Athletics Kenya finds itself under attack for its plans to hold the national Olympic long distance trial races in the US.
The government, former athletes and stakeholders have hit at the athletics body, arguing that there is no need to break with the tradition of using national trials for all races.
But Athletics Kenya insists that it will pick the Olympic team from the five male and female runners who will take part in 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 will make the Olympic team.
The remainder of the team will be selected at trials in Nairobi.
“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,” AK boss Isaiah Kiplagat said.
The Kenya government, however, said the trials ahead of the Summer Games must be held in the country.
“The government is closely watching the development and the debate,” Commissioner of Sports Gordon Oluoch said.
Oluoch said the selected athletes are free to train in Oregon then return to the country for trials.
“You do not hold national trials in another country just because you have an all expenses paid for trip by Nike. Training and giving exposure for athletes in Oregon is acceptable,” he said.
He added: “We are firm on this. AK should not make excuses to have the trials in the US just because Nike is sponsoring the event.
"Kenyans are yearning to watch and support their top athletes here in the country and any efforts to deny them that opportunity will be resisted.”
The last time Kenya won an Olympic long distance title was at the 1968 Mexico Games when Naftali Temu took the men’s 10,000m gold. Ethiopians have dominated the races since 1993.
AK boss Kiplagat said the decision to hold the team trials in Eugene, Oregon on June 1 was to allow the athletes to compete at sea level, to replicate the conditions in London.
Oluoch is not alone in criticising the idea. Paul Tergat, who has won two Olympic silver medals, says it is preferable that trials for all races be done in Kenya.
“The national Olympic team and its selection should be done by Kenyans, run in Kenya and witnessed by Kenyans,” Tergat said.
“Kenya is a sovereign state and it makes little sense to conduct part of an Olympic trial outside the country.”
He added: “We have always done our trials and selected winning teams here. I don’t understand why we have to take them to the US.”
Another leading former athlete, Martin Keino, said the trials were the biggest local event in an Olympic year.
Two-time Boston marathon winner Moses Tanui said Kenya can still pick the best Olympic team at the local trials instead of shipping the selected 46 athletes to America.
“The decision to have mini-trials in Oregon is like staging national holiday celebrations in a foreign land. And this beats logic because Kenya is a sovereign country.
"Athletes, both active and retired, always flock the national trials to watch the event. Now, it’s like holding Madaraka Day or any other national holiday celebrations in another country,” said Tanui.
But AK maintains there is no sinister motive in having the trials in the US.
“Let’s rid ourselves of this mischievous and malicious talk! How can you say we are selling our athletes to go and compete in America? Whomever qualifies will not compete for America.
“Some people calling themselves former athletes are saying this is bad yet they have done nothing to help athletes. We are only trying out a new formula to succeed,” an upset Kiplagat said.
With such criticism, it remains to be seen if AK will carry the day and hold the trials in the US.