Which Americans Have the Olympic Standard Right Now? Who Would Get In On World Ranking? And How Do You Qualify For the Olympics, Again?

By Jonathan Gault
May 5, 2021

Seven weeks from now, America’s top athletes will head to the new Hayward Field for the US Olympic Trials, where they will attempt to qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. But how, exactly, does one qualify for the Olympics?

It’s a question worth revisiting, because the Olympic qualifying system has undergone some significant changes from previous years. And, unless you’re an agent or an athlete, it may have been a while since you’ve actually read through the specifics. Over two years have passed since the IAAF introduced these changes — yes, it was so long ago that World Athletics was still known as the IAAF — and I’m guessing you read something about “world rankings” and maybe forgot about it for a while once COVID hit last year.

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So let’s straighten a few things out. First, how the new system works. Next, how USATF will pick its team. And finally, where we stand right now — which Americans have the Olympic standard in the distance events, which ones still need it, and which Americans are in position to get in based on their world ranking.

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The New System

In recent years, Olympic qualification has been relatively straightforward. Anyone with the Olympic standard was accepted, and if there were still spots left over in an event, World Athletics would consult a global descending order list, inviting whichever athletes ran the fastest during the qualification period until the fields were filled.

Clayton Murphy winning the 800 at the 2016 Olympic Trials

In 2021, it’s different. The Olympic standards still exist, but they’re harder than ever because World Athletics wants to justify the existence of its world ranking system. The goal was to set super tough standards so that each field contained roughly 50% of athletes who qualified via the standard and 50% who got in based on their world ranking.

It hasn’t played out that way. Thanks to a combination of factors (advances in shoe technology, an extended qualifying window due to COVID, and athletes rising to the occasion), more athletes have hit the standard than expected. Nowhere has this been more prevalent than the marathon, which has blown by the target field size of 80 athletes per gender (90 women and 108 men have already qualified, even respecting the three-athletes-per-country rule). But most events aren’t “full” yet, meaning a number of athletes will still get in based on their world ranking.

What determines an athlete’s world ranking? It’s too complicated to explain in full (check out this site for the details), but it’s based on recent performances and rewards fast times as well as placing high at major competitions. If you have the Olympic standard in your event, you don’t need to sweat about your world ranking. But if you don’t, your world ranking is very important — that’s why Nick Willis (currently ranked 32nd in the men’s 1500) has been racing so much the last few years. He doesn’t have the Olympic standard, but has picked his races wisely and will earn an Olympic invite as a result.

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How Will USATF Pick Its Olympic Team?

In selecting its recent World Championship and Olympic teams, USATF has prioritized athletes with the standard. In 2019, USATF didn’t allow athletes to chase the standard after USAs, nor was it going to wait to see if anyone got in off the global descending order list unless there were fewer than three athletes with the standard in an event. The top three finishers with the standard at USAs were picked.

Molly Huddle, Emily Infeld, and Marielle Hall will all attempt to make another Olympic team in June

But with significantly tougher standards in 2021, that has changed. This year, any athlete who finishes in the top three at the Trials and either has the Olympic standard or is in a position to solicit an invite from World Athletics based on their world ranking will be selected to the team. If an athlete or athletes in the top three don’t have the standard and aren’t ranked highly enough by World Athletics, USATF will go down the line using the same criteria (standard or high enough world ranking) until it has three athletes. USATF’s Olympic selection policy is published here.

“Place finish at our Trials is very important, and this came from all the athletes and the coaches,” said Rose Monday, who as a member of the USATF High Performance Division Executive Committee was involved in creating the selection procedures. “This was loud and clear. So when we established it, no matter what World Athletics said, our Olympic Trials, our coaches and athletes still wanted place finish [to be the most important thing].”

So how high do you need to be ranked in order to get an invite from World Athletics? Well, if the target field size is 48 athletes, you need to be ranked in the top 48 after World Athletics accounts for athletes with the Olympic standard and the three-athletes-per-country rule.

If that sounds a little complicated…well, it is. That’s why World Athletics has published a helpful Road to Tokyo tool that shows exactly who is in position to qualify for the Olympics. If you see “Qualified by Entry Standard” or “In World Rankings quota” next to your name, you’re good. If it says “Next best by World Rankings,” you better get the standard or raise your ranking or else you’ll be watching the Olympics from home. The world rankings, updated weekly, are also published on the WA website.

Of course, these rankings can change over the next two months. The key date is June 29, as that is when the ranking period ends for all track events (the Olympic Trials run from June 18-27, so it’s critical to have the standard or a high world ranking entering the meet). The final World Athletics list, which will reflect results of all competitions through June 29, is the one that will be used to determine invitations to the Olympics. World Athletics will publish this list on July 1.

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Which Americans Are In Position To Qualify for the Olympics Right Now?

It’s time to get specific. Below is a list of all the Americans in distance events (800 through 10,000) who either have the Olympic standard or are ranked highly enough that USATF would send them if they finished in the top three at the Trials.

Reminder that the Olympic qualification window was suspended midway through due to COVID-19.

For the 10,000m, the qualification window is from January 1, 2019 – April 5, 2020 and December 1, 2020 – June 29, 2021.

For all other track events, it is from May 1, 2019 – April 5, 2020 and December 1, 2020 – June 29, 2021.

(If you’re interested in seeing which athletes are in line to qualify for the Olympic Trials, check out the TrackTimes.run website set up by friends of LetsRun Brian Tabb Phil Royer)

Editor’s note: All rankings below were as of April 29, 2021.

Men’s 800

Olympic standard: 1:45.20
Field size: 48

Americans with Olympic standard: 5

Athlete Time
Donavan Brazier 1:42.34
Clayton Murphy 1:43.94
Bryce Hoppel 1:44.25
Craig Engels 1:44.68
Devin Dixon 1:44.76

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 4

Athlete World ranking
Isaiah Harris 25th
Erik Sowinski 30th
Brannon Kidder 31st
Sam Ellison 56th

You’ll note that Ellison is ranked outside the top 48 but is still in position to earn an invite from World Athletics. That’s because a number of countries, such as the USA, have more than three athletes with the standard, meaning World Athletics would have to go past the top 48 to fill the field.

Women’s 800

Olympic standard: 1:59.50
Field size: 48

Americans with Olympic standard: 5

Athlete Time
Ajee’ Wilson 1:57.72
Athing Mu 1:57.73
Raevyn Rogers 1:58.18
Hanna Green 1:58.19
Kate Grace 1:59.33

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 3

Athlete World ranking
Ce’Aira Brown 17th
Olivia Baker 39th
Sammy Watson 46th

Men’s 1500

Olympic standard: 3:35.00
Field size: 45

Americans with Olympic standard: 3

Athlete Time
Matthew Centrowitz 3:32.81
Craig Engels 3:34.04
Josh Thompson 3:34.77

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 3

Athlete World ranking
Johnny Gregorek 20th
Ben Blankenship 25th
Sam Prakel 27th

Note that Cole Hocker does not currently appear in the world rankings because he has not run enough 1500’s during the ranking period.

Women’s 1500

Olympic standard: 4:04.20
Field size: 45

Americans with Olympic standard: 11

Athlete Time
Shelby Houlihan 3:54.99
Jenny Simpson 3:58.42
Elle Purrier 4:00.20
Nikki Hiltz 4:01.52
Shannon Osika 4:01.80
Rachel Schneider 4:02.26
Kate Grace 4:02.49
Helen Schlachtenhaufen 4:03.59
Sinclaire Johnson 4:03.72
Alexa Efraimson 4:04.06
Cory McGee 4:04.14

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 5

Athlete World ranking
Heather MacLean 28th
Dani Jones 33rd
Elise Cranny 39th
Josette Norris 43rd
Katie Follett 55th

Men’s 3000 steeple

Olympic standard: 8:22.00
Field size: 45

Americans with Olympic standard: 5

Athlete Time
Hillary Bor 8:08.41
Stanley Kebenei 8:11.15
Andy Bayer 8:12.47
Isaac Updike 8:17.74
Mason Ferlic 8:18.49

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 1

Athlete World ranking
Obsa Ali 44th

Note that Evan Jager, who has not run a steeple since 2018, does not have any performances during the ranking period and thus has no world ranking.

Women’s 3000 steeple

Olympic standard: 9:30.00
Field size: 45

Americans with Olympic standard: 4

Athlete Time
Emma Coburn 9:02.35
Courtney Frerichs 9:09.75
Colleen Quigley 9:11.41
Mel Lawrence 9:29.81

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 2

Athlete World ranking
Marisa Howard 35th
Allie Ostrander 42nd

Men’s 5000

Olympic standard: 13:13.50
Field size: 42

Americans with Olympic standard: 12

Athlete Time
Woody Kincaid 12:58.10
Lopez Lomong 13:00.13
Matthew Centrowitz 13:00.39
Grant Fisher 13:02.53
Paul Chelimo 13:04.60
Emmanuel Bor 13:05.60
Sean McGorty 13:06.45
Joe Klecker 13:06.67
Shadrack Kipchirchir 13:08.25
Ben True 13:09.81
Eric Jenkins 13:10.07
Kirubel Erassa 13:12.71

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 5

Athlete World ranking
Hassan Mead 28th
Cooper Teare 37th
Cole Hocker 45th
Hillary Bor 58th
Abbabiya Simbassa 60th

Women’s 5000

Olympic standard: 15:10.00
Field size: 42

Americans with Olympic standard: 18

Athlete Time
Karissa Schweizer 14:45.18
Vanessa Fraser 14:48.51
Emily Infeld 14:51.91
Emily Sisson 14:55.82
Allie Buchalski 14:57.54
Elle Purrier 14:58.17
Jenny Simpson 14:58.67
Marielle Hall 15:02.27
Shelby Houlihan 15:02.55
Courtney Frerichs 15:02.91
Elise Cranny 15:04.88
Kim Conley 15:05.20
Shannon Rowbury 15:05.99
Rachel Schneider 15:06.71
Emily Lipari 15:07.44
Alicia Monson 15:07.65
Gwen Jorgensen 15:08.28
Molly Huddle 15:08.67

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 0

Men’s 10,000

Olympic standard: 27:28.00
Field size: 27

Americans with Olympic standard: 6

Athlete Time
Lopez Lomong 27:04.72
Grant Fisher 27:11.29
Woody Kincaid 27:12.78
Ben True 27:14.95
Eric Jenkins 27:22.06
Shadrack Kipchirchir 27:24.74

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 3

Athlete World ranking
Paul Chelimo 17th
Leonard Korir 35th
Kirubel Erassa 39th

Women’s 10,000

Olympic standard: 31:25.00
Field size: 27

Americans with Olympic standard: 12

Athlete Time
Elise Cranny 30:47.42
Karissa Schweizer 30:47.99
Emily Sisson 30:49.57
Molly Huddle 30:58.46
Marielle Hall 31:05.71
Emily Infeld 31:08.57
Rachel Schneider 31:09.79
Alicia Monson 31:10.84
Natosha Rogers 31:12.28
Kellyn Taylor 31:15.65
Dani Shanahan 31:22.86
Stephanie Bruce 31:24.47

Americans in position to receive an invite based on their world ranking: 0

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