By Jonathan Gault
June 25, 2019
While the wait for an explanation on the selection procedure for the 2020 Olympic team drags on (we’re at 14 weeks and counting since USATF issued a statement on how it will pick the 2020 Olympic marathon team before semi-backtracking and refusing to provide any sort of clarification), USATF has already massively screwed up the selection procedure for another meet: the 2019 Pan American Games, the track & field portion of which is scheduled to be held in Lima, Peru, from August 6-10.
In the past, the selection procedure for Pan Ams has been pretty simple. Just like Worlds or the Olympics, USATF has used the USATF Outdoor Championships as its selection event, with the top two finishers in each event earning selection. Often, athletes who have qualified for Worlds in their event will decline selection, so, in the past, USATF just kept on going down the line until it found the top two athletes (based on their finish at USAs) who wanted to compete. Simple, right?
The problem is that this year, the entry deadline for Pan Ams (June 22) was over a month before the USATF Outdoor Championships (July 25-28). That’s not USATF’s fault. USATF, sensibly, pushed back USAs a month this year because the World Championships has its latest start date ever: September 27. Since there was no way that USATF could use USAs as its selection event for Pan Ams like it normally does, it had to come up with another way to pick the team.
USATF Says in December It Will Pick 2019 Pan-Am Team Based Off Of 2019 Performance Rank Order List
The criteria that USATF came up with was very straightforward. According to the selection procedures posted on its website in December, “individual event athletes will be selected using the 2019 U.S. Performance Rank Order List (Comprehensive) non-wind aided results as of Monday June 10, 2019 (midnight Eastern Standard Time (EST)).” For the marathon and 50K race walk, it’s the same, except for an earlier cutoff date, April 21. Below that section, USATF even provides a link to follow to find the list, which takes you here. Click on the link for 2019 and you find a link to the 2019 U.S. Comprehensive List.
Again, simple enough, right? Start at the top of each event and ask each person if they want to compete at Pan Ams until you’ve got two athletes in every event.
Except that’s not how USATF picked its 2019 Pan Am team.
In an email sent to athletes on June 20, USATF Associate Director of International Teams Kimberly Sims wrote that USATF, in fact, would not be using the selection procedures posted on its own website. An excerpt of that email, provided by a source to LetsRun.com, reads as follows:
As this process has unfolded, we have become aware that there may be some confusion in how the selection procedures read. The 2019 U.S. Performance Rank Order List (Comprehensive) incorporates January 1, 2018 to June 10, 2019 performance rank order, yet that is not the link that is posted on our stats page. This broader Performance Rank Order List allows for the largest pool of potential athletes.
There are many challenges in selecting a team outside of our USATF National Championships, which is what is occurring this year because of the uniqueness of the 2019 calendar (and the lateness of our USATF National Championships, which are July 25-28, 2019). To clarify, when these selection procedures were created late summer/early fall of 2018, it was forecasted that many of our athletes may not open their seasons until late in the year to even have a top 2019 rank. In an effort to be fair to all our athletes, we chose to have the Pan Am Games qualifying window be January 1, 2018 to June 10, 2019, and agreed to select our athletes in performance rank order during that qualifying window. This discussion was had in advance with the AAC.
That said, we understand that the selection criteria, as presently posted, may be subject to an alternate interpretation. We apologize for any confusion that may have been caused as a result.
If you truly understand all of that convoluted email, please email me, but essentially USATF is saying:
Hey, you know those selection policies we posted on our website? Ignore them. While we said we were going to use the 2019 US Performance Rank Order List and provided a link to it, what we really meant was we’re going to use a combined 2018-2019 list, and we’re not going to tell you about the change until the qualifying window is closed. Since we imagine some of you are going to be upset, we’re going to try to confuse you with some mumbo jumbo about an “alternate interpretation.”
Okay, so USATF posted one set of selection procedure (“the 2019 U.S. Performance Rank Order List”) and is actually using another (a secret 2018-2019 list that isn’t on their website).
Except that’s not how USATF picked its team either.
We Have No Idea How USATF Picked The Team
On Monday, USATF announced its Pan Am Games team. And that’s when things went from messy to Category 5 shitstorm.
In some events, USATF appears to have picked its team based off the combined 2018/2019 list. For example, Lynna Irby, who is not ranked in the top 50 in the US in the 200 this year (but was #3 in 2018), was named to the team in the 200. Evan Jager, who has not competed in 2019, told LetsRun he was offered a spot in the steeplechase (though he declined it). Garrett Heath, who has not run a 10,000 in 2019 but was second-fastest in the US in 2018, was named to the team in the 10,000.
Yet in other events, USATF appears to have picked its team based off the 2019 list only. For instance, in the men’s 5,000, Tyler Day (13:25.06 sb in 2019) and Josef Tessema (13:22.28 sb in 2019) were named to the team, but Riley Masters, who ran 13:16.97 in 2018 (but just 13:39.52 this year), was not. Masters told LetsRun that he filled out the necessary paperwork to make himself eligible for selection for Pan Ams and that he would have accepted a spot on the team, had it been offered to him, but USATF did not offer him a spot.
That’s not the only event in which USATF appears to have gone off solely the 2019 list, however. In the men’s 800 meters, USATF named Donavan Brazier and Sam Ellison to the team. Brazier ran 1:43.63 in Rome on June 6, 2019, meaning he would have been selected no matter how USATF picked its team. Ellison’s best mark over the last two years is his 1:46.10 from May 31, 2019. That’s faster than Erik Sowinski‘s 2019 best (1:46.61; he ran 1:46.25, but that was after the June 10 deadline) but slower than Sowinski’s 2018 best (1:45.07). Yet Sowinski says he was only offered an alternate spot on the team (which he accepted). Had USATF picked off the combined 2018/2019 list, Sowinski should have been offered a spot ahead of Ellison.
Sowinski told LetsRun that USATF told him it is “looking into” the situation.
The result is that USATF appeared to use one set of selection procedures in some events and another set of selection procedures in other, leaving a slew of very confused athletes and coaches.
How did this happen? Why did this happen? LetsRun reached out to Sims and USATF Managing Director of International & Championship Teams Aretha Thurmond for comment. Neither responded.
Amazingly, this is not the first time USATF has ignored its own selection policies in picking its team for the Pan Am Games. In 2015, USATF selected Tyler McCandless to its marathon team even though Craig Leon had a faster time during the qualification window. Eventually, the situation had to be resolved via arbitration and Leon was placed on the team.
Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that USATF is choosing to ignore its own policies, since the organization has a history of doing pretty much whatever it wants, including arbitrarily expanding or declining to expand the fields at the Olympic Trials. In February 2018, the USATF board placed USATF President Vin Lananna on “temporary administrative leave” for nebulous “conflicts of interest;” 16 months later, he remains suspended with no further explanation.
Editor’s Update: As we were getting ready to publish this article, Masters informed LetsRun.com that USATF told him there was an oversight and that it is working on correcting the team. But even if he and an athlete like Erik Sowinski eventually get named to the team — meaning the team comes entirely from the combined 2018-2019 list — that won’t assuage the athletes who are at the top of the 2019 list but were left off — which is how USATF said it would pick the team initially. If Masters comes on to the team, someone like Tyler Day has to be left off, even though Day has run more than 14 seconds faster than Masters this year.
LRC Prediction: We’ll be shocked if this doesn’t end up in arbitration just like it did four years ago.
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