Did the IAAF Just Kill Off Some of the Significance of the Olympic Trials? IAAF Announces New Qualifying System & Entry Standards for 2020 Olympics

By LetsRun.com
March 10, 2019

Today the IAAF Council met in Doha and announced the qualification system for track & field at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The big change from previous years is that the IAAF will be using its new World Ranking System as part of the qualifying criteria.

As in the past, athletes can still qualify by hitting an entry standard. But those standards are much stiffer across the board as compared to 2016. In the men’s distance events, for example, the times dropped from 3:36.20 to 3:35.00 in the 1500, from 8:30:00 to 8:22:00 in the steeplechase, from 13:25.00 to 13:13.50 in the 5000, from 28:00.00 to 27:28:00 in the 10,000, and from 2:19:00 to 2:11:30 in the marathon for 2020. For the women, the 1500 standard has gone from 4:07.00 to 4:04.20, the steeplechase standard has gone from 9:45:00 to 9:30:00, the 5000 standard has gone from 15:24.00 to 15:10.00, the 10,000 standard has gone from 32:15 to 31:25, and the marathon standard has gone from 2:45:00 to 2:29:30.

The reason for these tougher standards is the IAAF’s desire to make use of its World Ranking System which in theory encourages athletes to compete head to head in important meets, which is something we’re behind. Essentially, the World Ranking System will take the place of the world descending order list that was used to fill fields in the past at the Olympics and World Championships. The IAAF will accept all athletes who achieve the entry standard and fill the rest of the field based on where an athlete ranks in the World Ranking System as of July 1, 2020; if the athlete does not accept the place, the IAAF will continue down the rankings until the field is full in each event (there is a specific quota of athletes in each event).

“The process is designed to achieve about 50 percent of the target numbers for each event through Entry Standards and the remaining 50 percent through the IAAF World Ranking System,” the IAAF wrote in a press release.

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The qualification window for each event is as follows:

  • For the marathon and 50k race walk, the qualification period runs from January 1, 2019, to May 31, 2020
  • For the 10,000, 20k race walk, and combined events, the qualification period runs from January 1, 2019, to June 29, 2020.
  • For all other events, the qualification period runs from May 1, 2019, to June 29, 2020.

The full qualification criteria can be found here. The current IAAF World Rankings can be found here.

Below, we have listed the entry standards in each event and we’ve compared the 2020 standards to the 2019 World Championship standards and the 2016 Olympic standards.

In addition, the top 10 finishers in the marathon at the 2019 World Championships will be considered to have achieved the standard, as will top-5 finishers at IAAF Gold Label Marathons and top-10 finishers at Abbott World Marathon Majors held during the qualification period.


2020 Olympics 2019 Worlds 2016 Olympics
100 10.05 10.10 10.16
200 20.24 20.40 20.50
400 44.90 45.30 45.40
800 1:45.20 1:45.80 1:46.00
1500 3:35.00 3:36.00 (3:53.10 mile) 3:36.20
5k 13:13.50 13:22.50 13:25.00
10k 27:28.00 27:40.00 28:00.00
Marathon 2:11:30 2:16:00 2:19:00
3k steeple 8:22.00 8:29.00 8:30.00
110 hurdles 13.32 13.46 13.47
400 hurdles 48.90 49.30 49.40
HJ 2.33m 2.30m 2.29m
PV 5.80m 5.71m 5.70m
LJ 8.22m 8.17m 8.15m
TJ 17.14m 16.95m 16.85m
SP 21.10m 20.70m 20.50m
Discus 66.00m 65.00m 65.00m
Hammer 77.50m 76.00m 77.00m
Javelin 85.00m 83.00m 83.00m
Decathlon 8350 pts 8200 pts 8100 pts
20k race walk 1:21:00 1:22:30 1:24:00
50k race walk 3:50:00 3:59:00 4:06:00


2020 Olympics 2019 Worlds 2016 Olympics
100 11.15 11.24 11.32
200 22.80 23.02 23.20
400 51.35 51.80 52.20
800 1:59.50 2:00.60 2:01.50
1500 4:04.20 4:06.50 (4:25.20 mile) 4:07.00
5k 15:10.00 15:22.00 15:24.00
10k 31:25.00 31:50.00 32:15.00
Marathon 2:29:30 2:37:00 2:45:00
3k steeple 9:30.00 9:40.00 9:45.00
100 hurdles 12.84 12.98 13.00
400 hurdles 55.40 56.00 56.20
HJ 1.96m 1.94m 1.93m
PV 4.70m 4.56m 4.50m
LJ 6.82m 6.72m 6.70m
TJ 14.32m 14.20m 14.15m
SP 18.50m 18.00m 17.75m
Discus 63.50m 61.20m 61.00m
Hammer 72.50m 71.00m 71.00m
Javelin 64.00m 61.50m 62.00m
Heptathlon 6420 pts 6300 pts 6200 pts
20k race walk 1:31:00 1:33:30 1:36:00

Quick Take Analysis from LetsRun.com: This had better not kill off the significance of the greatest track meet in America — the US Olympic Trials

The IAAF clearly thinks world rankings are important for marketing the sport moving forward and we’re sure they think it will force more runners to run their meets. We aren’t opposed to change. That being said, we’d prefer that this qualification system not be tried out for the first time at the Olympics. We’d much rather have seen a dry run for the Worlds this year in Doha before 2020. Also, we really wish the IAAF retroactively produced rankings for both 2016 and 2017 and shown us how the system would have played out. It’s hard to analyze it without seeing how it would have worked in the past.

Our #1 concern is protecting the significance of the #1 track and field meet in North America — the US Olympic Trials. We’ve always felt that any individual country should be allowed to send the three people they want if they have three people eligible to go in that event. If a rising collegiate star or a pro on the comeback trail from injury shocks the US and finishes top 3 at the Trials, they should go to the Olympics regardless of their world ranking, as long as the US has three others eligible to go. This mainly applies to events 800 and up where the Trials final could be a tactical race and a very good up-and-coming athlete could be excluded from the team despite finishing in the top 3.

For example, in 2016, would Paul Chelimo had made the Olympic team even though his PR was 13:21.61? We sure hope so as he won the Olympic silver.

Editor’s update on 3/11/2019: Since publishing this article, we’ve done the math and Chelimo would have easily qualified for the Olympics under the world ranking system. Based on his 3rd place showing at the US Olympic Trials in the 5000, his 2nd in the US indoors in a quick 7:39.00 and his 7th place showing at World Indoors, he would have 1176.67 ranking points as explained here which would mean in 2020 he’d be the 25th ranked 5000 man in the world (45 make it to the Olympics and that’s after limiting it to 3 for Kenya, Ethiopia, etc.).

In 2016, Clayton Murphy dipped under the 2020 Olympic standard only once, to win the 2016 Olympic Trials. He got a bronze at the Olympics. Does the system make sure that if the Olympics Trials had been in bad weather and Murphy ran .45 slower, he, as winner of the Trials, would have been on the team?

In 2015, would someone like Emily Infeld have qualified in the 10,000 as she’d never run the event before that year and had a pb of just 31:38.71? We sure hope so as she won the bronze medal.

In 2008, would the American collegiate champion Leo Manzano — who would go on to win Olympic silver in 2012 — have made it under this system as his lifetime pb at the time was just 3:35.29?

In 1996, would someone like Jenny Spangler — who won the US Olympic marathon trials in 2:29:54 after dealing with years of injury — made the Olympic team?

We don’t know.

The longshots believing they have a chance of showing at the Olympic Trials and making the team is what makes the Olympic Trials so popular in the United States. It’s one of the greatest track meets in the world and needs to elevated, not diminished.

We imagine other countries might have similar questions. What if an upstart Kenyan wins their 5000 trials at altitude in 13:20? Would they qualify based on the world rankings?

Our biggest problem with the world rankings is they seem to count all national championships the same. So someone who wins a super tough race like, say, the US Champs doesn’t get any more points than someone who won the Israeli champs unless they run super fast (for each competition, you get points for the significance of your place as well as how good your mark was).

We really want to see the system retroactively run to show us how it would have worked in the past.

A simple solution to protect the sanctity of the Olympic Trials [or any national championship] is to make sure that the ranking system automatically gives enough points for someone to qualify for their Olympics if they finish in the top three at their national championships (as long as that country has three people with the Olympic standard). This would leave open the possibility of newcomers and up-and-coming athletes making the Olympics in countries that are very good at an event.

Talk about the new standards on our world famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: New 2020 Olympic Standards Posted – They Are WAY Tougher – Will US Olympic Trials take a hit?

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