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An Email In Defense Of America's "First Past The Post" System of Picking National Track & Field/Cross Country Teams

by: LetsRun.com
December 3, 2009

Editor's Note: We here at LetsRun.com always say the best thing about the website is our informed visitors. In that light, we wanted to share an email we got from a UK visitor.

Each year that the US championships come around, particularly in Olympic Trial years, there is always some debate as to whether America's totally democratic system of picking the Olympic Team of "Top 3 Go" is the correct one. And every year, when there is a huge upset and a few Americans start talking about have pre-selected members of the team, we rally to the defense of "Top 3 Go" system. Yes, the Tyson Gays and Sanya Richards of the world are big stars who are likely to win a lot of medals, but America is all about being the land of opportunity. Moreover, the alternative of a political system where selectors pick team members becomes very dicey, particularly when it comes down to the last spot or two. At the vary least, a totally unbiased results-based system must be used to pick the final spots of all teams.

Dont' believe us? Well the email below from a UK visitor on the recent selection process of the UK team for the European XC championships shows what we are talking about perfectly. If you don't have a "first pas the post" system (the British certainly have a better way of writing than we do), then there is no 'correct' way to do it as arguments can be made on all sides.

Email From A UK Visitor
I thought you might be interested in a recent development in the UK regarding selection for the European Cross Country Championships.

Unlike America, the UK rarely adopts the ‘first past the post’ system and in the recent European xc trial in Liverpool the criteria was set as the first 3 individuals gain automatic selection and the remaining 3 places are discretionary and will be selected by the UKa selection panel. In the senior men’s trial, Mike Skinner, Ben Whitby and Andy Vernon all gained automatic selection and are joined on the team by Mo Farah who was pre selected. Therefore there are two remaining places left on the squad. In 4th and 5th place at the trials were Phil Wicks and Scott Overall respectively. However, the selectors have gone for Chris Thompson and Andrew Lemencello and this has caused great uproar amongst the running community.

Lemencello has not run a cross country all year and is selected (presumably) on his performance in the World Half Marathon Championships which were 7 weeks ago and his recent run in the Manchester Thanksgiving Road race where he finished 6th in 22.04. It is easy to see why some would be upset that he is selected based on a ‘road’ race which is not very comparable as it isn’t an official distance nor is it run over fields and mud which is the scenario facing the athletes at the European Cross Country Championships. However, at least his Half Marathon performance is a valid indicator he can run well for his country even if it was now 7 weeks ago.

Chris Thompson's selection however is even more controversial. Thompson is seemingly selected on his recent 5km road race in which he ran 13.46. He has not run a cross country all year (and has a history of poor performance in muddy conditions). He has however raced the athletes who he now replaces on the squad – Overall and Wicks. In the great south run (10 miles on the 24th October), Thompson was soundly beaten by both Wicks and Overall (Overall was a clear minute ahead). He was also slower than Overall in the National Road relays in September (5.75km). He has also not run for Great Britain for several years unlike the other 2 athletes.

What has angered everyone is the fact that Wicks and Overall have purposely decided to stay in the UK and race cross country to give themselves the best chance of selection. They have both beaten Thompson only a month ago over a more relevant distance than 5km and yet they find themselves on the reserve list. How is Thompsons 5km relevant to a 10km cross country? And why didn’t all the athletes decide to go off to sunnier climates and run 5km road races instead of drag themselves through the mud bath that was the euro trials? Overall in particular has a very good track record on the road and a history of training in America – he would have rather been out there with his coach (Robert Chapman) running on the roads where he is more comfortable but opted to stay and do his best on the country so he can be best prepared and give himself the best chance of selection  - or so one would think!

I personally think Thompson and Lemencello are great runners and know this is not their decision but surely they should not get preferential treatment from the selectors for avoiding the trials. Most of the grievances are aimed at the selection panel and UKa in general who have a history of picking favourites and in recent times showing no forward planning past the immediate future and 2012. Decisions like this have left a level of disillusionment amongst the running community especially those on the fringe of break through. If established athletes and GB internationals like Scott Overall (5km – 13.28/ 3km – 7.48) and Phil Wicks (HM – 62.51) who finish in a team place at the trial can’t get selected then what hope is there for the rest of us, who are trying to make the next level but by participation alone keep the sport alive.

Many Thanks,


P.S If you were to comment on this on your website – could I remain anonymous please.

P.P.S there is a British website www.eightlane.com that is gathering most of the negative comments on its message boards.

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