USATF Inexplicably Announces 2022 World Championship Marathon Selection Policy Way Too Late
USATF Bizarrely Announces Radically Different Qualifying System After 3 of The 4 Qualifying Races Have Already Been Held
By Jonathan Gault
October 29, 2021
On Tuesday, USATF announced a radically different selection procedure for the marathon team that will compete at the 2022 World Championships, to be held July 15-24 in Eugene. The announcement, long-anticipated by elite American marathoners, brought some clarity to what had been, to this point, a cloudy process. But the delay in making the announcement — more than halfway through the qualification period for Worlds — has left some of America’s fastest runners frustrated.
The policy states that the top American finisher at this year’s Olympic marathon will automatically be selected to the team, as long as they finished in the top 10 in Sapporo. The remaining places will be determined by order of finish at this year’s three American World Athletics Platinum Label Marathons — Chicago, Boston, and New York — again, as long as the athlete finished in the top 10. If two athletes finish in the same position at different races, the athlete with the faster time will be selected.
Should those first two steps not be enough to fill the team, USATF will then pick the squad based on a descending order list of marathon results from within the qualifying period (November 30, 2020 – May 29, 2022).
This selection criteria is completely different from how USATF picked the team for the last two World Championships, when it picked the entire team based on a descending order list of times during the qualifying period.
As of today, here is the order in which Americans would be selected for the World Championship team (with the NYC Marathon still to come on November 7):
1. Galen Rupp (8th Olympics, 2:11:41)
2. Colin Mickow (6th Chicago, 2:13:31)
3. Colin Bennie (7th Boston, 2:11:26)
4. Nico Montanez (7th Chicago, 2:13:55)
5. Reed Fischer (9th Chicago, 2:14:41)
6. CJ Albertson (10th Boston, 2:11:44)
7. Wilkerson Given (10th Chicago, 2:14:55)
1. Molly Seidel (3rd Olympics, 2:27:46)
2. Emma Bates (2nd Chicago, 2:24:20)
3. Sara Hall (3rd Chicago, 2:27:19)
4. Keira D’Amato (4th Chicago, 2:28:22)
5. Nell Rojas (6th Boston, 2:27:12)
6. Maegan Krifchin (6th Chicago, 2:30:17)
7. Carrie Verdon (7th Chicago, 2:31:51)
As of now, there is one definite on the team: Rupp, who is guaranteed a spot and whose agent told Sarah Lorge Butler that he plans to take it. Bates, who told LetsRun she wants to run the World Championship marathon, is a virtual lock as well. (Bates could be knocked off the team if Americans went 1-2 in New York and both ran faster than 2:24:20. Considering no American has ever broken 2:25 in New York, her spot appears safe).
Seidel declined to comment about whether she would accept her spot. Hall told LetsRun that she would accept her spot, assuming no one from New York bumps her off the team.
No marathon selection system is going to be perfect
Any marathon team selection procedure is going to be imperfect, but that is due largely to the nature of the marathon. Other than hosting a Trials, there is no perfectly fair way to select a US team when courses, conditions, and competition vary so much from race to race. And there is a logic to picking a team based on finishes at World Athletics Platinum Label Marathons. Anyone who finished in the top 10 at Chicago, Boston, or New York automatically earns the World Championship standard, which means USATF doesn’t have to worry about the qualifying standards (2:11:30 for men, 2:29:30 for women).
However, this particular selection criteria clearly favors athletes who ran in Chicago, which has the fastest course and the shallowest international fields this year.
Kellyn Taylor, who finished 8th at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials and will race New York next month, tweeted that “The criteria is garbage. You can’t weigh one major equally against another. Chicago notoriously has weak fields w/ this yr being no exception. Fortunately, our depth is quite good so you can be certain we will have a great team.”
It was undeniably easier for Bates and Hall to finish in the top three in Chicago than for any of the Americans running Boston. Chicago’s women’s field featured just three international athletes who had broken 2:25; Boston’s had 10. On the men’s side, there is little disputing that Colin Bennie and CJ Albertson ran better races in Boston than Colin Mickow did in Chicago. But because the field in Chicago was shallower, Mickow has the inside track to a spot on the team.
“My gut reactions on it were that it’s promoting more recent competition, giving athletes who are fitter in a more recent time frame, that’s what I was hearing,” says Mike Scott, chair of USATF’s Long Distance Running Division. “There’s plusses and minuses with this versus any other system. But I think it’s showing those athletes who were competing well in high-quality events.”
“We want to put the best team forward and the thought was that with this criteria and these guidelines, that’s the case,” says USATF Managing Director of Communications Susan Hazzard.
The timing of the release of the selection criteria and the lack of transparency is the real problem
The selection procedure is not the real issue, however. It’s the timing. Why, if USATF was to rely on a new procedure based on the results of four marathons (Olympics, Chicago, Boston, NYC), would it wait to announce the procedure until after three of the four marathons had already concluded? It is a question with no good answer.
At the end of the selection procedures document, four names are listed as responsible for creating the procedures: Blake Boldon, chair of USATF’s Men’s Long Distance Running Committee; Mickey Piscitelli, chair of USATF’s Women’s Long Distance Running Committee; Duffy Mahoney, USATF Chief of Sport Performance; and Aretha Thurmond, USATF Managing Director of International & Championship Teams.
LetsRun.com reached out to each of them for an explanation as to why the selection procedure announcement was so delayed. Mahoney and Thurmond did not respond. Boldon and Piscitelli directed questions to Hazzard.
“We have an internal process that the guidelines go through and it’s touched on by a lot of groups,” Hazzard says. “And it’s internal to the office, it’s internal to the LDR Committee. And so that process admittedly took longer than expected. After the [Olympic] Games, there was just a lot going on. So we do acknowledge that it took a while, but we also just want to be clear that it was the process of ensuring that everyone who needed to weigh in on it did…The Long Distance Committee, they come up with the guidelines to the policies and then it goes through Legal and discussions with High Performance. It’s like every other guideline that we have.”
But if every selection procedure USATF publishes must go through this process, why did this one take so much longer than the others? And why was this not settled long before the Olympics since the qualifying window opened in November 2020?
“I don’t know, because I haven’t really been involved in any of that process,” Hazzard says.
Scott admitted that “it’s frustrating that these have come out this late. And I think that that’s something that obviously needs to be improved.” He added that “there are many roadblocks in getting things published and approved within the organization” but declined to elaborate.
Multiple athletes assumed since no criteria has been announced that it would remain unchanged from 2017 and 2019
The World Championships marathon is not always the most popular event for American marathoners, but with the US hosting the meet for the first time next summer, many top athletes have already expressed interest in running it.
Until recently, however, none of them knew how to qualify for the team — even though the qualification window opened almost a year ago, on November 30, 2020. Granted, at that point, the fate of the 2021 marathon season was still uncertain due to COVID-19. But when LetsRun spoke to Bates a few days after her runner-up finish in Chicago, she still did not know how USATF would pick the team.
“It is frustrating,” she said.
And consider the case of Marty Hehir. Hehir, who finished 6th at the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials, ran 2:08:59 in December 2020 to win the Marathon Project, the second-fastest time by an American during the qualifying window, behind only Rupp’s 2:06:35 in Chicago.
Hehir graduated medical school in Philadelphia in May and began his anesthesiology residency at the University of Virginia Medical Center in June. He elected not to run a marathon in 2021. Instead, Hehir’s plan was to spend the the fall adjusting to his new lifestyle — figuring out a way to train at a high level while balancing residency and raising two kids after moving to a new city. Ideally, once the calendar turned to 2022, he would have settled into a routine and be able to turn his focus to the World Championships marathon — a race he desperately wanted to run.
“I value running for a US team more than a World [Marathon] Major,” Hehir says. “Sure, you don’t make as much money and maybe that’s a big reason why people don’t run [Worlds]. But for me, running on US championship teams, I value that higher than anything.”
As he made his 2021 plans, Hehir believed he was likely to earn a spot on Team USA. USATF had yet to announce its selection procedure, but Hehir assumed it would be the same as in 2017 and 2019. And if that was the case, he knew it was unlikely that three Americans ran faster than his 2:08:59 during the qualifying window.
“I remember asking my agent, Josh [Cox], a while ago, about it,” Hehir said. “And he said he hadn’t really heard anything and was going off the impression that it was the same as it had always been.”
That was what Hehir thought until last week, when he began hearing rumblings that USATF would be going off fall marathon results. He says now that if he had known the selection procedure in advance, it would have changed his decision-making process.
“It would have depended on how much warning I had,” Hehir says. “Two months ago would have been probably a little too late. But had I known at the beginning of the year, in the window when it would have been appropriate for people to make those fall marathon decisions…I talked with Josh, who was talking to some of the major marathons this fall about running. I could have run. I had a contract offer to run.
“And I was like, ah, well this is where I’m at: I’ve got a solid time, I want to make the next one count, I should be on the shortlist for the World Championships. That was the thought process. Had I known that these criteria were going to be different, I think that absolutely would have changed my decision-making process.
“I don’t have any problem with the selection criteria. I think it’s fine. There’s no problem with that. The only issue is announcing it after the qualifying races have already happened, [which] is pretty obviously biased and unfair because these are things that get planned well in advance. No one just runs a marathon on a whim. It’s definitely frustrating to not get a heads up.”
Noah Droddy, who ran 2:09:09 at the Marathon Project and has the #3 time by an American during the qualifying period, is in a similar position. Like Hehir, he says he would accept a spot on the team if offered and had been operating under a cautious assumption that USATF would use the same selection procedure as in 2017 and 2019.
“I’d love this selection criteria if it was released a year ago,” Droddy tweeted. “2/3 of the selection races have already happened. If you’re pushing it this late, don’t change the precedent.”
Droddy, who is racing New York, at least still has a chance to earn his spot on the team. Hehir is not as fortunate. Ever the optimist, Hehir said that one silver lining of USATF’s decision is that his friend and Reebok Boston Track Club teammate Colin Bennie is now in position to make the team.
But Hehir shouldn’t have to rely on silver linings. One of USATF’s biggest responsibilities is to select US national teams. By waiting until October to publish something that should have been announced months ago, his federation let him down and, in so doing, botched another selection procedure.