Tag Archives: olympic trials

How Can We Fix the Track & Field Olympic Trials?

First of all… the Olympics aren’t broken. I look forward to the summer Olympics every four years with an excitement you couldn’t possibly believe. The past few days, I’ve just been bummed out because I knew the Games were winding down. What a fantastic few weeks, though?

At the end of the day, though, there is a lot about the Olympics that were somewhat flawed. Here are a handful of solutions I think could make the Olympic process better.

Olympic Trials

The qualifying process needs to be fixed. Currently, there are two ways an athlete can make the Trials. First, they can hit the “A” standard. If they hit the “A” standard in a particular event, they are automatically included in the Trials. There also is a “B” standard that athletes can shoot for that is slightly slower. If they hit the “B” standard, they are semi-qualified. Usually, the field of runners will be made up of all of the runners with the “A” standard and filled to capacity with “B” standard runners. So, for example, if one event has room for 2 heats of 12 (24 total), and there are 18 runners with the “A” standard, you’ve now got 6 spots for “B” standard runners. The problem is, in the last two Olympic trials, they haven’t grabbed the six fastest “B” runners. They are allowed to pick & choose who they want to allow. While it is normally pretty cut and dry, they committee has bypassed a few faster runners and allowed Olympic veterans such as Adam Goucher and Alan Webb into the field.

First of all, I have no problem when they allowed Goucher or Webb into either field. Both have a far superior resume to almost anyone in the field. Had it not been for injuries, both likely would’ve hit the standard (both had an “A” or “B” standard in a different event).

Anyway, why not just change the process.

Why are we limiting the field to 24 competitors in a certain event? I see how other sports handle qualifying and I see an opportunity to better our sport.

My idea on how to handle qualifying comes from a combination of amateur golf and English soccer.

Preliminary qualifying would be similar to the qualifying of soccer tournaments (specifically the FA cup) in England. In England, any official club football team can be in the knockout tournament. Last year, there were over 750 teams that participated. There are 14 rounds, but the biggest clubs are exempted through the first 8 rounds. I don’t see any reason this model wouldn’t work for track and field.

To view this, let’s look at it from the top down. First of all, I want to see a system where we still reward those who have run well in the past 18 months. Instead of “A” standards, we’d have three tiers of automatic qualifying. If you run one of the top 12 times in a given event among those who “declare” for the event, you are given a pass to what would now be considered the opening round of the Olympic Trials. If you have a qualifying time of #13-36, you are qualified for the preliminary finals. Times #37-84 would get you into the preliminary semifinals.

Here’s some of the important timing:

First of all, move the Trials back a week. The next Olympics starts a week later, so we’ll move the trials back a week.

Three Weeks from Trials – regional qualifying. 8 regions (similar to NXN). Top 6 from each region advance to Olympic Trial Prelim Semifinals. This allows for most high school states along with colleges to finish their track & field championships.

One week from Trials – Prelim Semifinals in host city of trials.

Regional qualifying – Unlimited runners
Prelim Semis- 96 – 48 – #37-84 – 8 heats of 12 – top 2 + 8 fastest times
Prelim Finals – 48 – 24 – #13-36 – 4 heats of 14 – top 2 + 4 fastest times
24 – 12 “A” standard
12 – Finals

You could muck with the numbers a little bit (sprints only have 8 runners per heat, 10k would have a 24 person final, etc), but that’s basically how the system would work.

Why is this system better?

Big reasons:

1) No favoritism. It simply rewards the top 12 runners, the next 24, and the next 48. If you don’t have one of those times (and nobody with a legitimate shot at qualifying for the Olympics wouldn’t), you still have a path (albeit a muddy one) to qualify.

2) More achievable goals. Now, if you are a really good high school runner, an above-average college runner, or a professional, it gives you something to shoot for. For a lot of marathon runners, it’s not about making the Olympic team. It’s a huge goal to make the marathon trials. 111 men and 186 women toed the start line for the marathon trials. Not many realistically had a shot to win it, but they all at least had a bar to shoot for – making the trials.

3) Helps young runners. Under my system, you are going to get the random junior in high school or freshman in college who qualifies for the preliminary semifinals. They run well in their race and snag the the last qualifying time into the preliminary final. It would give some of these up and comers a chance to run a PR and see what championship racing is all about. At the very least, it gives them something bigger to dream for at a younger age. After winning their state track meet, they can say “I want to qualify for the Olympic Trials.” Then, the next step is “I want to make the Olympics.”

4) Promotes the sport of track and field. Now, in hundreds of local papers, you are getting weekly stories about the local runner who qualified for the Olympic trials. You’ve got a small swell of local interest leading up to the games. If the event is covered by one of the D-List cable channels (“NBC Sports”, for example) or internet sites (Flotrack?), you’ve got hundreds of people back home who are paying attention to how their local boy or girl does in their race. Most importantly, you’ve got eyeballs on the screen. Every single person you can get interested is another potential sale to advertisers.

5) Doesn’t likely negatively affect the chances of our Olympians. The last thing I’d want to do is wear out a medal contender forcing them to go through extra rounds of qualifying. This system wouldn’t do that, though. Out of all track and field running events, only one athlete who wound up making the Olympics (Kim Conley of the women’s 5k) wasn’t in the top 12 fastest times entering the games. In order to send an athlete to the games, they have to have hit the “Olympic A” standard (different from the Trials A), anyway.

I’m not sure it’s a perfect system. The one we currently have isn’t either, though. I just love the thought that maybe something like this would help plant the seed in young runners or struggling post-collegiates to stick it out a little bit. I’m interested in your feedback – what do you think?