USATF Announces Marathon Trials Location,
Some Runners Pissed
by Jon Gugala
On Thursday, January 29, USATF announced Los Angeles as the site of the 2016 Olympic team trials marathon, the official selector for the 2016 U.S. Olympic marathon team. The announcement ended long speculation between the competing bids from LA, Cincinnati, and Houston. While some U.S. marathoners were thrilled with the decision, a vocal minority voiced their displeasure, viewing it as another instance of necessary USATF reform.
"Pretty stoked to be running 2016 Olympic Trials marathon in my childhood 'backyard' in LA," tweeted 2008 Olympic trials marathon champ and Big Bear Lake native Ryan Hall. "Crowd support should be unreal!"
"I will be channeling my inner [Joan Benoit-Samuelson] on February 13, 2016," said Kara Goucher, third at the Olympic team trials marathon in 2012.
Los Angeles has been the site of many storied races, the pinnacle of which was the 1984 Olympics, where women's marathoning as an Olympic event first debuted. There, Benoit-Samuelson, supposedly on a busted leg, ran away from a field of world record-holders for the gold in the inaugural event.
But much has changed since the heyday of the Los Angeles Marathon, and only in recent years has it restructured and begun to once again invest in the elite side of the sport.
After his congratulations, Meb Keflezighi, San Diego native and 2004 and 2012 Olympic team trials marathon champion, tweeted, "While I am happy for LA, I am disappointed for Houston."
This is the undercurrent of the selection process announcement, and it's not difficult to understand why after following the sport over the last 10 years.
Year after year, Houston is on every American road runner's radar. It's bona fide as a fast course: Ryan Hall set his American record in the half marathon there in 2007 and Brett Gotcher ran the fourth-faster marathon debut for an American man in 2010. This year at the USA Half Marathon Championships, more American men ran faster in the same race than ever before.
But there are other fast races that don't draw near as big a crowd of elite athletes, and it's not just peer pressure that draws the best to Houston. It's the money. Running is a business, and business has been good to American athletes through Houston. In a post-race write-up of the 2014 Houston races, Race Results Weekly reported that Houston paid $308,000 in prize money, $138,000 of which was to Americans in the half marathon alone. In contrast, the LA Marathon paid out $160,000 in prize money in 2013, despite its comparable field size.
It was for these reasons, ostensibly, that the five-member panel appointed by USATF from the Long Distance Running Division Executive Committee voted 5-0 to accept Houston's bid, as reported by Road Race Management last month.
But then Max Siegel.
One of the reasons it took longer to announce the selection, an insider reports, is that USATF was looking at who exactly could decide the location of an Olympic team trials. As Race Results weekly reported, "Under USATF Regulation 18, Siegel has the power to select the sites for USA Championships, but it was unclear if he could select Olympic Trials venues in the same manner (Olympic Trials events are actually owned by the US Olympic Committee)."
This was obviously cleared up and Siegel gave the nod to Los Angeles, overruling his board.
This is not to say that Siegel's decision was a poor one; in a release by USATF, he explained, "With television coverage on NBC and incredible public and private support for the race in one of the world's biggest media markets, everything is in place to continue to elevate the Olympic Trials and give our athletes a platform on which they can truly shine."
LA offers media opportunities possibly not available to Houston. But the city also figures into a bigger plan that goes well beyond USATF, all the way to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which met as a board for its quarterly meeting the day before USATF's announcement. After that meeting, the Associated Press reported, "it is our intention to bid" for the 2024 Olympics, chairman Larry Probst said. The AP listed several possible cities, including Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington.
And Los Angeles.
But politicking has left many veteran distance runners dissatisfied with the opaque process for trials site selection.
"Happy the Olympic trials will be in Los Angeles, but I believe [Houston Marathon] should have received the bid," tweeted Daniel Tapia, a 2:14 marathoner who represented the U.S. at the 2013 World Championships marathon. "Any discretion here? #politics."
Pat Rizzo, a 2:13 marathoner, says that there will be bylaw changes proposed at the December 2 USATF Annual Meeting in Anaheim to both clarify the process and possibly give the athletes' voices more power. When asked how he knew these bylaws would be proposed, Rizzo said, "Because I myself will write the [proposed] bylaws."
Ed Torres, USATF Men's Long Distance Running chairman and one of the five who voted for Houston, said, "Shortly I will be releasing a statement," but offered no further comment.
To its credit, the LA Marathon is making concessions to get the trials, including moving its 2016 start day from March to February to accommodate athletes that may try to compete in both the marathon and track trials adequate recovery between events. But it's done little to diminish the dissatisfaction of many U.S. marathoners who have cultivated long relationships with the Houston Marathon committee.
"Show me the last time [Los Angeles] said, 'We really love track and field," Rizzo said.
For LA, it would be back in 1984. For Houston, it's as recently as January.