Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Unfortunate Reality of Olympic Trials Changes

So I had the chance to think about the changes a bit more and after more thought, here's my take on each of the USATF changes:

Eliminating the 5k Standard -- It was a dumb move to add them in and a great move to take them out. The 5k distance has absolutely no relevance to the marathon. I would have liked to see them kill the 10k standard as well because I'm a believer that you should have to run the event you are qualifying for. But at least the 10k has a slightly greater predictive value to the marathon than the 5k.

Adding the Half Marathon Standard -- While this does go against my argument that you should have to run the event you qualify for, I'm supportive of this largely because a) it is much more predictive than the 10k and b) it is consolation to the marathoner who may not be able to make the new marathon time standard. In other words, it may be easier to make the 1:05 standard than the 2:19 standard.

Eliminating Aided Courses -- Despite the fact I qualified for the Trials on what the USATF has deemed an aided course (St. George), I agree with the decision. HOWEVER, I think it's wholly unfair to make some courses that don't meet the USA/World Record standard (limits net elevation loss and requires start and finish be within ~7 miles of one another) exempt from this new rule. The course either meets the record criteria or it doesn't. But instead, the USATF is playing god by picking and choosing which courses will be exempted from the list of non-qualifying courses. Already on the exemption list are Boston and New York. I'm certain the Twin Cities Marathon, site of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 US Marathon Championships will get an exemption as well? The explanation from the USATF is that NY and Boston don't generally yield fast times. That is actually a true statement, but let's be real. This is about money. I am no fan of a few people sipping mai tais at a meeting in Hawaii making arbitrary decisions as to which marathons are in and which are out.

Although they haven't named the courses on the complete exemption list you can almost guarantee that St. George, Top of Utah, Ogden, Deseret News, California International, Los Angeles, Grandma's and San Diego Rock and Roll will no not be on it. I'm no lawyer, but it will be interesting to see if anyone challenges this under antitrust laws.

Lowering Time Standard to 2:19:00 -- Any time standard is arbitrary by it's very nature. 2:19 is no less arbitrary than 2:22 except for the hundreds of marathoners who are close to 2:22 but nowhere near 2:19. On one hand, lowering the time standard could be an indication that US elite marathoners are simply running faster and therefore qualifying times are lowered to reflect that. But before we all get too excited about how great of a marathon nation we are, let's not forget that only seven years ago we qualified only one man (and only one woman) for the Olympic Games marathon. A good couple of years and a fantastic Trials do not a marathon nation make. Under the new marathon qualifying time, Brian Sell, now an Olympian, would not have qualifed in 2004 and would have likely given up running altogether. Jason Lehmkuhle, the 5th place finisher this year and second alternate for the Olympic team, would not have qualified for this year's Trials under the new standard. His time in Twin Cities in 2006 was 2:19:03. He would have had to either appeal or run another race to qualify. Trent Briney is the poster child for "sub-elites." He qualified for the 2004 Trials in a pedestrian time of 2:21:10 and finished in 4th place that year in a truly remarkable time of 2:12:35. He was one second per mile away from being an Olympian.

My point is that I hope we aren't raising the bar too quickly. As a country, we've had a couple good years and one great Trials. Perhaps we should get a few more under our belt before we start dismissing the Brian Sells (3rd place), Jason Lehmkuhles (5th place) and Trent Brineys of the world.

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