Monday, August 25, 2008

If You Are Not Growing You Are Dying

With the Olympic over, the flag wavers are out declaring Ethiopia had a magnificent Olympic. Excuse me but are we watching the same Olympic? Perhaps we are living in an era of low expectations? Perhaps it’s in our nature to flag wave at every opportunity without exploring the underlying reality.

Magnificent when your only overachiever is Tsegaye Kebede, a bronze medalist? Magnificent when you don't even meet your own goal of ten medals? Sorry to burst some bubbles but the "magnificent" moments were created by two – get this - two athletes. Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele! Team Ethiopia did not have a magnificent Olympic. These two athletes had a magnificent Olympic.

Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele were asked to double out of desperation. They skewed the medal count and covered up the poor development, selection and preparation by the Federation. Ethiopian athletics is in decline. Just take a look at the list of Kenyan athletes that earned a medal next to the list of Ethiopians.

Nancy Lagat
Brimin Kipruto
Wilfred Bungei
Pamela Jelimo
Samuel Wanjiru
Asbel Kiprop
Eunice Jepkorir
Eliud Kipchoge
Janeth Jepkosgei
Catherine Ndereba
Micah Kogo
Richard Mateelong
Edwin Soi
Alfred Yego
Kenenisa Bekele
Tirunesh Dibaba
Sileshi Sihine
Meseret Defar
Tsegaye Kebede

Mighty thin for a county that has twice the population of Kenya!

Obsession with sweeping...

In Ethiopia, there is a bizarre obsession with sweeping events. Winning multiple medals in any event is very hard. The best way to increase medal counts is to the expand into new events. Spending time and energy trying to sweep is more expensive than developing medal contenders in the 800 M and 1,500M. Kenyan will always have at least two medal contenders in the 10,000 and 5,000.

A sweep does not happen often. If it does, it can't happen at every Olympic. You can't design successful programs that sweep races. The odds are against sweeps. This wrong headed obsession with sweeps has made the Federation lazy. Instead of developing athletes in middle distance events the Federation dreams of multiple medals in a few events.

Ethiopia has the talent base (if developed) to compete in races 800M and further. In Beijing, Kenya for instance, contested the men’s 400M and won gold in both the Men’s and Women’s 800M while Ethiopia did not even have enough runners to fill its slot of 1,500 M Women’s runners. Take a look at how diverse Kenya’s medal haul was compared to Ethiopia’s.

There is no guarantee that the next Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba will be Ethiopian. They could be Kenyan. What would we do then?

We need to stop obsessing about sweeps and double medals. Diversification is needed to increase medal counts.

Lack of breakthroughs...

Sydney was high mark for Ethiopian Athletics. Sydney was remarkable because several unknown athletes stepping up to win gold. Million Wolde surprised even himself by winning the men’s 5,000M. Gezahegn Abera and Tesfaye Tola came out of nowhere to win two medals in the marathon. Everyone had assumed Derartu was on her last legs when she won gold.

Almost every other Olympic Ethiopia participated in has had a surprise. Abebe Bikila, Mamo Wolde, Miruts Yifter, Derartu Tulu, Fatuma Roba and Meseret Defar produced unexpected results.

So who stepped up in Beijing? Tesegaye Kebded, Deriba Merga, Zemzem Ahmed and Yakob Jarso - barely. None of them had a true breakthrough.

Time to change

Kenyan athletics had been in decline since 1988. In Sydney the Kenyan Athletic Federation was stung by Ethiopia’s success and recognized something was amiss. They started changing course. They revised the selection process and modified their preparation. They kept working on it in Athens and in Beijing we saw the results of the changes. Fourteen medals!

They were smart. They did not waste time trying to reclaim the 10,000M and 5,000M medals. Instead they strengthened their 1,500 M and 800M programs while at the same time working to improve in the long distance events. Notice how Kenya had fielded some excellent talent in the 5,000 M and 10,000M. From Athens to Beijing they went from winning one gold medal to winning five gold medals and doubling their medal totals. Kenya now has a foundation on which they can continue to build. Ethiopia on the other hand seems stuck since Sydney with no medal growth.

The number of medals won can be misleading. The number of individuals that produce these medals is a good indicator of how good a country is at developing athletes. From the chart below Ethiopia actually took a step back while Kenya has made great leaps.

Grow or die

There is a mantra that says if you are not growing you are dying. The world is catching up. One just needs to look no further than the performance of Shalane Flanagan who finished 3rd in the 10,000M. She beat two Ethiopian favorites.

Had we not had Tirunesh Dibaba, Turkey would have had a double gold medalist. Turkey, Bahrain, Spain and Israel fielded Ethiopian-born runners. Look for many more Ethiopian-born runners to run for their new countries. Look for these Ethiopian-born to fight Ethiopia for medals.

Life is not getting easier.


Now that the Ethiopian Athletics Federation failed to achieve its own goals it’s time that someone is held accountable. Responsibility must be taken and changes made.

I suspect that is not going to happen. Ethiopian Politicians, who themselves have never been held accountable and therefore clueless when it comes to accountability will spin the "success of Beijing" till we drop from dizziness. No one will be held accountable because no one wants to admit there are problems. Meanwhile the same people will continue doing the same things and we will continue getting worse as others get better.

Decline can come fast. One only needs to look at the decline of football in Ethiopia. I hope that is not in the future of athletics.


yekolotemari said...

Totally agree with you. Misleading to say Ethiopia had a magnificent Olympics.

Anonymous said...

Listen, the politics in the EAF needs to stop. That is what demotivates athletes and creates divisions within. Instead, the federation needs to look at itself in the mirror, acknowledge failure and correct the course.


Anonymous said...

totally agree, and appretiate your breakdown analysis.

btw roocha rocks!

Anonymous said...

While we are in the process of crunching numbers, I teased out my curiosity of medals/GDP and not surprisgly Kenya also placed ahead of Ethiopia landing in #10 while Ethiopia placed #13.

Additionally, although China, US and Russia placed top three in their sheer medal count, their medal count relative to their GDP showed that they really don't have much to call home about.

Below are my unoffical count:
1) Zimbabwe
2) North Korea
3) Mongolia
4) Jamaica
5) Armenia
6) Georgia
7) Tajikistan
8) Kyrgyzstan
9) Cuba
75)United States

welemta said...


I like your line of thinking. Actually it would be very interesting to see trends? Are we getting better or worse. Who is getting btter and whay? What can we learn from those getting btter?

But again putting past population totals for each cuntry makes it hard to pull off.

But it's very interresting. I mean over the past 50 years diffrent countries have diffrent population growth rates. Asia and Africa should be on the rise and Europe should be in decline. Do the numbers show that? Interesting stuff.

Quick question. Are you looking at just athletics medals or all olympic medals?

Anonymous said...


Actually, I'm looking at all olympic medals but like you mentioned looking at athletics would be interesting.

Also to your point trending historical data should be easy enough since historical Gross Domestic Products is easily accessable. However, the challenge would be how can one account back new countries such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to their former parent Russia.

welemta said...


I see your point about states like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. I think it' harder to count Germany because it used to be two and now it's one. I guess you can combine the two totals but then again they would have had 6 runner in each event.

I think it would be interesting looking at trends with sample countries. ETH, MAR, KEN, NGR, QAT, CHN, USA, CAN, AUS, BEL, ESP FRA etc.. maybe some Latin American countries.

Maybe it can be done per continent?

Want to turn this into a weekend post? Shoot me an email if interested.

Anonymous said...

Amen! This is trouble and the EAF has buried it's head in the sand.

Anonymous said...

well you cant force ethiopians to perform like kenya or to win many medals like kenya kenya is king.though most of thier runners are running marathon but am sure in next 3 or 4 years kenya will produse mens who can beat ethiopians was good but kenya was best ones again.

Nhà Đất said...

Mua bán nhà đất chưa bao giờ là một việc dể dàng, hiện nay thị trường bđs đang trong tình trạng đóng băng nhà đất hóc môn nên việc sỡ hữu nhà hoặc đất với giá rẻ rất khó chính vì vậy nên website của chúng tôi ra đời nhà đất quận 7 sẽ giúp các bạn bán dể dàng nhà đất của mình một cách nhanh nhất nhà đất quận 11 . Nếu các bạn muốn bán nhà thì hãy đến với chúng tôi , đăng tin bán nhà đất ở các quận như nhà đất quận 12 hoặc nhà đất quận nhà đất quận 5 ,.. và còn nhiều nhà đất khu vực khác nữa nhà đất quận 6 và tất cả các quận khác thuộc khu vực tphcm , ngoài ra còn chúng tôi còn cho đăng tin bán nhà đất trên toàn quốc .