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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Marathon Olympic Trials

We've been waiting for an announcement on the 2008 marathon Olympic trials for quite some time, almost a year. The rumor over this whole waiting period is that both races would be held in conjunction with major marathons, with the men in New York and the women in Boston. Both would be on fan-friendly criterium courses on separate days; the men would run in Central Park on the Friday before the NYC marathon and the women on a course similar to the Tufts 10k on the day before the BAA marathon.

It's supposedly been a done deal for a long time. The lack of an announcement has apaprently been because of "contractual issues" between USATF and the USOC (more on that later). The Washington Times, of all places, reports that an announcement should be coming at the USATF meet this week.

There have always been problems with this idea on the men's side. First and foremost, the trials would be 10 months before the actual Olympic marathon. This isn't too bad; I remember a trials that was just 3 months before the Olympics, which is way too short a period of time to recover and rebuild. When Steve Spence won a bronze at the 1991 World Championships marathon, he credited being named to the team the previous fall as a big advantage. No, the real problem is that it's just 8 weeks after the Osaka World Championships marathon. This is going to make it very difficult to find marathoners willing to run in Osaka since it will basically ruin their Olympic chances.

Now the stink is that the men's race will be on the full NYC course and will start a little over 2 hours before the main race. As usual, there are arguments about the wisdom of such a choice, but it has no real effect on the good and bad points outlined above.

The fact that there were issues to iron out between USATF and the USOC, and that they couldn't get it done, is hardly surprising. These are two organizations just as bent on self-destruction as the Democratic Party. Then there are those who believe the "contractual issues" are the kind of problems the AAU was famous for. From Let's Run:

"This is a situation that gets uglier on a daily basis. A little over 2 years ago USATF decided that the mens trials were going to be held in New York. This is a great choice but not everyone was on board with this so they spent the past year trying to "buy support". Once NYRR had convinced (bought) enough of the people that are in a position of importance to see things their way, the deal was done. Now USOC realizes that there has been a lot of "buying" going on and they want their share. In the mean time the athletes are left to wait and wait and wait. They are at a stalemate as USATF has already accepted so many favors from NYRR that they are forced into trying to make it happen in New York. Most athletes don't want it in New York because of the November date. Others just have a bias against New York buying their way into things. USOC is now holding the cards. If NYRR gives a little more $$$ to USOC it will be announced. Then USOC will get their cut, USATF will get their cut and all is well."

In all honesty, I think the real problem is that an Olympic Trials for the marathon shouldn't exist, that they are a bad thing for the truly elite professional runners. Things are vastly different for marathoners than for those who compete on the track, and also vastly different than the only time we ever were a force to be reckoned with on the men's side (1972-84).

How so? These days marathoning, like the rest of the sport, is openly professional. Unlike those who compete on the track, though, these pros get only two, maybe three chances a year for a payday. The Oly Trials asks them to chuck one and race for free, just to win a chance to run another race for free. The World Marathon Majors series adds another level of problems, as the OT requires these athletes to give up a chance to score points. I firmly believe that's at least one reason why the trials are being held in conjuction with Majors races, so as to blow only one chance to compete on the circuit (rather than split the timing and ruin two). The most advantageous part of having an OT for track & field is that it's the biggest track meet in the USA in any four-year period, with unmatched press exposure. But with marathoning this isn't true; Chicago, New York and Boston all draw more attention than the OT.

How would you pick the teams? Easy. Pick a date and take the top three in the WMM standings at that point. Literally any American would have a shot at making the team. Yeah, it would ruin the sub-elite's quest for a 2:22 OT qualifier, but that's just too damn bad. The sport is not about amateurs anymore.


jen said...

You're missing the point, though, without an OT marathon, the comission would miss out on their payola.

The Track & Field Superfan said...