Month: March 2019

ATLANTA TC EX. DIR. RICH KENAH ON NEW OLYMPIC STANDARDS

Atlanta TC Executive Director Rich Kenah

In an addendum to my post earlier today, NEW OLYMPIC ENTRY STANDARDS, I received the following email from Atlanta TC executive director Rich Kenah, who will host the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials next February.

“The thrill of a U.S Olympic Trials is unrivaled. USA Track & Field’s make-or-break selection system of a top-three finish at the Trials, while attaining a reasonable qualifying mark, allows every participant and spectator to dare to dream regardless of an athlete’s seed time at the start line. With due respect to the leadership at the IAAF and the decision makers involved with yesterday’s announcement, Atlanta Track Club is concerned that the uncertainty created by this massive change from past practices will render a U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the Marathon irrelevant for participating athletes, and wildly confusing for the media assigned to cover them. I recognize the need for a credible world rankings system, but I hope the powers that be reconsider the damage this will do to the Olympic movement in the U.S., the organizations committed to organizing Trials events, and most importantly the athletes who are chasing their Olympic dream in 2020.”

 

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Me again:  Staging an Olympic Marathon Trials is an enormous and costly undertaking.  It would have been one thing if these new standards would have been in place before the bidding process for the Marathon Trials began and everyone knew what they were up against. Now it seems like what’s the point? In looking at every element in this far-ranging, in need of repair sport, the one thing that wasn’t broken, perhaps the most compelling competitions in the entire sport outside the Olympics themselves have been the U.S. Olympic Trials, both track and marathon editions.

Kenah and his team at the ATC have done an excellent job of elevating what was already one of the standout track clubs in the nation.  The 2020 Marathon Trials would have (and still will) only bolster their reputation.  Unfortunately, some of the glamor of the event may have been lessened by today’s news out of Doha.  Then again, maybe the athletes will step up and make these Trials one for the ages.  For ATC’s sake, let’s hope that is case.
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NEW OLYMPIC ENTRY STANDARDS

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.

2020 Olympic Entry Standards

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. (more…)

IT’S A MATTER OF HEALTH

Jamaican runner Kemoy Campbell

Though his future in competitive racing remains cloudy, it was heartening to hear that Jamaica’s Kemoy Campbell had been released from the hospital in New York City last week and is making progress in his recovery from a heart-stopping collapse at the Millrose Games while serving as a pacer in the 3000 meters on February 9.

But Mr. Campbell’s health scare brought to light an issue confronting many athletes in a sport that finds itself facing a number of challenges, from fairness in women’s competitions (hyperandrogenism) to Olympic and World Championships qualifying to healthcare.

In that last realm, it is because athletes like Mr. Campbell are signed to shoe company contracts as “consultants” and to races as “independent contractors” – rather than drafted as “team members” or hired as “employees” – that such individuals need not be provided with benefits including healthcare insurance. And in a sport that constantly stresses both internal and external body systems, that you’re-on-your-own policy is like doing trapeze work without a net.

Thus is Mr. Campbell left to pay his substantial medical bills via the kindness of his shoe company sponsor, Reebok, which pledged $50,000 to Kemoy’s cause, and by GoFundMe.com contributions.  But that is not a system.

On the other hand, as we read in Outside Magazine, American athletes are provided with Participant Accident (PA) coverage by USATF for exactly the kind of medical emergency faced by Mr. Campbell. Overseas, the IAAF Diamond League also provides participating athletes with accident coverage, though that policy does not apply across the board to all IAAF-sanctioned events.  This patchwork system reflects the direction that American healthcare itself has been headed for decades. (more…)

WOMEN RACING WOMEN. NOT SO FAST

It all used to be so simple.  Then again, it all used to be pretty screwed up, too.  But in today’s charged political climate, where folks can be as sensitive as a hemorrhoidal pole-sitter, the politics of gender and self-identification remain fraught with — what did I just read today, that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will raise their baby as “gender-fluid”? Gender-fluid?  Let’s see how that affects the Olympic schedule in 2044.

And so after a weeks worth of testimony at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, the case against the IAAF for requiring reduced testosterone levels in so-called hyperandrogenic athletes – or women runners with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) – now awaits a decision by a three-person panel on or before March 26th. 

Caster Semenya in Doha 2016
(Andrew McClanahan/PhotoRun)

The case against the proposed IAAF ruling, brought by double Olympic 800-meter champion Caster Semenya of South Africa, is not as simple as restricting performance-enhancing drug use. In fact, in what seems a massive irony, the IAAF is looking to sanction performancerestricting drug use to reduce the testosterone levels of certain female athletes, which begs the question, why not do the same for performance-enhancing drug use, if the point is to guarantee a level playing field? And how level is level? And how fluid is fluid? And have we stepped upon that old slippery slope?

Let’s begin here. The whole purpose of a competition is to discover through the intricate calculus of talent, training, and tactics how one athlete gets to the finish line ahead of all others. It is the ineffable nature of that calculus that makes the sport intriguing. Take away the unknowable, replace it with certainty, and you’ve essentially eliminated the game.

Why don’t women just compete against men?  Because we would know the result before the start.

I went grocery shopping with the wife yesterday and she was lamenting how heavy the bags were as she handed them to me from the cart to put in the trunk.

“You’re older than I am and I work out with weights in the gym,” she said  “But you only have to use one hand to lift the bags while I have to use two. It’s not fair.”

There it is. I have testosterone coursing through my system at a level she doesn’t, and testosterone is the separating agent that distinguishes a man’s strength and power advantage over a woman’s – after boys and girls compete on an equal basis before the onset of puberty. The IAAF suggests the way to make things right in the middle distance races from 400m to 1500m is to reduce that hormonal advantage certain women have over others. Semenya and her advocates suggest otherwise. (more…)