Monday, 9 July 2012

Canadian Olympic Qualifying Standards

Question for all of you: If you didn't have feet, would you wear socks? 

This is precisely the approach that Athletics Canada takes when setting their extraordinarily strict Olympic qualifying standards - If the athlete isn't going to compete for medals, then why send them.

Before we get into some pros/cons, let's just compare some times from 800m to the marathon, first men then women. Note: USA times are the qualifying times to reach the Olympic Trials, where they then have to make the top 3.

1) Notice the diverging trend as the distances increase. There is a WORLD of difference between someone who can run a 28:15 and 27:45 in 10,000m. Heck, at that distance even 10s is a phenomenal difference. In much the same vein that 2.0s in 1500m is a lifetime!

2) UPDATE: Since posting this blog I have been informed that the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) in the end holds the final say on standards: See HERE

Remember when you were you a kid and your older brother would steal your ball and hold it up in the air just so high that no matter how high you jumped you could never actually reach it? You'd kick & scream, call out to your mother - who would just tell you to stop 'sookin' - and eventually you'd just say 'shag this, I don't even care anymore I'm going to go pick my nose'.

Welcome to the tumultuous world of setting a bar too high.
Better luck next time kid...
Athletics Canada has done exactly that. Their logic is that they want to send athletes that will actually compete for medals not just make a final or PB - which is a worthy approach. After all, everyone looks at the medal table to compare countries. No one is comparing 'the # of personal bests for athletes in countries'. Also, they are paying for all travel expenses for the athletes, coaches, trainers, etc., so financially it also makes sense to spend money on the serious contenders. 

However... and this is a BIG however... this mentality stifles the progression of so many athletes in their quest for Olympic glory. I mean it's the freaking Olympics! Every single - western - child wanted to go to the Olympics for some event at some point. Even if you are professional 10,000m runner, your greatness is essentially boiled down to your Olympic successes. You could with 3 World Championships but if you don't have the Olympic Medal then you haven't 'made it'. 

Let's look at the female standard for 10,000m as the best example in futility and dream crushing: 
A    32:45 (USA) vs. 31:45 (CAN) 
B    34:00 (USA) vs. 32:10 (CAN)

31:45 is an absolutely ridiculous standard for the following reason... only 10 women in the WORLD have broken that time this year. Only a dozen more have broken the B standard.

*Canada has ZERO females in the 5,000m & 10,000m with only ONE male in the 5,000m (Cam Levins) & 10,000m (Mohammed Ahmed). Cam Levins - Canada's distance running saviour - has qualified for 10,000m as well, but chose to run the 5,000m. 

I'm usually not one to use America as an example in many issues, but in this case USA has got it right. Set the bar high, but not so high that athletes won't even CHASE the time. That's the problem with Canada, the bar is SO HIGH that it's not even worth chasing (you might as well go pick your nose). But, when the standard (A or B) is attainable then it makes people work that much harder. Even if they do just squeak into the Olympics, the experience they will gain there will undoubtedly convert all their remaining energy in the future to become faster/stronger and come back and do it again.

Canada's Should-Be Olympian
I can't imagine the bitter taste that must be in the mouth of people like Sheila Reid. Sheila Reid is the standout NCAA runner who should, unquestionably, be going to the Olympics. Alas, she is not even though:

* She has run 15:23.64 - under the B standard once and likely would have again had the trials not been held at altitude or if she had more competition. 
* WON Canadian Olympic Trials
* Only 10 females in North America have run faster than her this year.
*What's even worse is that she was 1.7s off the ridiculous 1500m standard and decided that it wasn't even worth running the even in the Olympic Trials. 

I have two final stomach-wrenching points.

Canada's almost wasn't Olympian
1) Jessica Smith was 0.09s from NOT travelling to the Olympics even though she already achieving the A-standard in 800m. Why? because she almost beaten by Diane Cummins in the Olympic Trials / National Championships. Diane Cummins did not have the Olympic standard and had zero chance of getting it due to the Olympic Trials being at altitude (see #2 on that point).

So essentially, if Cummins came 3rd at Olympic Trials.. she wouldn't be going to the Olympics because she didn't have the standard AND Jessica Smith, who has the A standard, wouldn't be going either because she didn't finish top 3. Cummins' bronze would have meant she stood on the podium and crushed someone else's dream... Nothing against Cummins' as she wanted to be the best she could be, but the process is incredibly absurd.
*Note: this is why USA has separate Olympic trials for athletes who already have the standard and the top 3 make the team.

2) WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU HOLD OLYMPIC TRIALS AT ALTITUDE (Calgary, AB)?!? You automatically give athletes who are on the bubble ZERO chance to reach the standard. It's absolutely absurd and Athletics Canada needs a wake up call if they want to actually 'Own the Podium'. If you don't send athletes then they certainly have no chance of winning their country a medal.

Aye yi yi......  

See you next week for a look into the USA 5,000m & 10,000m hopefuls!


  1. the points you've brought up here are so valid! i first learned about these rules by following lanni marchant--this whole thing makes me mad, because during the olypmics, canadians really want to see other canadians getting medals and in these situations, athletics canada is saying 'we don't even want to let you try' GRRR

  2. A lot of these points are valid, but if you look at the IAAF Olympic standards for most of the track events, their standards are all the same as Canada's other than the marathon. The reason why the USA has slower standards to get into the trials is because they have a bigger pool of athletes to choose from, so the athletes who get into the top three will have achieved the IAAF "A" standard without any doubt. Athletics Canada cannot send an athlete to the Olympics if they have not met the IAAF standard. However, in the case of Lanni Marchant and Krista DuChene in the marathon, they had both achieved the IAAF "A" standard. However, they missed Canada's standard of 2:29:55. I think that Athletics Canada should use the IAAF standards for all events instead of making their own standards that are tougher.

  3. Interesting points, but the standards used are are for 2 different competitions. The US times are standards to compete at the trials vs. IAAF qualifying times. The US are still held to the same IAAF standards as Canada for Olympic selection. The times Canada set to compete at the trials was much slower than the US trials in most cases; ex. Men's 1500 IAAF A 3:35.5; IAAF B 3:38.0; US Trials 3:43.0; Canadian Trials 3:48.0.
    Canadian Trials info taken from;

  4. Hey! - I have a question.... are the RIO trials over already? When do they happen? Do you know, by any chance? I am a female and would love to try for 5000m