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Olympic runner Kenenisa Bekele provisionally suspended by Ethiopian federation

01/20/2012 09:38 EST | Updated 03/21/2012 05:12 EDT
BRUSSELS - Olympic distance-running great Kenenisa Bekele has been suspended by the Ethiopian federation for not reporting to a training camp in a move that could keep him out of the London Games.

Bekele, the 5,000- and 10,000-metre champion at the Beijing Olympics, was among 35 Ethiopian athletes who were originally suspended through the London Games. The group also includes Tirunesh Dibaba, the 5,000- and 10,000-metre women's winner in Beijing.

Ethiopian Athletics Federation president Bisrat Gashawten Tirfe said the suspensions will be lifted if they report for a future camp.

"They have to come to terms accordingly," she said.

Bekele's agent, Jos Hermens, claimed the federation is just grandstanding after a bad showing at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, last August.

"Of course, Kenenisa Bekele will be at the Olympics," Hermens said.

In an email obtained by the AP, the federation said Thursday it "has decided any international competition including Dubai Marathon is closed from January 20, 2012 until end of the (Olympic) event on August 2012" for the 35 athletes who did not attend the camp early this month.

The group included Dibaba's husband, Sileshi Sihine, a two-time Olympic silver medallist in the 10,000-metre event.

Speaking in a telephone interview, Tirfe said a suspension was normal because the athletes ignored the federation's request to attend the training. But, when pressed whether they would be allowed into the Olympics if they reported back for training, she answered "yes, of course."

Ethiopia's standing in long-distance running has waned in recent years, especially compared to neighbour and fierce rival Kenya.

In Daegu, Kenya won seven gold medals compared to just one for Ethiopia. Kenya was third in the overall medals tables with 17, compared to Ethiopia in ninth place with just five.

Bekele struggled all year with injuries and dropped out of the 10,000 metres in Daegu. But the problem goes deeper than that.

Even if Ethiopia has been fortunate to have top stars like Bekele, Dibaba and Haile Gebrselassie, it has nowhere the strength in depth that Kenya has.

With the London Olympics just over six months away, the pressure is now on Ethiopia to turn the tables.

"They got into a panic after the many losses at the world championships," said Hermens, the agent for both Bekele and Gebrselassie, a two-time Olympic 10,000-metre champion.

Italian agent Gianni Demadonna has four athletes who had been scheduled to compete in Dubai next week but are now suspended. He insisted the sanction makes no sense.

"They miss two, three days in training and they are suspended. That is completely crazy," he said in a telephone interview.

Both agents said it was essential for experienced athletes to do individual training, away from group regimen.

"Every athlete must be free to do whatever they want," Demadonna said.

Hermens said Gebrselassie, as the veteran champion, would seek to find a diplomatic solution for both sides.

"Haile has influence," he said.

Mark Wetmore, the agent for Dibaba, said "reasonable people will find a solution for this."

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