The entry standards for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were released yesterday (March 10, 2019) by the 216th IAAF Council meeting in Doha, Qatar, site of this summer’s IAAF World Championships.
Across the board, 100 meters to 50K walk and field events, the standards for Tokyo 2020 are significantly stricter than for Rio 2016. Interestingly, the 2012 standards for the London Games were generally harder than for Rio 2016, too, but slightly easier than Tokyo 2020.
The only events that had a harder standard in 2012 than either 2016 or 2020 were the men’s triple jump where it took a hop, step, and jump of 17.20 meters to qualify for London, while only 16.85m for Rio and 17.14m to get into Tokyo 2020. Also, the men’s Hammer Throw, which took a heave of 78 meters in 2012, 77m in 2016, and 77.5m for Tokyo.
But the generally more stringent standards for Tokyo confirmed the changing nature of the Olympic Games as the International Olympic Committee looks for new eyeballs and sponsorships and accordingly has put the squeeze on the IAAF to reduce the number of track & field athletes at the Games. No doubt, the landscape of what it means to be an “Olympian” continues to undergo fundamental change with the evolving nature of sports participation and viewing worldwide. Recall how Breakdancing is making its case for Olympic inclusion for Paris 2024.
The greatest percentage change in athletics qualifying from 2016 to 2020 came in the women’s marathon where the sub-2:45 of 2016 was lowered 9.4% to sub-2:29:30 for 2020 (the ‘A” standard in 2012 was 2:37). Besides the racewalk category, which showed a 6.51% lowering in the men’s 50K and a 5.21% tightening in the women’s 20K, the men’s Olympic Marathon standard underwent the next biggest drop from sub-2:19 in 2016 to a sub-2:11:30, representing a 5.4% thinning (the “A” standard was 2:15 in 2012).
The qualifying window for the racewalks, the marathons, and the 10,000 meters has already begun (1 January 2019) and will end on 24 May 2020. All other events begin their qualifying window on 1 May 2019.
In related news, the IAAF Council also announced in Doha fundamental changes to the Diamond League beginning in 2020. Most dramatic was news that the 3000-meters will be the longest track event on the schedule. What’s more, the number of DL meetings will be cut from 14 to 12 with only one meeting per week leading to a single, one-day Final, rather than the two-meets that currently end the season. The number of contested disciplines will also be trimmed from 32 to a core 24, the same 12 for both men and women. And the meets themselves will be trimmed from two-hours to ninety minutes.
Also, at the end of each season the IAAF will decide which are the most entertaining disciplines going forward. One can only wonder how much longer the 5000 and 10,000 meters will last as Olympic events at this rate? That, in itself, is an entire column of thought. Imagine the Olympic legends that would never have been if the 5000 and 10,000 were never contested?
But in terms of the Olympic Marathon, based on 2018 results, and leaving aside the IAAF Ranking System, which will combine in a 50-50 percentage breakdown with the time-based standards to create the final list for Tokyo 2020 – Our friends at LetsRun.com have an excellent summary here – Americans would have only qualified five men for the Olympic Marathon in 2020 under the new guidelines.
Galen Rupp ran 2:06 twice in 2018, winning in Prague (2:06:07) and taking fifth-place in Chicago (2:06:21). The next best American was Jared Ward, whose 2:12:24, though outside the 2:11:30 qualifying standard, came home with a sixth-place finish from the New York City Marathon last November.
He, along with Scott Fauble of Northern Arizona Elite, four seconds behind in seventh; Shadrack Biwott in ninth-place in 2:12:51; and Chris Derrick at 2:13:08 in tenth would qualify based on a top-10 finish at any of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors (within the qualifying period).
Runners who finish top-five in any IAAF Gold Label marathon, and top-10 at the IAAF World Championships Marathon are also deemed qualified. However, Elkanah Kibet, who ran 2:12:51 to finish 13th in Chicago would have come up short.
On the women’s side, there were ten Americans who went under the 2:29:30 entry standard in 2018 led by Amy Cragg’s 2:21:42 third-place finish in Tokyo 2018. Another nine would have qualified by finishing top-10 at World Marathon Majors, combining for a total of 19 qualified American women.
With the marathon qualifying period stretching from 1 January 2019 until 24 May 2020, athletes would be able to meet the new time standards at the February 20, 2020 Atlanta Olympic Marathon Team Trials. However, the Atlanta course – selected before these new standards were adopted – is considered hilly and difficult, and Trials are most often tactical affairs where the top three positions are the prime consideration, not time. The new standards could well change that dynamic. Don’t know if it would be considered on the up-and-up by Hoyle, but imagine having pacers at the Olympic Trials Marathon in order to assist athletes to hit the tougher standard? Is there a rule against that?
Looking back at all the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials from 1968 for men and 1984 for women, only in 1980 in Buffalo (boycott year) with Tony Sandoval (2:10:19), Benji Durden (2:10:41) and Kyle Heffner (2:10:55) and 2012 in Houston with Meb Keflezighi (2:09:08), Ryan Hall (2:09:30), and Abdi Abdirahman (2:09:47) did all three top finishers run under the current 2020 Olympic entry standard of 2:11:30. And of all other men’s Trials from 1968 to 2016, only two men, Ryan Hall in New York 2007 (2:09:02) and Galen Rupp in steamy LA 2016 (2:11:12), would have met the current time standard at the Trials itself.
For women, all three top finishers in the last two cycles, 2012 Houston – Shalane Flanagan (2:25:38), Des Linden (2:25:55), and Kara Goucher (2:26:06) – and 2016 Los Angeles – Amy Cragg (2:28:20), Des (2:28:54), and Shalane (2:29:19) – have run under the current standard. In all other Women’s Trials 1984 to 2008, only Colleen De Reuck in St. Louis 2004 (2:28:25) went sub-2:29:30. Yet out of all these U.S. Marathon Trials has come Frank Shorter‘s Olympic Marathon gold medal in Munich 1972 and silver in `76; Joan Benoit‘s gold in 1984; Meb Keflezighi’s silver and Deena Kastor‘s bronze in 2004; and Galen Rupp’s silver in 2016.
At the last Olympics in Rio, there were 155 entrants in the men’s marathon and 156 in the women’s. For 2020, the IAAF has set a quota of 80, a huge displacement that will ripple out throughout the running world.
The sport of athletics has long been in need of a tightening and more professional approach. This is one step in that direction. Whether it is a good step or a misstep, only time will tell.