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Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega lead a young Ethiopian contingent in 10,000m at the Tokyo Olympics

Selemon Barega at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha
Selemon Barega at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha

Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega are currently two of the most exciting athletes to watch. Both the Ethiopian distance runners will be making their Olympic debuts at the Tokyo Olympics.

Yomif Kejelcha turns 24 around the time of the Tokyo Olympics and Selemon Barega is just over 21. They finished within a second of each other in 10,000m at the Ethiopian Olympic Trials for the Tokyo Olympics with Barega winning the event.

Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega - fast, young and ready to go

Yomif Kejelcha holds the indoor mile record of 3:47.01, which he set in 2019. When you realize that Hicham El Guerrouj held that record before him, you begin to understand what a special talent he is.

Kejelcha is ranked just below Joshua Cheptegei and Rhonex Kipruto in the World Athletics rankings for 10,000m. That is largely due to his second-place finish in 10,000m at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, where he ended up less than a second behind Joshua Cheptegei.

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Selemon Barega is ranked 10th in 10,000m and at the top in 5,000m in the current World Athletics rankings for the respective events. He finished second in 5,000m at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, less than a second behind Muktar Edris.

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While Muktar Edris hasn't made the Ethiopian team for the Tokyo Olympics, Rhonex hasn't made the Kenyan team for the upcoming Games. It's an indication of the depth of talent and competitiveness of their respective national teams.

The absence of the two stars boosts the chances of other runners in the 5,000m and the 10,000m events at the Tokyo Olympics. That's because both Edris and Kipruto were good bets to medal in their respective events.

Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega's chances at the Tokyo Olympics

That doesn't necessarily mean Selemon Barega and Yomif Kejelcha can both win the gold medal in the 10,000m event. For starters, they are competing with each other. So only one of them can win gold, barring an incredible photo-finish. Besides, neither Barega nor Kejelcha is the fastest in the field, as incredible as it may seem. Both of them ran under 27 minutes in the Ethiopian trials and were separated by about two-tenths of a second!

However, Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptgei (both of Uganda) are in fine form and are medal favorites in the 10,000m event (and the 5,000m). Then there are the Kenyans led by Geoffrey Kamworor. Kejelcha and Barega will have to run their best races ever, to just medal.

One unusual feature of the Ethiopian athletics team for the Tokyo Olympics is that most athletes are doing only one event, much like Selemon Barega and Yomif Kejelcha. This is why someone like Gudaf Tsegay, who's among the world leaders for 1,500m among women this year, is doing only the 5,000m at the Tokyo Olympics.

Similarly, Barega and Kejelcha are perhaps much better bets for medals at the 5,000m given their speeds at the shorter distance, as their rankings show. Yomif Kejelcha won the 3,000m event at the Diamond League in Oslo (Bislett Games) in a world-leading 7:26.25 to drive home that point. The depth of Ethiopian talent across both the 5,000m and 10,000m events perhaps drove them to 10,000m.

Both Kejelcha and Barega are still quite young. They are likely to have further attempts at international success, including Olympic medals, especially if they move to the marathon. This is even more possible since the Paris Olympics is now only three years away.

Selemon Barega may perhaps have at least one more shot at an Olympic medal in the 5,000m and the 10,000m, beyond the Tokyo Olympics.

The various races that Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega have been in, over the years, suggest exciting prospects for the Tokyo Olympics. One such memorable race is the 3,000m final at the 2018 World Indoor Championships where they finished first and second in a thrilling finish.

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The 10,000m men's final at the Tokyo Olympics in which so many competing athletes have run under 27 minutes, should be quite exciting to watch.

Also read: Joshua Cheptegei - gold medal favorite

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Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee
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