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Ethiopia’s failure to win gold medals in the women’s Marathon and men’s 10,000 meter race at the 14th World Athletics Championship in Moscow led to accusations that team members had forgotten about teamwork.
Ethiopian Athletics Federation officials in Moscow, the media, public, including taxi drivers, café owners and renowned long-distance coach Dr. Woldemeskel Kostre all seemed to agree that failure to stick to a team plan was to blame for the Ethiopians missing out.
People are quick to forget that Edna Kiplagat won the race with no Kenyans beside her and Mo Farah single handedly out-sprinted his adversaries to the gold medal.
No one wants to talk about the missing link, that is the personal brilliance of the athletes to win races like Farah did, both in London and Moscow.
Haile, Derartu, Kenenisa and Tirunesh did it again and again, bursting to victory with Kenyans surrounding them.
Ibrahim Jeilan took the athletics world – and the favourite Mo Farah – by surprise, coming up with a leopard-like sprint from 300 meters straight to the finishing line in Daegu, South Korea, claiming an unlikely gold medal in the 10,000 meters.
Teamwork is important, but it does not mean everything in sport.
Why has no individual come out to challenge Farah? Does that mean Ethiopians are not good enough to win in an individual clash? That Ethiopians must depend on one another to win medals?
Farah was alone from start to finish against four Ethiopians and three Kenyans, but thanks to his mental preparedness, tactics and fitness, he won the race even though Ibrahim Jeilan pushed him.
Dejen G/Meskel and Emane Mergia were disappointing, and Abera Kuma tried until the end, but could only finish fifth.
The reality is none of them were able to beat Mo Farah – he was superior mentally and physically and was a deserving gold medal winner.
London Olympic champion Tiki Gelana was the hot favourite in the women’s Marathon, but she and compatriot Feyesse failed to make it beyond 10 kilometers.
In the same race Messelech Melkamu claimed not to be fully fit and could only finish 13th.
Athletes need to enter competitions in the best possible shape – if this is not the case, they cannot perform properly for their team.
Many factors play a part in success and failure – the weather, training, mental and physical preparedness, nerves, fatigue, excitement and luck.
It is easy to forget that, while the athlete is the first to celebrate success when he or she wins a race, the heartbreak at losing is felt by no one as acutely as the loser.
No athlete would reject the opportunity for a red-carpet reception at the airport, followed by an open-top victory parade around their home city, with the fans chanting their name.
It is surprising the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) ordered the athletes to submit in writing the reasons they had failed to win in Moscow.
They clearly have a tough job to do, but sport is a simple matter of winning or losing and blaming the athletes for lack of teamwork is subjective and bureaucratic, a way for officials to wash their hands of the lack of success.
Runners know how to run and nothing else – their tears at winning or losing races show that they give all they can for their country every time they step on the track.
The simple question is: Why did Ethiopia fail to have anyone good enough to win the 10,000 meters in Moscow?
And does the country have anyone to carry the flag once Tirunesh and Messeret retire?
Experience suggests that EAF beats around the bush and then reverts to its usual routine when thinking about succession.
Surely it would be better not to play hardball and push contenders out of the sport.
Instead, we should leave them to do what they were born to do.