Bryan Clay - Don't Let a Pointless USATF Rule Keep You From London

June 28, 2012

On Tuesday, defending Olympic Champion Bryan Clay announced he would not try and chase the Olympic "A" qualifying standard in the decathlon. As a result, Clay won't be at the Olympics and the US will only send two out of the max of three decathletes to the Olympics.

Clay in announcing his decision said, he wanted to "keep the integrity of the rules in place, and to support and uphold the decisions of the USATF Committee."

The "rules" Clay is referring to is a USATF rule that says athletes may not chase the Olympic "A" qualifying standard after the conclusion of their event at the Olympic Trials. The intent of the rule is a good one- to bring finality to the Olympic Trials. The actual qualifying window for the Olympics ends on July 8th but to bring finality to the Trials, USATF closed the qualifying window at the end of each event at the Trials.

The rule is another example of a poorly thought out USATF rule, that has unintended negative consequences. To put it more bluntly, a stupid USATF rule may have prevented Bryan Clay from defending his decathlon title.

We agree 100% in events with three Olympic "A" qualifiers, that athletes should not be able to chase the standard after the Trials. That brings finality to the Trials and is fan friendly.

However, there is no reason in events with less than the maximum of three qualifiers should athletes not be allowed to chase the standard after the Trials up until the Olympic qualifying deadline. If more than one athlete hits the standard after the Games, then they should be added to the Olympic team based on their order of finish at the Trials.

The current rule in place not allowing athletes to chase the standard actually goes against the "The Official Selection Procedures" for the US Olympic Track and Field team as written in the United States Olympic Committee's manual for the 2012 Games:

    "The philosophy of USATF is to send the maximum number of athletes allowed by IAAF rules."

Not allowing people to chase in events where they are less than three Olympians clearly does not maximize the number of athletes at the Games.

Now let's turn to the specific issue at hand and Bryan Clay in the decathlon. There is no harm to anyone in allowing Clay or any other decathlete to chase the standard up until July 8th. If one of them hits the standard, then America gets to send the maximum number of decathletes to the Games. If more than one athlete hits the standard, whoever placed highest at the Trials gets named to the team. Thus the Trials order is sacrosanct, and America tries to send as many athletes to the Games as possible.

Arbitrary rules without a logical purpose should not be respected, especially in this case when the USOC has final say on the US Olympic Team and would likely add Clay or any other decathlete to the team if they hit the standard.  Just two weeks ago Australian Genevieve LaCaze attained the qualifying standard in the steeplechase, 24 hours after the arbitrary Athletics Australia deadline. Athletics Australia insisted rules were rules, and said that even though the international qualifying deadline did not end until July 8th, LaCaze would not be on the team. The public outcry was so great in Australia, that the Olympic Committee reversed course and added her to the team.

I'm almost certain the USOC would do the same thing in Bryan Clay's case. He isn't your generic Olympian afterall - he's the defending Olympic champ in the marquee event of the decathlon. If Bryan Clay does not want to chase the Olympic qualifying standard, he is free to not do that. However, if he is doing it solely to respect a rule that does not support its stated purpose, then he should reconsider. America and the World would love to see him compete in the Olympics one final time.

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