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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Olympic Trials, continued

I don't think I made my proposal for qualifying to the Trials particularly clear yesterday, so let me work on that.

Even when looking at only national team selection, USATF serves a widely varying group of athletes. International pros, collegians, high schoolers, and elite amateurs, and a qualifying system has to have some fairness to it yet satisfy all of them. Let's take a look at how this might work for the men's 1500 meters.

First off, we want to expand the field to 48 athletes. There are three rounds at the Trials, and unless you have this many the first round is essentially pointless. So I say let more athletes in!

Our first group to satisfy is the international-level runners, and by that we'll mean athletes who already had the requisite A-standard (3:36.60) for entry into the Olympics. These are the athletes who have the best chance of making the team. Going into the Trials, who was it?
Alan Webb, Bernard Lagat, Matt Tegenkamp, Leonel Manzano, Jon Rankin, Rob Myers, Lopez Lomong
As we're only at seven, we'll go down to the B-standard (3:39.00). That adds in:
Chris Lukezic, Adam Goucher, Chris Solinsky, Russell Brown, Said Ahmed, Steve Sherer, Andrew McClary, Grant Robison, Will Leer, Andrew Wheating

That gets us up to seventeen athletes and we need another 21. Note that many of the above--Tegenkamp, Goucher, Solinsky, Wheating--had no intention of running the 1500 at the Trials. I figure if we're going to try to have definitive you're in / you're not qualifying, waiting for declarations isn't something we're going to do. If the field allows for 48 athletes but only 44 compete, so be it.

Next we take athletes who have proven themselves competitively at recent national championships. Top-eight finishers at the '08 USATF indoors adds:
Jason Jabaut, Sean O'Brien, Jordan Fife
Top-eight finishers at the '07 USATF outdoors adds:
John Jefferson

So we go to a series of qualifying meets. Six of them already exist: the three NCAA championships, NAIA, JuCo, and the Nike Outdor Nationals high school meet. We'd add in maybe four regional qualifiers for post-collegians to be held at roughly the same time as those other six. Line up the athletes in order of their finish at these meets, and select the fastest guy at the top of his list until we've got 17 more runners. Most likely, the first to get in would be runners like Gabe Jennings, David Krummenacker, Bobby Curtis and Sam Burley.

Complicating this whole thing is that Dorian Ulrey, NCAA runner-up and tops in that "qualifying" meet once Manzano is taken out, only had a 3:41.59 to his credit. There were just 12 post-collegians faster than him, so he definitely would have qualified to the Trials along with at least the next four collegians. But that kind of logjam would make these regional races anything but dawdling affairs--let a slow guy beat you and you could be left out in the cold.

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