Return to : Home
Eugene, Oregon. 7-2-2008 11:00 PM
A party for 40 that grew to over 100 should have finished a few hours ago. But this is Olympic Trials week and there is so much to talk about. Animated groups were scattered throughout: back deck, kitchen, and living room. But, some of the talk wasn't happy.
One group was sequestered on the front patio, obviously in for the longer haul. They were a lawyer, two renowned track bloggers and a free-lance writer. Others drifted in and out of the conversation but the main energy emanated from this group. They perceived injustice and were attempting to right it, and if not, at least shed light upon it. It would be a late night.
They were trying to make sense of decisions allowing certain runners into races while others were left on the outside. I think most of us, and by saying “us” I lump myself into that group, thought the guidelines were pretty clear-cut. There's a qualifying window in which to produce your best time. If that puts you within the top X number depending upon your event you will qualify to run.
It's not that simple. There are some caveats. Athletes just short of that number are encouraged (at least not discouraged) to spend their own money to attend the trials just in case a spot comes open. Many athletes who qualify for more than one event drop out after making the team in event A. THat opens a spot inb event B if they scratch in time. There is also a history of allowable numbers changing – particularly in distance events. Is ten the right number for a 1500M trial, or is twelve? Or does it depend on whether they (being a committee) really want you. If they do, in the case of Adam Goucher, it is decided that there's room for another runner, even though there wasn't room for athletes with faster qualifying times. If you're a high school phenom with long flowing blond hair there is a lot of pressure to find you a spot. If you've been toiling years in anonymity and have finally gotten to the point where you can realize your dream, unless you run for a major – the major – shoe company you might as well not even pay the money for an appeal because it may go unread or not even delivered to the committee.
At least that's the perception. And there are a lot of levelheaded people with no vested interest that have this impression. They've heard the stories. “I was told not to waste my money on an appeal because they won't even read it.” Or worse –a denial was given for exactly the same situation that caused the addition of a higher profile runner.
So between calls to the press and to athletes who were only looking for their once in a lifetime opportunity they felt they earned, this group was trying to get some straight answers. That proved to be the hardest thing to do, because wiggle room is intentionally written into the rules.
In the end, it is a two-tier process to qualify to run for the US at the Olympics. The final step is totally objective. You place in the top three at trials and have the A-standard and you are in. If any of the top three do not have the standard, the next placer at the trials who already met the standard is in (think Breaux Greer in jav.) That has some drastic unintended consequences such as Tyson Gay's inability to run the 200M at the Olympics because he pulled up in the 200M quarter finals. Most fans would have liked a way to put him on the team. Yet, the no nonsense standard of “do it at the trials” appears to be preferred over methods used by other countries.
That makes it even stranger that entry into the first tier (qualification FOR the trials) isn't as carved in stone. It appears for the time being nothing will change. The committee in charge of selecting the field will point to Goucher's 7 th place finish out of a field of 25 as a sign that they did their job properly. Supporters for those runners with faster qualifying times will have to wonder what might have been had those runners been given the same opportunity as Goucher. Did the US end up with the best team they could have – probably!
But, until the process is clear-cut, transparent and well publicized, it will always carry the stigma of inside politics.
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, here are three suggestions for Eugene 2012.
#1. Better coverage of field events
This was mentioned many times over the course of the trials. But, even after it was recognized it didn't seem to improve. Case in point – the men's hammer throw. This event was held outside the main stadium but often shown on the big screen. Late in the competition A.G. Kruger got off a big throw and jumped up and down with excitement. I scanned the eight event boards situated in the stadium. Every one of them said, “Eugene ‘08”. Certainly at least one of them should have been giving results. There's also no reason why the list of the top athletes can't be given after every round.
I have to hand it to the fans for being knowledgeable. After every great throw or jump the stadium would erupt, even if there was a race going on. It shows the fans pay attention and not confused by the three-ring atmosphere.
#2. Less “home town” bias.
The announcer and whoever is in charge of the camera feed to the big screen has to remember that this isn't Oregon vs. Stanford and the crowd isn't just a hometown crowd. There was a definite bias to mentioning and showing local athletes. The 800M was a case in point. As the runners were announced only four were pictured on the screen. They were the three local runners and Khadevis Robinson. It's OK to laud the locals, but when you are in charge of the US trials the same consideration should be shown to all athletes.
#3. Lose the water stations for distance runners.
Is water important in those races or not? The 10K came around the track with 25 runners and there are two water girls holding two cups each. What are the other 21 runners supposed to do? And make that the other 23 runners because half the time the handoff was botched and the cups tumbled to the ground. I know there was unseasonably warm weather, but not during the 10K's and anything under that doesn't require water unless the temperature is oppressive.
Lest anyone think that I'm unappreciative of the efforts, overall it was a remarkably well run and exciting event. Vin Lanana and company must be justly proud of their effort. I intend to come back in four years (even sooner for other big meets).