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Monday, May 20, 2024

‘A Swoosh Affair’: Nike Accused of Undue Influence on Picking Olympics’ Toughest Marathon Team

  • Nike-sponsored Athletics Kenya picked a Nike athlete over arguably more qualified competitors with other sponsors.
  • It isn’t the first time a Kenyan team has controversially picked a Nike marathoner for its third spot.
Kevin R. Wexler-The Record

The Kenyan Olympic marathon team is maybe the hardest to crack in sports, with dozens of the world’s best long-distance runners clawing for only three spots every four years. And every four years, it seems, there’s a furor about Nike jamming an unqualified athlete onto the team. 

Nike sponsors Athletics Kenya, the nation’s track and field federation responsible for selecting the team. Nike also sponsors Brigid Kosgei, a runner who has struggled as of late but beat out seemingly more qualified non-Nike athletes for the third spot on the team. Kosgei is the only woman sponsored by Nike out of the three who made the cut. Adidas sponsors Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic and London Marathon champion, and On sponsors Hellen Obiri, who won her last three marathons: two in Boston and one in New York.

Two prominent Kenyan journalists have called out the company accusing it of meddling. Michelle Katami called out the coincidence on social media, while Mutwiri Mutuota called it a “swoosh affair.”

Kosgei held the women’s world record from 2019 to ’23 and won silver at the last Olympics, but she has struggled in recent races. In the past two years, she won one marathon, didn’t reach the podium in two, stopped during the first mile in another, and withdrew from one before the race started. In one of those races, she was beaten by Sharon Lokedi, an Under Armour athlete who most recently placed second in Boston and third in New York, both behind Obiri, but was named an alternate for the Olympics. Rosemary Wanjiru was also the top Kenyan in all of her past four races, reaching the podium in three of them. She is sponsored by Adidas.

It isn’t the first time a Kenyan runner with a swoosh on their shoes has won a spot on the team over other arguably more qualified athletes. Nike athletes were selected over competitors with other sponsors for the men’s team in 2012 and both teams in ’16, including one male runner, Wesley Korir, who hadn’t reached the podium at a marathon in four years.

Nike and Athletics Kenya did not immediately respond to requests by Front Office Sports for comment.

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