“USATF was aware of the proposed standard changes and made recommendations to the IAAF during the process. While we are disappointed in this initial announcement, we will enthusiastically advocate for additional changes that serve in the best interest of our sport. 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. For World Championships, the U.S. selection process is the same but with the IAAF marks.
-Official statement from USATF to LetsRun.com on how it will select its team for the Olympics.
This means a top 3 at the Olympic Trials, in particular in distance events, may not result in Olympic qualification, even though the IAAF would be willing to let the athlete into the Olympics. It means that Paul Chelimo – who won a Olympic silver medal in 2016 – would not have made the US team. It means that Bernard Lagat – who won the most thrilling race at the Trials (men’s 5000) also would not have made the team along with 5 others mid-d and distance runners.
The “Where Your Dreams Become Reality” mystique of the Olympic Trials is based on the hope a long-shot could break through and make the team with a top 3 finish at the Trials.