10000, 5000, 1500, oh my! U.S.A. Track Trials are coming up and Rio is right around the corner. Sure there’s a little doping going on, but it’s time to put the jadedness aside and get pumped!
Before we get our spectating on later this week as Americans hit the track for a chance at gold in Rio, we thought we’d take a look at what runners need to do to be eligible to compete in the 2016 Olympics. As we detailed last week, Canadian runner Lanni Marchant is super fast, but Canada, which does not stage a Trials competition as we do here in the states, has yet to decide if she’ll compete. And even here in the U.S. with our Trials, the standards for making it to the Olympics are far from easily understood.
So, let’s change that and explain how athletes make it to the track in the Olympics.
In the U.S., to participate in the Track Trials, athletes must do two things:
- Qualify for the Olympic Trials
- Qualify for the Olympic Team
Obviously, this is way oversimplified, so let’s dig deeper.
Qualifying for the Trials
For an American athlete, the first step to making the Olympic team is to qualify for the Olympic Trials. As we know, the USATF, the governing body of track and field in the U.S., determines eligibility standards for the Trials. To be eligible for the Track Trials, athletes must have run a qualifying times between May 1, 2015 and June 26, 2016 or between January 1, 2015 and June 26, 2016 for the 10,000 meters, specifically. The athlete must also run this qualifying time during the qualifying window at a meet with stringent standards of competition such as an IAAF or USATF sanctioned meet, or NFHS structure for high school meets (yes, there will be high schoolers!). Competitors also need to be USATF members and pay a $30 entry fee.
The USATF states the qualifying time that will guarantee a spot at the Trials; however USATF will add to the field of automatic qualifiers from a descending order list. In addition, the published field size is an approximation not a minimum; USATF may choose to include only the athletes with the Trials standard. With athletes scratching up to 48 hours before a race, a spot on the starting line may not be certain until the last minute. Note that athletes must submit an entry and declare intent to compete in order to be considered from the descending order list.
The field for the Women’s 10k is a great example. As you can see here, there are 24 women with qualifiers and intent to race, and all those who were close but not quite under the standard were denied entry by the USATF. In 2012, the standard was 20 seconds slower, 32:45, and as you can see here, the USATF let in a couple of athletes who did not meet that standard.
To recap, to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Track Trials, athletes must:
- Be a USATF member; and
- Run a qualifying time (or really close to a qualifying time and hope the USATF is feeling generous),
- In a qualifying race,
- Within the qualifying window; and
- Submit an entry to declare intent to compete; and
- Pay $30 (always a fee!)
Qualifying for the Olympic Team
Every country may enter three qualifying athletes per event. The American system is fittingly democratic with its Trials meet beginning June 30, but it isn’t quite so simple as achieving a top-three finish; athletes must also achieve the Olympic standard which is equal to or more stringent than the Olympic Trials standard. For example, the Trials standard for the 10,000 is 32:25.00 while the Olympic Games standard is 32:15.00.
Occasionally a top finisher lacks the Olympic Games standard and is left at home, such as Natosha Rogers in 2012, or an athlete might choose to compete in a different event, like Shalane Flanagan who placed third and had a qualifier in the 10,000, but chose to race the marathon in London instead. This opened the door for Lisa Uhl and Janet Bawcom to compete in London in the 10k. However, most trials races will be well under the standard and the top three will represent the USA.
In addition, the Olympics have age standards. Marathoners and 50k race walkers must be born in 1996 or prior. Throwers and multi-event athletes must be born before 2000, and anyone turning 16 in 2016 is eligible for the rest of the events. It’s also notable that athletes must be male to enter the 50km race walk; there is no female race.
Our neighbor Canada uses a selection committee approach rather than a specific trials race. Well, two committees actually. First, Athletics Canada (Canada’s track and field governing body) nominates athletes and then the final selection falls to the Canadian Olympic Committee. Unlike the USA, Canadian standards may be more stringent than the Olympic standards, by more than 15 minutes in the case of the marathon!
Ethiopia, Kenya, and Great Britain
Long-distance powerhouses Ethiopia and Kenya along with Great Britain use a combination of a trials race and selection committee to name their Olympic team.
Azerbaijan, Monrovia, Lichtenstein, etc.
Many nations, however, lack a depth of talent to require any sort of selection, essentially automatically sending the few athletes who have achieved the Olympic standard. The IAAF may even use its discretion to allow some athletes who have not met the Olympics qualifications to compete, usually if they are from nations in which no athlete has met the standard to compete.
Some athletes will compete in Rio independently, meaning not on any country’s team. These athletes are said to compete under the “Olympic Flag.” These athletes include refugees and this year are likely to include Russian athletes who have been training in “clean” countries, like whistleblower, Yuliya Rusinova.
Will you be following the Olympic Trials? Do you think a Trials race is the best way to pick a team? Who will you be cheering for?