USATF Acts Swiftly And Relaxes Standards For 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials To 2:19 For Men And 2:45 For Women To Match Olympic Standards

December 11, 2015

Yesterday, we wrote an article about how the IAAF had eased many of the qualifying standards for the 2016 Olympics. One of the things we noticed about the relaxed standards is that in both the men’s and women’s marathon, the standard to get into the US Olympic Trials (2:18:00 for the men and 2:43:00 for the women) was more difficult than getting into the Olympics (2:19:00 and 2:45:00). We wondered if USATF might change its own standards for the Trials.

USATF has acted very quickly and posted on their website that the “B” standard for the 2016 US Olympic Trials have been moved to 2:19:00 for the men and 2:45:00 for the women. That means that anyone who has hit those marks since August 1, 2013, is eligible to run at the Trials in Los Angeles in February.

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So far, we haven’t found proof that they were required to change the standards, but USATF may have acted to avoid arbitration and/or negative publicity. Kudos to them.

That potential arbitration — which USATF has now avoided — would have likely stemmed from the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. Originally we were going to publish an article explaining how that act affected the Marathon Trials standards. USATF got out in front of it by changing the standards, but we’ll still explain the act because it’s interesting and impacts many U.S. athletes. Essentially, it’s the reason why USATF sends full teams to the Olympics as opposed to countries like Canada and Great Britain, which often impose harsher standards on their athletes than the minimums set by the IAAF.

Our research was spurred by a tweet by World 50k champ Camille Herron, which was brought to our attention by messageboard poster “Mr. Obvious” yesterday.

We realized that in 2012, USATF’s website had this statement on its Olympic Trials standards page:

Due to recent arbitration, USATF may have no “Automatic” standard that is superior to the Olympic “A” standard. Thus, “Automatic” standards were adjusted in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 110mH and 400mH. The number of rounds have also changed from 4 to 3 in the 100m, 200m and 110mH to coincide with the Olympic Games program, where those who achieve the “A” standard will advance directly to the quarter-final round.

We wondered what arbitration that statement might be referring to. A visitor emailed and said he thought it might be a July 2008 case involving high jumper Jamie Nieto, who was top three at the Trials, but didn’t have the ‘A’ standard and thus wasn’t named to the team as the team was named on the final day of the Trials. Nieto ended up getting the standard after the Trials and before the Olympic cut-off and argued he should be put on the team. His appeal was denied, but we learned one key thing from reading the arbitrator’s decision.

While a 2008 decision doesn’t seem ‘recent’ in the context of standards for 2012, we read the Nieto ruling as there were no other arbitration rulings regarding USATF after July 2008 until June of 2012 and the Trials standards for 2012 were last modified on May 22, 2012. Additionally, none of the other rulings in 2011 and 2012 seemed to be relevant to this case. Regardless, in reading the Nieto ruling, we learned a key point.

The Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act – which governs the rules that USATF operates under – specifically states that a national governing body for a sport in the US (in this case USATF) can’t have eligibility criteria for the Olympics that is more restrictive than the one set by the international sports federation (IAAF).

Section 220522(a)(14) of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act states: 

“An amateur sports organization is eligible to be recognized, or to continue to be recognized, as a national governing body only if it—  does not have eligibility criteria related to amateur status or to participation in the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, or the Pan-American Games that are more restrictive than those of the appropriate international sports federation;”

So there you have it. By law, USATF can’t require marathon runners to achieve a standard that is more difficult than the standard set by the IOC.

Now just because that is the case, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people who have run between 2:18 and 2:19 or 2:43 and 2:45 had to automatically be included in the Trials. Section 220522(a)(14) of the Ted Stevens Act only deals with standards for making the Olympics. If they kept the OT standards at 2:18/2:43, USATF could argue that they simply set the standards for the Trials at a level that ended up being more difficult than the Olympic standards (the Trials standards came out way before the Olympic standards) but anyone who is top three at the Trials with an Olympic qualifying mark will go to the Olympics.

For example, suppose the following happens. An athlete who currently doesn’t have the Olympic standards of sub-2:19 in the marathon since the start of 2015 – whether it’s Sam Chelanga, who qualified with a half-marathon time or Ryan Hall, whose qualifying time of 2:17:50 from 2014 Boston doesn’t count as the Olympic window only began in 2015 (and only top 10 finishers from Boston count as Olympic qualifiers due to the downhill and point-to-point nature of the course) – finished top three in 2:18:30. USATF would still send that athlete to the Olympics. They were in the Trials, were top three, ran under 2:19:00 and are going. It’s clear that USATF could not deny Chelanga or Hall an Olympic spot simply because they didn’t run 2:18:00 at the Trials, but it’s not clear if USATF isn’t allowed to make the Trials standard greater than the Olympic standard. Yes, USATF’s statement from 2012 says they couldn’t, but we haven’t found any document that actually requires them to do so.

Update on marathoners with the Olympic standard

One of the other areas of confusion about yesterday’s news was which U.S. marathoners now have the Olympic standard. Initially, we wrote that 52 Americans gained the new standard and then revised that total to 59 after posters in this thread pointed out additional Americans who had run faster than 2:19 or 2:45 in 2015.

But just because an athlete broke 2:19 or 2:45 doesn’t mean that he or she has an Olympic standard. IAAF has different (and much more stringent) criteria than USATF for what counts as an eligible course, as we found out when we received an email from U.S. marathoner Nick Arciniaga. Arciniaga noted that his 2:18:02 in Boston this year did not count as an Olympic qualifier as Boston is not an IAAF-approved course (though the top 10 finishers at Boston can use it as a qualifier due to its status as a gold label marathon).

We did some digging and came across this page, which lists all IAAF-certified marathons in 2015. If we go purely off that list, then the number of new Americans with the Olympic standard is dramatically lower than we initially reported as races such as the Los Angeles Marathon, Grandma’s Marathon and the California International Marathon are not included on the IAAF list. That would mean that only following 16 marathoners now have the Olympic standard, not the 59 we reported yesterday:

Men: Jonathan Mott (2:18:12)*, Zach Ripley (2:18:26)*, Bennett Grimes (2:18:47)*, Scott Wietecha (2:17:02), Tony Migliozzi (2:17:27), Chris Lemon (2:18:06), John Raneri (2:18:07), Scott MacPherson (2:18:34), Joe Moore (2:18:43)
Women: Laura Kersjes (2:44:28)*, Emily Harrison (2:44:40)* and Margaret Diacont (2:44:40)*, Laura Harnish (2:42:09), Erin Moeller (2:42:27), Samantha McClellan (2:42:41), Emily Potter (2:42:56)
*did not have OT qualifier prior to USATF adjusting standards
The list of IAAF-certified marathons is current as of November 30, 2015. If you know of another athlete who has the Olympic standard from one of those races, please let us know and we’ll update the article.

Discuss this development on our messageboard: MB: USATF Changes the Marathon Trials B Standards to match the new Olympic Standards; half standards remain unchanged.
MB: 25 Americans now have the Olympic standard in marathon but won’t be at the Trials. Should USATF let them in?
73 Americans Pick Up Olympic Standards As IAAF Eases Standards In 17 Events; Should USATF Change The Marathon Trials Standard Accordingly?

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