The benefits of the U.S. trials system is supposed to be it's tranparency--if you finish in the top three, you make the team! Not so fast, little grasshopper--you also have to hit the A standards, well, unless, one guy has hit A, and then if you twist around, sacrifice a goat, and then hit the B standard, you might make the team as well. In this short commentary, consider the plight of Jonathan Riley, an alternate for the 5,000 meter team.
In a truly exciting and demanding 5,000 meters, Bernard Lagat, Matt Tegenkamp and Adam Goucher went 1-3 in the 5,000 meter final in the AT&T Outdoor championships. In fourth place was one Jonathon Riley. The last 1,000 meters was pure, hard distance running. Tegenkamp putt in an 800 meters in 1:56 and nearly held off Lagat. Adam Goucher pulled one of his proverbial shorts and moved from sixth to third, and Riley, always in the thick of it, finished fourth.
Fourth is just the worst place to finish in a trials race. For the most part, if the athletes above you have made the standards, and are healthy, there is no chance in hell that you are going to the world championships. However, as an athlete, and someone who placed fourth, or has the standard, one has to hold out hope.
Let's be honest, I like Jonathon. I have watched him compete since high school and believe he is a talented, underrated member of the American distance corps. Well,
Jonathon has been racing quite well this summer. He ran a 13:18 and yesterday, August 11, Jonathan ran a fine 3:57.7, taking a strong win over Chris Solinsky.
But even with rumors of Adam Goucher's injuries and Bernard Lagat's decision to run both the 5,000 and the 1,500 meters in Osaka, Riley is, well, to put it inelegantly, not going to run in Oska.
What can be done? Should anything be done?
I am not sure. I do think that, in the best of all worlds, USATF would tell Mr. Lagat that he should pick the event that he can best compete in and or demand Mr. Goucher show his level of fitness before Osaka, but that will not be. And if USATF did that, they would be crucified-as a federation, one can never be right.
So, Jonathon Riley will have something to focus on for the next year. He will realize that fourth position is hell on earth and do all he can to find that little extra kick in Eugene, Oregon when it all comes down to those last, agonizing 100 meters before the tape.