The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Is It Time to Change Our Selection Process?

Jun 30th, 2011
11:02 am PST

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Sanya Richards Ross just brought up an age old issue when it comes to the U.S. Trials system – that it should be changed to ensure we send our best to major competitions.

In some ways the sport has already been in agreement. After all, the IAAF went to the bye for World champions because of Michael Johnson’s injury status in 1997. Johnson was injured and unable to compete in our selection meet for the World Championships, and to ensure his competition the IAAF created the bye for World champions that allowed Johnson to compete in Athens. Since then all World champions have been assured a place in the subsequent Championship immediately following their victory.

So clearly there is the view within the sport, that having the best available to compete should be given priority. The problem is just how to accomplish that. The IAAF can expand the competition field to accommodate athletes with byes. USATF, however, does not have the luxury of simply adding another spot to our 100 or 200 meter rosters in order to accommodate Tyson Gay – in this case. Nor would it be equitable to allow defending champions (World or Olympic) a bye as there are only a handful of those each cycle – as opposed to the IAAF rule which covers every event.

The most oft spoken solution, and the one espoused by Richards Ross, is two keep the qualifying meet as is, but only select two individuals based on finish. The third slot would be at the discretion of coaches decisions – based on form and fitness. While that sounds wonderful in principle, it has the potential to become a political nightmare – which is why discussions of this nature have never gotten very far. This would give power/clout to the “stronger” coaches and training camps.

I do like the idea of selecting only the first two at Trials and leaving a spot available to be filled later. One reason is what we are facing – a star athlete not ready due to injury at the time the Trials are run. I also like the idea because quite often our 3rd place at Trials is not ready to perform which leads to the spot being almost a throw away. Leaving a spot to be named later would take care of both issues.

My suggestion is to leave a spot open, but to make it less political. I think you do that by making the selection objective rather than subjective. In this case award the spot to the individual not already on the team that has the best sequence of legal marks over their top three competitions with at least one of the marks having to come post Trials. This means that if an athlete’s five best marks came before the Trials and number six came after, you take marks one, two and six to determine average. It also means that if the individual has no marks after the Trials they are ineligible – they have to show the ability to compete in the Major. Also in the case of field events, best mark in three separate competitions so that marks within a sequence would not count.

Now there are no decisions to make. No back room deals to hammer out. You have to compete your way onto the team – this time in separate competitions. Check the numbers and the best available athlete gets the spot. If Tyson runs 9.79 and 9.83 before Trials and gets hurt and can’t compete at Trials but runs 9.81 afterwards, and athlete “B” gets 4th at Trials but has marks of 9.85 and 9.84, then he can get the spot instead of Tyson if he can run a 9.73. In short if Tyson gets the spot it’s because he’s run better overall than athlete “B” – not because he is Tyson Gay or because B is politicked out of the spot. The spot goes to the best available athlete and you must PROVE it. If Tyson were to come back and only run 9.91, then athlete “B” can get the spot by running 9.83. Again the better performing athlete gets the spot.

I’m sure that I or others can run scenarios that may not work, but I think something of this nature keeps the “’system” as close to the present system as possible – and that’s keeping it in the hands of the athletes and away from subjective selection. What are your thoughts?

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