NAIROBI, March 1 (Reuters) - Former athletes have criticised Kenya’s plans to select part of the east African country’s team for this year’s Olympics at races in the United States, arguing there was no need to break with the tradition of using national trials for all distances.
Last week, Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat said that five male and female runners would take part in each of the 5,000 and 10,000 metres races at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene, Oregon in early June.
The top three finishers in each race would make the Olympic team with Kiplagat saying he wanted the runners to be selected at the lower altitude races before going on to train at a higher altitude prior to the London Games.
The remainder of the team will be selected at trials in Nairobi in June.
“We want to select a strong team for the Olympics because we have not won a (gold) medal in these two events (since 1988). We have therefore decided to take as many as 20 athletes to Oregon, where we shall pick the best runners,” Kiplagat told reporters.
Five-time world cross country champion and former marathon world record holder Paul Tergat said the trials should be held in Kenya as they always had been in the past.
“Kenya is a sovereign state and it makes little sense to conduct part of an Olympic trials outside the country,” Tergat, who won two 10,000m Olympic silver medals, told Reuters.
“We have always done our trials and selected winning teams here. I don’t understand why we have to take our trials to America.”
Another leading former athlete, Martin Keino, said the trials were the biggest local event in an Olympic year.
“It is unique in the sense that it is the convergence of as many as 20 of the world’s top distance athletes fighting for just three spots through a rigorous system of selection,” said Keino, son of Kenyan athletics pioneer Kipchoge ‘Kip’ Keino.
“The men’s 5,000m and 10,000m races are generally some of the most exciting races at an Olympic trials here in Kenya. Not to hold these events in such important trials is to deny thousands of fans their only opportunity to watch their stars in person before the Games,” he said.
Keino said the higher altitude in Kenya would benefit the runners more than the lower one in Oregon.
“As a former athlete who participated in several trials, the pressure cooker environment, high altitude and the toughest competition in the world made for the best preparation for any championship to follow,” he said. (Editing by James Macharia and John O‘Brien)