Ethiopian Runners Say They Face Discrimination

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you are a betting person – and we’re not endorsing this – but if you are, it’s a safe bet that the gold in middle-distance running in this summer’s Olympics will go to Ethiopia or Kenya. That’s because those two countries dominate the 5K and the 10K. So it was a shock to the running world when Ethiopia announced its main national team will not include the world record holder in both those races. That’s three-time Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele. Bekele says he is being discriminated against because of his ethnicity. Bekele is Oromo. NPR’s Gregory Warner tells us more about why other runners say ethnic discrimination casts a shadow over Ethiopian track.

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GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: The 23-year-old refugee I meet in Nairobi talks quietly as if to conserve energy. He’s thin and nervous. But there’s one name that can put a burst of joy on his face. That name – Kenenisa Bekele.

MOHAMED KEMAL: (Speaking Oromo).

WARNER: In fact, you smile when I even say his name.

KEMAL: (Speaking Oromo).

WARNER: This is Mohamed Kemal (ph). He’s also a runner. And he was 16 years old in 2008 when Bekele won gold medals in the 5K and the 10K races in Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2008 SUMMER OLYMPICS)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And the awesome strength – the awesome, awesome speed. He’s untouchable once again. It’s a new Olympic record.

(APPLAUSE)

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KEMAL: (Through interpreter) (unintelligible) Kenenisa is my role model. So always I’m thinking to be wise like Kenenisa.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPERS RUSTLING)

WARNER: Kemal pulls out papers. They’re the finishing times for an Ethiopian half marathon in 2014.

So 1 hour 6 minutes 8 seconds – 86th.

Kemal’s time put him in the country’s top 100 that year. But

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