Canadian Lanni Marchant’s Marathon to the Rio Olympics

Lanni Marchant Billboard
The face of Canadian female distance running

Lanni Marchant is the face of Canadian women’s distance running. The 32-year old practicing lawyer holds the fastest Canadian marathon time (2:28) and is within a hair of her training partner, Natasha Wodak’s Canadian record at 10,000-metre (31:41:59).

Most recently, Lanni delivered a top-Canadian performance at the the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) Gold Label 10K race in Ottawa. As the top Canadian woman in the field, it seemed like a no-brainer that she would compete in both the 10,000-metre and marathon events at the Rio Olympics.

Despite her accomplishments, Athletics Canada, the Canadian equivalent of USATF, has yet to determine if Marchant will be competing for Canada in either event. What gives?

What We Know

Marchant is the only runner who has met the Canadian Rio 2016 standard for both the Marathon and the 10,000-metre events, and is only one of two Canadian women who have met the standard for the marathon. Unlike in the United States where the marathon team is selected based on the results of the Olympic Marathon Trials, Athletics Canada sets its own qualification standards for the Olympics, and athletes must meet the standard within a certain window, or demonstrate “proof of fitness” if they met the qualification outside of the qualifying period. For 2016, the qualifying period for the marathon was January 1, 2015 to May 29, 2016, and for the 10,000-metre, January 1, 2015 to July 10, 2016.

Canadian record holders: Lanni Marchant (left) and Natasha Wodak

In October 2015 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Marchant met the Canadian marathon standard for Rio with a 2:28:09. Given that she met the standard before the qualifying period, Athletics Canada requires her to demonstrate “competitive readiness” before July 10. For Marchant, it appears that her 1:11:26 performance and 20th place finish at the half-marathon championships in Cardiff in March satisfied that requirement for the marathon event and her 32:10 at the Payton Jordon Invitational for the 10,000-metre. According to her blog, Marchant has been clear in her intentions to run both distances at the Olympics.

Given that there’s a short window of recovery time, 46 hours to be exact, between the 10,000-metre and marathon events in Rio, Marchant completed a simulation workout while she was competing in Ottawa recently. On the Monday after her Saturday evening 10K race, Marchant ran a marathon pace 30K along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal to simulate her Rio plans. At this point, it’s unclear if this workout was endorsed by her coach, and Head Coach of Athletics Canada, Peter Eriksson.

While Athletics Canada has neither confirmed nor denied her participation in both events, Eriksson tweeted, “Lanni has not been told she can’t run the marathon, this is misleading information. All decisions will be made by the NTC [National Team Committee] after Trial.” No further statements have been released by Athletics Canada.

While most countries have named their athletes for Rio, Athletics Canada plans to name the Canadian team on July 11 in Edmonton, Alberta. In 2012, Athletics Canada announced the team for London in May. While it makes for some added suspense, one does wonder, why make the athletes wait this time around, leaving their training plans in limbo?

For Lanni, this uncertainty is all too familiar. In 2012 she ran a 2:31, faster than the Olympic standard of 2:37, but fell short of the arguably high 2012 Canadian Olympic standard of 2:29:55. Despite the experience she would have gained in London, Athletics Canada did not send her, or any Canadian female for that matter. Marchant appealed Athletics Canada’s decision and lost.

Public Support for Marchant

In the meantime, the public has raised their pitchforks in defense of Lanni, with #LetLanniRun trending among Canada’s running community. This outrage has been fueled by negatively-charged headlines in the news cycle, suggesting it’s unlikely she will compete. Canadians want to see her in both events come August, so much so that supporters are raising money to to send her big family, including all six siblings, to Rio to cheer her on.

Marchant racing in Ottawa on May 28 Photo © 2016 Jayme Pettit/SaltyRunning.com

Given that she will undoubtedly be headed to Rio for at least one event, why not let her run both? The only argument that seems to make sense is that she could compromise her performance in one of the events if competing in both, thus reducing the chances of earning a medal for Canada. But this is not a question of her taking someone else’s place; only Lanni and Krista Duchene have met the marathon standard, so theoretically speaking, she wouldn’t be bumping anyone else’s chance of medaling either. Whether or not her marathon performance could be weakened by racing a hard 10k, Canada has nothing to lose by letting her go for it, so the issue remains that it will be difficult for Athletics Canada to spin why an athlete who has met all standards would be denied to compete in an event.

For now, the countdown is on to July 11, when Athletics Canada will name the Rio athletics team. As for me, I’m remaining positive that Athletics Canada will make the right decision in their deliberations and name Lanni Marchant for both events. And if not, stay tuned for the follow-up rant! As the fastest Canadian distance runner it would be a huge disappointment not to have Lanni representing Canada in both events in August.

Do you think Athletics Canada has an obligation to let Lanni run? Do you think her performance in one event could be compromised by the other?

I'm a Canadian runner with a knack for training in frigid temperatures and completing 20 milers on the treadmill. I'm currently training for a spring marathon, with the goal of Boston Qualifying. Outside of running, I work in public policy and can often be found cross-stitching or being talked out of adopting another cat.

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22 comments

  1. It is a frustrating situation! Own the Podium is to blame for AC’s reasoning. BUT – if they truly don’t want someone to double on the 10000m and marathon, then put it in the Olympic qualifying selection criteria. Canada’s selection criteria is already super tough – compared to the US marathon trials, Lanni’s qualifying time from STWM 2015 of 2:28:08 is actually faster than all three American women (although the heat probably played a role) who are on the 2016 USA team.

    She met the standard and proved fitness for both races – let her run. She is probably not going to medal in either race even if she only competes in one. Waiting until July is just stupid.

  2. A link to an April article discussing the murkiness of the marathon team selection process. Note that Krista Duchene met the “proof of competitive readiness” requirement for Rio two weeks after this article was written. She was also part of the 2012 appeal to Athletics Canada after she qualified for the London Olympics with a 2:32:05 marathon (Lanni’s time was 2:31:50).

    http://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/trackandfield/marathon-athletics-olympic-fitness-1.3535714

  3. Thank you Maple for writing this piece and starting a discussion that needs to be held! And to Jesse for the link to the CBC article. As a fellow Canadian, I have been following this situation (and steaming about it) as it has evolved over the past few months. While I understand that funding for “amateur” sports is not bottomless, I hate to see some of the backhanded shenanigans that seem to go on with the single-minded goal of increasing the chances of a podium finish. I am aware of a similar situation within the Canadian rowing program in which a rower who qualified the boat in their singles event and is without a doubt the strongest athlete in that discipline has been repeatedly threatened with the possibility of not being selected to race that event in Rio. One of the reasons given was that having this athlete in the eights would increase the medal potential there and that is a “sexier” event.

    There is a fine line the governing bodies need to walk between achieving results and fostering talent, not to mention public support. I do not envy them. However, it would seem that more transparency and less arrogance among the decision makers is not too much to ask. Gone are the days when athletes of Lanni’s caliber will just shut up and take whatever is given to them when so many avenues of social media are available to get their side of the story out into the public purview. Lanni is a strong, smart female athlete who has more than proved she is worthy of representing proud Canadians in both the 10,000 m and the marathon in Rio. If Athletics Canada or Peter Eriksson have any legitimate reasons for their shabby treatment of Lanni Marchant, they owe it to the public (whose tax dollars contribute to their livelihood) to share those. More importantly, they owe it to Lanni herself.

  4. Wow, Lanni is awesome! how on earth are athletes supposed to prepare optimally if they don’t know whether they’ll compete until the last minute?! Also, when you say no Canadian female runner was sent to London in 2012, is that just referring to the marathon event? Or all running events?

  5. I think one of the points you made, is that the issue goes back at least 4 years and is not just a current hot topic. The fact that she was prevented from running in London is huge. Why is their standard so fast, and how is this acceptable? I thought that the whole reason the USATF had to amend the trials qualification times was because they couldn’t have a standard faster than the Olympic standard. Now, to potentially answer my own question, perhaps its because a TRIALS qualifier cannot be faster and Canada does not use Olympic trials to determine their teams. But still, it seems so odd to me that they wouldn’t have allowed their fastest runner to run the marathon in the Olympics. Maybe she wouldn’t have medaled but the experience she would have gained is immeasurable and it would have been more face time for Canada Athletics.

    Forward to now, it seems Canada still doesn’t understand (or care) that Olympic experience and exposure for Canadian Athletics would be beneficial to all involved in this. Especially when you consider that if she were slated to do the 10k/Marathon double, I have no doubt that press coverage would be ALL over that! So if they are worried that she won’t be up to compete at both at a high enough level to medal at either, it’s not like they walk away empty handed.

    If she isn’t taking the spot away from anyone else, who is it hurting?

    1. Since the lead-up to the Vancouver winter games in 2010, the Canadian Olympic Committee has really focused its funding on a smaller number of athletes with a higher chance of medaling, rather than those who are the best in Canada, but not on the world stage (hence our more strict standards). There’s some good insight in this piece here on our national public news site: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/rio2016/track-field/lanni-marchant-rio-marathon-1.3642575

      #LetLanniRun!

      1. Thanks for sharing that article, definitely a good read! I understand what Canada is trying to do, and can see the benefit of going for the podium from a certain perspective. I guess for me, it enforces the winning is the only thing that matters mentality. I don’t like that, and I also don’t like the everyone gets a prize mentality. I struggle with those all or nothing concepts because I feel like it doesn’t encourage growth for the sport, and professional running is already a hurting area. If we aren’t encouraging growth and people to gain experience and challenge themselves, the elite and professional levels will end up with less athletes to take the spots when the current “A-listers” retire as it mentioned in the end of the article. Basically…..#letlannirun because she deserves to have that chance and hopefully her story will encourage more women to take on challenging tasks, go for big goals, and maybe some women who are in it for participation only will start to wonder what more they can do—-growth for her, the sport, and women all over. #cheesy but true;)

        1. Also I still want to know how they are allowed to have a different standard than the Olympic standard….time for some research.

          The USATF site states this…. “As required, USATF may have no “Automatic” standard that is superior to the Olympic standard. ” I cannot imagine that rule wouldn’t apply to all countries?

      2. I just read the CBC piece – covered an number of issues I’ve been pondering… most depressingly, the as-yet-unknown but potentially grim impact on sport development if Lanni isn’t allowed to run the marathon -> kids even more uninterested in sport. :-(

        With the amount of awareness Lanni’s built, I’m thinking maybe she should BANDIT the Olympic marathon! :-D

  6. Looks like Lanni’s marathon time (Oct 2015) IS within the qualifying window Jan 1, 2015 – May 29, 2016.

    Still, it seems crazy the team hasn’t been selected – July 11 seems so late.
    There are different qualifying periods for different events – in general, the longer the distance, the earlier the qualifying period ends. Makes sense, as it also takes longer to recover from and prepare for races at these distances.

    So… Why couldn’t the team members for each event be selected at the end of the event’s qualifying period? Perhaps with provisions made for handling athletes intending to double in other (later closing) events. (Yes, it’s all very complicated.)

    Well, ultimately, Athletics Canada’s job is to choose the team they think will best represent the country AND sow the seeds for future development. This may not necessarily mean sending the (current) fastest runners – and that’s a reality that can sting in the seemingly objective sport of running.

    I can see why they might want to know who all is in the pool before making assignments among the complete suite of events.

    1. I agree sending those who might allow for future development in the sport could outweigh the fastest runner scenario. But that right there is why I believe she SHOULD have ran in 2012 Olympics to gain experience at that level, instead of sending no Canadian marathon female that year…and now here they are 4 years later still risking not being represented at the distance for women. It seems so strange to me that they have standards, but then also these hidden agendas that allow them to still prevent runners from competing. She met the time, let her run? Is it potential bitterness on their end for her appealing the 2012 decision? It just seems there is more to it than everyone is being told.

      1. Excellent point about 2012!
        I’m totally ignorant of that decision process. And, there are certainly politics involved in all the decisions – as soon as the process is allowed to be subjective…

        1. Oh I definitely don’t know much about the decision process. I mean, I think it’s good that each country can have their own selection process for the Olympics but at the same time- it seems like each process certainly has their flaws. I like that the US system, allows you to qualify for the trials (a set time, pretty cut and dry), and then the trials, top 3 (or whatever based on the event) go to the Olympics. Cut and dry, leaves emotions/politics mostly out of it. But I know that other countries methods have their perks too.

  7. I had no idea that qualifying worked so differently in Canada (accidentally US-centric on that one). I am blown away by people who want to race a 10K and the marathon at the world level in such a short period of time, and I can’t imagine how doing both would allow you to perform at your true best. At the same time, though, an athlete knows her body best, and if Lanni has the qualifying times and wants to run both races, I think that should be her decision.