berlin 2:02:42DNS (injured)13th Worlds 2:11:25
Spring 20243rd Tokyo 2:04:1810th Tokyo 2:06:503rd Boston 2:07:222nd Tokyo 2:02:55

“Each runner has at least one great marathon and one stinker or DNS during that span. Runner B has the fastest marathon in the period but is the only one with two bad races. Runner D has no wins in the period but has a head-to-head win over Runner A and Runner B this spring.”

“It’s a tough call, but based solely on the info above, we’d go with Runner C, who has a fast win in Boston and was the only one not to lose to a fellow Kenyan in the last 18 months.”

We’re not saying Kipchoge was the wrong choice; he is certainly a defensible selection. He is still the GOAT; however, alongside being the GOAT, there was no way Athletics Kenya could leave a Nike-sponsored athlete off their team (note that both Kipruto and Mutiso are Adidas athletes).

To better understand how Nike may be playing a role in this selection, it becomes more clear in the women’s selection.

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How Brigid Kosgei Made Kenya’s Olympic Team

Seeing Kosgei on this team, especially considering the other women on the Kenyan shortlist, was a shock.

Kosgei is a talented runner, without question. She’s a former world record holder, Olympic silver medalist, and five-time Major Marathon winner, but her track record for the last two years hasn’t lived up to this standard.

In 2022, Kosgei withdrew from the London Marathon due to a hamstring injury. A year later, at the 2023 London Marathon, she DNF’d within the first mile due to hamstring injury. 

A few months later, at the 2023 New York City Marathon, she place 4th in 2:27:45. She was the third Kenyan behind Obiri (2:27:23) and Lokedi (2:27:33).

Now, she won the 2023 Abu Dhabi Marathon by nearly five minutes, running 2:19:15, however, this was against a relatively weaker field.

Most recently, at the 2024 London Marathon, she place 5th, running 2:19:02, and was the third Kenyan behind Jepchirchir (2:16:16) and Joyciline Jepkosgei (2:16:24).

In that same time period, here’s what Lokedi and Wanjiru’s performances looked like:

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Lokedi:

  • 2022 New York City Marathon: 1st (2:23:23)
  • 2023 Boston Marathon: DNF (Ankle Injury)
  • 2023 New York City Marathon: 3rd (2:27:33) Second Kenyan behind Obiri (2:27:23) and beat Kosgei (2:27:45) head-to-head
  • 2024 Boston Marathon: 2nd (2:22:45) Second Kenyan behind Obiri (2:22:37)

Wanjiru:

  • 2022 Berlin Marathon: 2nd (2:18:00) First Kenyan
  • 2023 Tokyo Marathon: 1st (2:16:28)
  • 2023 World Championships: 6th (2:26:42) First Kenyan
  • 2024 Tokyo Marathon: 2nd (2:16:14) First Kenyan

When looking at recent results, there’s no doubt that both Lokedi and Wanjiru are in far better form than Kosgei. Lokedi has only lost to one other Kenyan (Obiri) and even beat Kosgei head-to-head just six months ago, while Wanjiru hasn’t lost to another Kenyan in that span.

Even looking at times, Kosgei doesn’t compare to her compatriots. Wanjiru holds both the fastest time run by a Kenyan of 2024 (2:16:14) and the second-fastest of 2023 (2:16:23). In that same time period, Kosgei’s best time is 2:19:02, the sixth fastest by a Kenyan woman of 2024.

Kosgei was the best marathon runner in the world from 2018 to 2020 and still maintained top form through 2022, winning an Olympic silver medal along the way. However, she hasn’t been back to her winning ways since then and when selecting an Olympic team, while history is important, recent form matters.

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The one important detail we haven’t mentioned: Kosgei is a Nike-sponsored athlete (which also sponsors Athletics Kenya. Lokedi and Wanjiru are not affiliated with Nike and are sponsored by Under Armour and Adidas, respectively.

Should one of those two have been selected, the Kenyan women’s squad would have had no Nike athletes (Obiri is with On, and Jepchirchir is with Adidas). 

Two prominent Kenyan journalists have supported this theory, noting that the Kenyan team selection has always been a “swoosh affair.”

Looking back at previous team selections, you’d see this isn’t the first time Athletics Kenya has favored a Nike athlete who is carrying less form than a non-Nike athlete.

In 2012 Moses Mosop (Nike) was selected over Geoffrey Mutai, Patrick Makau, and Emmanuel Mutai (all Adidas athletes).

In 2016, Visiline Jepkesho (Nike) was selected over Mary Keitany (Adidas) on the women’s side, while Wesley Korir (Nike) was selected to the men’s team despite going four years without a podium finish in any marathon.

Unfortunately, it happens in all sports at all levels. Opportunities are taken from some and given to others on a political or financial basis, regardless of which athlete is more deserving.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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