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Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele named to first Olympic team in 12 years

Kenenisa Bekele, arguably the greatest runner in history, is going back to the Olympics for the first time since 2012 as the oldest Ethiopian Olympian in history.

Bekele, 41, was named to Ethiopia’s three-man marathon team for the Paris Games on Thursday.

The team also includes reigning Boston Marathon winner Sisay Lemma and Deresa Geleta, who won the Seville Marathon in Spain on Feb. 18 in 2:03:27, the best time by an Ethiopian in 2024.

Reigning New York City Marathon winner Tamirat Tola was named one of two reserves.

Ethiopia’s three-woman team is made up of world record holder Tigst Assefa, reigning world champion Amane Beriso and Megertu Alemu, who placed in the top four of her last five marathons, four of which were major marathons.

It will be the fourth Olympics for Bekele, who will break 1968 Olympic marathon champion Mamo Wolde’s record as the oldest Ethiopian to compete at an Olympics, according to the OlyMADMen.

Bekele won eight Olympic or world titles between the 5000m and 10,000m from 2003 to 2009, plus broke the world record in both of those track events.

After placing fourth in the 2012 Olympic 10,000m, Bekele moved up to the marathon in 2014.

He was not chosen for the Ethiopian Olympic marathon team for Rio or Tokyo, though in 2019 he won the Berlin Marathon in what was, at the time, the second-fastest marathon in history (2:01:41).

Bekele finished second in his most recent marathon in London on April 21.

He is currently the third-fastest marathoner in history behind the late Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and another Kenyan, two-time Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge. Kipchoge was named to Kenya’s Olympic team for Paris on May 1.

Bekele and Kipchoge first went head-to-head on the global stage in Paris at the 2003 World Track and Field Championships, where then-18-year-old Kipchoge won the 5000m over Bekele and Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, the greatest miler in history.

Bekele and Kipchoge most recently went head-to-head at the 2018 London Marathon, won by Kipchoge. Their last head-to-head in a global championship was at the 2009 Worlds, where Bekele won the 5000m.