World Athletics Made a Big Change to World/Olympic 10,000m Qualifying and No One Is Talking About It
By Jonathan Gault
February 14, 2023
If the qualifying window for the 2023 World Athletics Championships ended today, the following athletes would be qualified as part of the 27-athlete field in the women’s 10,000 meters:
- Lara Luengo of Spain, who owns personal bests of 16:10 for 5,000 and 32:43 for 10k (roads).
- Veerle Bakker of the Netherlands, who has a 15:54 5,000 personal best and has never raced a 10k on the track or roads.
- Maria Lucineida Da Silva of Brazil, who has run personal bests of 16:23 for 5,000 and 34:01 for 10,000. She is currently ranked 287th in the world in the 10,000 meters.
The following athletes would not be qualified for the 27-person field:
- Alicia Monson of the USA, who ran 30:59 to finish 13th at last year’s World Championships. She is currently ranked #15 in the world in the 10,000.
- Lonah Salpeter of Israel, who ran 30:46 to finish 3rd at last year’s European Championships. She is currently ranked #17 in the world in the 10,000.
Assuming they accept their places, three women who have never held World Championship standard pace (30:40.00) for even half the distance of the race would be on the start line of a World Championship final. Monson and Salpeter would not.
How can that be? Well when World Athletics begins determining the fields for this year’s World Championships in Budapest, it will extend eight invitations to athletes based on their World Cross Country Ranking. It will follow the same process a year later for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris: eight spots out of 27 (30% of the field) in the most prestigious 10,000-meter race in the world will be reserved for athletes based solely on their performances in cross country races.
As of right now, almost no one seems to realize this fact.
Of course, the qualifying window for Worlds does not end today; it ends on July 30, and things will change between now and then. There is one gold-level meet remaining on the World Athletics Cross Country Tour this season, plus the World Cross Country Championships in Australia on February 18, which will shuffle the world rankings. And a few more athletes will hit the 10,000 entry standard; Monson, for instance, will be part of a field chasing the qualifying mark at The TEN in California on March 4, but one thing will not change: eight athletes will still get in via their cross country rankings.
A shift in qualifying
Over the last few years, World Athletics has attempted to place a greater emphasis on its world rankings when it comes to qualifying for global championships. Its aim is for 50% of the field in each event to come via entry standard and the other 50% to come via world ranking, and the result is an incredibly tough set of entry standards for the 2023 Worlds and an even tougher set for the 2024 Olympics. It’s not hard to figure out the thought process here. Making the standards harder encourages athletes to compete more frequently in major competitions to boost their world ranking rather than racing sparingly and putting all efforts into one time-trial-type race to hit a standard.
But things get tricky in the 10,000 meters. There are very few elite 10,000-meter races staged worldwide each year, and those races are a grind — it can take a while to recover from 6+ miles of hard racing on a track. What’s more, an athlete only requires two 10,000m performances in the last 18 months to earn a world ranking. Shifting to a rankings-based qualification system in the 10,000 wouldn’t lead to athletes running appreciably more 10,000’s.
Instead, World Athletics made several changes to the 10,000m qualification system for the 2023 Worlds. As in previous years, anyone who hits the entry standard (27:10.00 for men, 30:40.00 for women) will be considered qualified. And, for the first time, athletes will also be able to qualify with a road race time. This solves a problem that arose in 2022 when Kibiwott Kandie, who ran 26:50 on the road in April, won the Kenyan trials by running 27:33 at altitude in Nairobi but didn’t get to go to Worlds because he lacked the 27:28 standard.
Previously, athletes who finished in the top 15 at that year’s World Cross Country Championships were also considered to have the World standard in the 10,000 meters. That provision was removed for 2023.
The biggest change to the 10,000 qualification system was the addition of this line to the qualification procedures: a quota of 8 athletes will be assigned to the top positioned athletes, not otherwise qualified through entry standards or other ways, in the senior Men’s and Women’s World Ranking for Cross Country at the end of the qualification period.
That line went largely unnoticed when the qualification system was first announced in August 2022, but could have major implications for American athletes such as Monson, Joe Klecker, and Woody Kincaid, none of whom currently has the automatic standard.
How the field for the 10,000 at the 2023 Worlds will be determined
Step 1: All athletes with the entry standard
In the case of the women’s 10,000 for 2023, this would consist of 19 athletes as of now: 17 who have hit the time standard of 30:40, one area champion (Nathania Tan of the Northern Mariana Islands is considered provisionally qualified by virtue of winning the Oceania title, despite a winning time of 41:15), and the defending world champion, Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia.
Step 2: Eight quota athletes based on world cross country ranking
Once the qualification period is over on July 30, World Athletics will invite the top eight athletes in the world cross country rankings while respecting the three-athlete-per-country limit. This is more easily visualized by using World Athletics’ Road to Budapest tool.
Because more than three Kenyans and more than three Ethiopians have achieved the entry standard, those athletes would be filtered out of the world cross country rankings for this exercise. The athletes that would be offered the eight spots, come from, in order: Spain, Spain, Burundi, Italy, Brazil, Sweden, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Those entries are “use it or lose it”: if any of those federations decline the invitation for that specific athlete, the spot would not pass to the next-highest list in the world cross country rankings.
Step 3: Remaining spots based on world 10,000m ranking
After the automatic qualifiers and cross country quota athletes, the remaining spots will be determined based on world ranking in the 10,000m as of July 30 — again respecting the three-athletes-per-country limit. In practice, however, the remaining spots could be zero. World Athletics’ target field size for the 10,000 meters is 27. If all 19 auto qualifiers and all eight cross country qualifiers accept their spots, that leaves no spots for anyone to get in based on their world ranking in the 10,000m. And that’s why Alicia Monson, despite being ranked 15th in the world, would not be going to Worlds as of now.
On the men’s side, 14 athletes are currently auto qualified, which means there are five spots available for athletes based on their 10,000m world ranking. Americans Sean McGorty and Joe Klecker currently occupy two of those spots, though their positions are somewhat precarious: McGorty is the third-to-last guy in and Klecker is the last guy in.
An important note: if the number of auto qualifiers and cross country quota athletes exceeds 27, World Athletics would expand the field if necessary. Anyone who hits the entry standard will be able to compete at Worlds, as long as they’re entered by their federation.
What does this mean?
It means that if you want to run the 10,000 at Worlds this year or the Olympics next year, you better hit the time standard or start running cross country. Under the new qualifying rules, an athlete’s world cross country ranking is more important for qualifying for Worlds than an athlete’s world ranking in the event they’ll actually be contesting in the championships. We know that after accounting for the auto qualifiers, World Athletics will extend invitations to the top eight athletes in the world cross country ranking, no matter what (we know because LetsRun.com confirmed this with World Athletics). There’s no such guarantee for the top athletes in the 10,000m world rankings. The cross country athletes take priority.
Worth noting: an athlete’s cross country ranking is entirely separate from an athlete’s 10,000m ranking. An athlete needs three cross country races in the previous 18 months to earn a ranking, and none of those points affect an athlete’s 10,000m ranking.
Under the new system, the very best athletes will still qualify for Worlds and the Olympics. If the fields were selected today, 15 of the top 16 women and 23 of the top 24 men in the 10,000m world rankings would be qualified. It’s the final third of the field (roughly) that will be impacted.
“If you’re going to be competing for a medal, you’re going to be probably automatically qualified,” McGorty said. “You’re either the defending champion or you’re capable of running the standard and probably have at some point. But for filling out a field, it could be the difference between someone making it to the World Championships or Olympics for the first time and someone not.”
Here is the list of female athletes qualified via cross country ranking (as of February 11):
|Athlete||Country||XC ranking points||PBs|
15:27/34:44 (10k road from 2019). Has never run a 10,000 on the track
16:10/32:43 (10k road). 33:45 10,000 pb on track
15:19/31:46 (10k road). 32:32 10,000 pb on track
14:46. Has never run a 10,000 (road or track)
|Maria Lucineida Da Silva||Brazil||1180||16:23/34:01|
15:23/32:38 (10k road). 34:12 10,000 pb on track from 2019
15:54. Has never run a 10,000 (road or track)
Here is the list of male athletes qualified via cross country ranking (as of February 11):
|Athlete||Country||XC ranking points||PBs|
12:59/28:04 (10k road). Has never run a 10,000 on track
28:33 road. Has never run a 10,000 on track.
13:26/29:15 (10k road). Has never run a 10,000 on track
How do American athletes and coaches feel about the change?
For this story, LetsRun.com spoke to three American athletes in contention for Worlds spots this year as well as four agents/coaches whose athletes could be in contention. Most were either unaware of the changes to the qualification system or still trying to understand how it worked. While the qualification criteria has been been public since August, a number of them felt World Athletics and USATF should have done more to educate stakeholders about the changes.
McGorty, who finished 12th at Worlds last year and is currently ranked 20th in the world in the 10,000, said he was unaware of the changes to the qualifying system until he was informed by LetsRun.com in January.
“That would be something that stands out to me as an issue,” McGorty said. “I think you’d want to make it pretty clear to everyone what the qualifying process is going to look like.”
“I’m pretty sure that USATF has a coaches’ registry,” said Haron Lagat, coach of US cross country champ and World Championship hopeful Emmanuel Bor. “They have our emails. They have our numbers. If they can remind us when our membership is expiring, how hard is it for them to tell us, okay, these are the new policies and this is what has changed?”
Even those who were aware there was a change did not fully understand the new system. In December, On Athletics Club coach Dathan Ritzenhein had Monson and Klecker race the Sound Running Cross Champs in Austin, which had been added to the World Athletics Cross Country Tour as a gold-level event. They believed placing highly in the event would benefit Monson and Klecker’s world rankings in the 10,000m; in reality, the race did not affect their 10,000m ranking at all. Gold events do offer valuable points toward an athlete’s cross country ranking, but neither Monson nor Klecker has run the minimum three cross country races to earn a ranking.
Ritzenhein, who ran many cross country races during his professional career, said he’s fine with making cross country a component of Worlds qualification in the 10,000 but thinks the system may need to be tweaked in future years. McGorty also did not think it was a problem to consider cross country results, given the dearth of world-class 10,000m track races in a given year. But he does not believe an athlete’s cross country ranking should supersede their track ranking.
“What would make the most sense to me would be to factor in [a cross country race] as if it were one of the results that can contribute to your overall 10k score,” McGorty said. “…My only hesitation would be if you’re guaranteeing cross country athletes a spot versus track athletes. Because at the end of day, it is a track race.”
Bor was frustrated by World Athletics’ decision not to grant the 10,000 standard to anyone who finishes in the top 15 at World XC. He had planned his winter season around World XC but did not realize the top 15 provision had been removed until after winning the US cross country championships on January 21. Bor will run World XC later this week in Australia and would need only one other race to earn a cross country ranking. But he says it is not feasible for him to run the remaining gold level meet in Portugal on February 26 as it would require significant extra travel and he’d still be recovering from World XC.
Bor said he would like to see World Athletics grant the 10,000m standard to the top 20 or 25 finishers at World XC to incentivize participation at World XC. Because Bor is focused on being his best at World XC, he is bypassing The TEN in California two weeks later. In a way, Bor said, he feels as if he is “kind of” being punished for running World XC while others who skipped the XC season to focus on The TEN are rewarded with a plum opportunity to hit the time standard.
Ritzenhein and Monson are not too bothered by the change in the qualification system. Ritzenhein said there are good and bad aspects of the new system. He just hopes the increased emphasis on cross country doesn’t lead to athletes targeting weak races to improve their ranking.
“It does force people to race more, which is good,” Ritzenhein said. “But I don’t think the answer should be racing obscure races that have just abnormally high points.”
Ritzenhein also likes the certainty of a time standard and is fully confident that both Monson and Klecker will hit the standards at The TEN.
“I’m just trying to get the standard and not worry about it too much,” Monson said. “Obviously I could be speaking from a different position if I were to not get the standard and need to go off of ranking.”
Will this change athletes’ plans ahead of the 2024 Olympics?
The 2022-23 cross country schedule greatly favored European-based athletes. Of the 16 gold label meets — the ones offering the most points — 14 were held in Europe. Eight of them were held in Spain.
2022-23 World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold Meets
|October 15||Cardiff Cross Challenge||United Kingdom|
|October 23||Cross Country Bydgoszcz na Start||Poland|
|October 23||Cross Internacional Zornotza||Spain|
|November 6||Cross Internacional de Soria||Spain|
|November 13||Cross Internacional de Atapuerca||Spain|
|November 20||XL Cross Internacional de Italica||Spain|
|November 27||Cross Internacional de la Constitucion Alcobendas||Spain|
|December 1||Cross Champs||USA|
|December 18||Cross Internacional de Venta de Baños||Spain|
|January 6||Campaccio-International Cross Country||Italy|
|January 8||Elgoibar Juan Muguerza Cross-Country||Spain|
|January 15||Cinque Mulini||Italy|
|January 22||CrossCup de Hannut||Belgium|
|February 4||Sirikwa Cross Country Classic||Kenya|
|February 5||LII Gran Premio Cáceres Campo a Través||Spain|
|February 26||Cross das Amendoeiras em Flor||Portugal|
That easy access has been a tremendous boon to Spanish athletes. As of now, Spain is currently slated to send the maximum three women to Worlds in the 10,000, with all three qualifying via world cross country ranking. This would be the first time Spain has had a woman in a World/Olympic 10,000 final since 2016.
Of course, Americans also enjoyed their own advantages under the previous system — a number of the best events to hit qualifying marks were/are held in America, such as Payton Jordan, the Sound Running meets in California, and the Boston University indoor meets (for the 5,000 meters).
Another disadvantage for US athletes: one of their prime scoring opportunities was taken away in 2023. Area cross country championships such as the European or South American Championships award the same points as a gold label XC meet. Plus, the points accrued at area championships don’t need to have come within the last 18 months. As long as the meet was held within the last three calendar years, they still count.
That’s why Maria Lucineida Da Silva, the 16:23/34:01 Brazilian, is currently qualified: she won the South American XC champs on January 22, earning 1240 points — roughly equivalent to finishing 7th at World XC. Americans couldn’t earn points for an area championship even if they wanted to; the US’s area federation, NACAC, cancelled its 2023 championships due to lack of interest (it didn’t help that NACAC scheduled it on the same day as the USA XC champs). The last NACAC XC champs before that were in 2019 — too early to be considered in the rankings.
One possible solution: more US professional cross country meets. The Sound Running Cross Champs was the only American gold label XC meet in 2022-23. If Sound Running or another entity could add one or two more in 2023-24, Americans may not have to travel to Europe to chase points after all. Those meets, plus USA XC and World XC, would give them an opportunity to earn a cross country ranking.
World Athletics’ aims with the new system are noble. It wants athletes to race more, and it wants cross country to become more important. The question is whether the recent changes overvalue cross country success for a championship contested on the track. World Athletics believes it has the balance right.
“For the 10,000m track event at the World Championships Budapest23, there are entry standards for performances on both track and road,” World Athletics wrote in a statement to LetsRun.com. “Cross country performances have also been included, via the world rankings, to recognize the value and strength of competition in the cross country discipline. Under this system there is opportunity for the best performers over this distance to qualify on any of these three surfaces.”
Stephen Haas, the agent for Americans Monson and Weini Kelati, believes the new system skews too heavily toward cross country success. Monson and Kelati own personal bests of 30:51 and 31:10 and are both ranked in the top 25 in the world for the 10,000. Yet as it stands, neither would be going to Worlds while women who have run minutes slower (or in some cases, have never run a 10,000 at all) would make it to Budapest based off their cross country ranking.
“I just think it’s so stupid,” Haas said. “People are going to qualify that have no business being in the race.”
Few American athletes significantly changed their racing schedules in 2022-23 to account for the new qualifying procedures for the 2023 Worlds. But a big change could be coming in 2023-24, depending on how the next six months go. If athletes like Monson, Klecker, and McGorty run fast enough at The TEN, they’ll be set not just for Worlds, but the Olympics too (the Olympic qualifying window opened December 31, 2022). If they fall short, however, and wind up bumped out of Worlds by a cross country qualifier, you could see a change in approach ahead of the Paris Olympics, which will utilize the same system.
“For us at least this year this year, we’ll still going the track route,” said McGorty. “But for Budapest, if the cross country qualifying proves to be a valuable way, I wouldn’t be surprised if you then had way more people pursue that route in 2024 – especially with the Olympic standard dropping to 27:00.”