One Week Later: How Will USATF Select the 2020 Olympic Team? No One Really Seems to Know

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By Jonathan Gault and Robert Johnson
March 22, 2019

One week ago on March 15, USA Track & Field (USATF) released a statement to LetsRun.com detailing its new selection policy for the 2020 Olympic Games, the crux of which came down to this sentence: For the U.S., the three highest-placing finishers at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, and who have the 2020 Olympic Games qualifying standard, will select themselves for the U.S. Team.

Since then, several sources have raised concerns to LetsRun.com that USATF’s statement was not accurate, and USATF’s repeated refusal to clarify its position has only increased those doubts.

Jeff Porter, chair of the USATF Athletes Advisory Committee, told LetsRun.com that USATF’s 2020 Olympic selection procedures have not been finalized.

“The selection procedures are decided with the athletes, the [USATF] Long Distance Running community, [among others],” Porter said. “At this point, the selection procedures for 2020 haven’t been finalized. We haven’t really got into that at this point. I’m not going to speak for the communications department at all. When I read what was on LetsRun, I was confused. Because those procedures aren’t done.”

USATF Chief of Sport Performance Duffy Mahoney told LetsRun.com on Wednesday that “there was an inaccuracy in what you wrote” but declined to go into specifics or comment further.

So does USATF actually have a selection policy for the 2020 Olympics in place or not? And if so, is the policy the one detailed in the statement USATF Managing Director of Communications Susan Hazzard emailed to LetsRun.com on March 15? So far, no one at USATF has been able to provide a straight answer. Hazzard provided LetsRun.com with the following statement via email on Thursday:

“As you can imagine, this is all evolving in real time. We, along with our committee members and coaches, are working together toward a solution that is best for the sport and everyone involved.

“USATF plans to appeal to the IAAF to make the OT Marathon a gold label event and/or lessen the standards.”

Hazzard did not respond to multiple phone calls, emails, and text messages seeking further clarification. Additionally, the IAAF told us they hadn’t received clarification from USATF either.

Andrew Valmon, chair of the Men’s Track & Field Committee within the USATF High Performance Division, said that he did not want to discuss USATF’s statement on the 2020 Olympic selection policy until he had a chance to discuss the matter with others within USATF.

Rose Monday, chair of the Women’s Track & Field Committee within the USATF High Performance Division, and Edwardo Torres, USATF chair of Men’s Long Distance Running, did not respond to LetsRun.com’s interview requests.

So there you have it. Those in charge of our sport in the US won’t even tell us if there is a definite selection process for 2020, and if there isn’t, when one will be announced.

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Porter also made clear that, in his role as chair of the USATF Athletes Advisory Committee, he has pushed back against the IAAF’s new world ranking system, believing that it puts American athletes at a disadvantage compared to their European competitors.

“I’ve personally fought it at every level possible,” said Porter, a 2016 Olympian in the 110 hurdles. “We have sent open letters, open conversations to the IAAF and the Competition [Commission] specifically regarding the world ranking system. I sit on the NACAC Athletes Commission, and we have sent a notice to the IAAF from the Athletes Commission. We have spoken to some of the athlete commissions of the major regions outside of Europe to have conversations about the world ranking system.

“It seems very European-centric. It concentrates a lot of the power in the European races and it devalues some of the American competitions, in our opinion.”

Porter isn’t against the idea of world rankings in principle, but believes that until the current system is refined, it should not be part of the Olympic qualification system.

“It is not finely-tuned yet,” Porter said. “I think all sports need a ranking system, and I don’t think we disagree at any level that there should be. It is how they’re going about using it, and that’s where the challenge comes in.”

When the IAAF announced the new Olympic qualification system on March 10, it said that it did so “after extensive consultation with key stakeholders,” as well as consultation with the IAAF Competition, Athletes’ and Coaches’ Commissions.

Porter was not among that group, and said that he didn’t know of any American athletes who had been consulted by the IAAF about the changes.

“Maybe there are [some],” Porter said. “I can’t refute or support that statement at all. I just don’t know.”

The world rankings were developed by the IAAF with Elite Ltd (All-Athletics), whose founder, Dr. Bojidar Spiriev of Bulgaria, developed a first set of rankings back in 1979. Spiriev, who died in 2010, also created the official IAAF Scoring Tables to compare performances across different track & field disciplines.

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Quick Take: We’ll temporarily pump the brakes on the criticism of the new USATF Olympic selection policy until USATF figures out/clarifies what it’s going to do, but time is of the essence

Right now, all we’ve got to go off to determine how the US will pick its Olympic team next year is a week-old USATF statement — one that multiple people within USATF have suggested may not be accurate — that lays out a flawed selection policy. Given that no one at USATF seems willing (or able?) to confirm/correct the initial statement, we’re hoping that means they are considering a different course of action.

As a result, we think it is wise to put any freakouts over the 2020 Olympic selection policy temporarily on hold. And yes, we’ll admit that we freaked out about the policy when it was first announced, but that freakout was justified given: a) the policy was bad, and; b) the announcement came in AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM USATF’S HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS.

And we’re glad we did freak out as the huge negative reaction to USATF’s statement seems to be likely the cause as to why USATF has now gone totally silent and is hopefully reconsidering their initial position.

But now that doubts have been raised about the veracity of USATF’s statement, we’re willing to hold off of additional criticism until things are further clarified. We’ll give USATF a brief reprieve, but time is of the essence. Clarification needs to come very quickly — by the end of the month at the latest — as many athletes have important decisions to make.

Should a marathoner like Emma Bates skip the World Championships this summer to chase the time standard? And this doesn’t just impact US athletes. Should Japan’s Suguru Osako, who dropped out of Tokyo last month, find a late spring marathon where he can hit the standard (if the IAAF grants the US Olympic Marathon Trials Gold Label status, we sure hope Japan gets it as well)?

Quick Take: Good news from the latest USATF statement

The good news to come out of Hazzard’s most recent statement to LetsRun.com on Thursday is that USATF is planning to appeal to the IAAF to make the Olympic Marathon Trials a Gold Label Marathon, which would mean the top five finishers automatically achieve the Olympic standard. That’s something we urged them to do to preserve the drama of the Olympic Trials, and if USATF does indeed appeal, it will be up to the IAAF to deliver.

Of course, a skeptic could argue that the fact that USATF plans to appeal to the IAAF about “lessen[ing] the [Olympic] standards” shows that USATF is only going to go off of who has the standard when selecting the team and not take advantage of the ability to enter an athlete based off their world ranking. But we won’t get ahead of ourselves…


Talk about this article on our world famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: A Little Good News: USATF is appealing to get top 5 at US Olympic Marathon Trials the standard.