The Cruelty and Honesty of the US Trials


The Trials for the Osaka team, aka, the AT&T Outdoor Championships, were one of the toughest meets in the world. In fact, the team will leave several potential gold medalists, as well as other medalists, at home. While the system is cruel, it is also the only honest way to go, in this writer's mind.

In July 1992, I was sitting behind the pole vault pit in Tad Gormley Stadium, when Dan O'Brien, the newest thing in the decathlon, no heighted. He was not a good vaulter anyway and had not started at a low height to have at least a clearance. By the time he made his third attempt, Dan was nearly hyperventilating. A German film crew was filming this fiasco as well as NBC. Dan did not clear a height, hence, the best decathlete in the world would not make the U.S. team.

This began about 48 hours of all kinds of weird attempts to get Dan on any Olympic team, but it was to no avail. Dan O'Brien would have to wait four years to have his two days of fame to win the Olympic Decathlon. Was the pole vault event heart breaking? Yes! But, it was also fair.

The U.S. system of trails presupposes that athletes are ready to rumble, ready to compete on this day and nothing else matters. It gives both the veteran and the emerging stars a fair shot at making the top three. The system is brutal, but the rounds, and the finals, in front of screaming fans, give the athlete a feeling of the World or Olympic final. The rest, is up to them.

In the AT&T Outdoor Championships this year, we had a series of surprises: Christian Cantwell in the shot put, Daniel Lincoln in the steeplechase, Sanya Richards in the 400 meters, Shayne Culpepper in the 1,500 meters. I remember many great athletes not making the teams in the past. Sometimes, they made the next team, sometimes, they did not.

As cruel a process as it seems, the process is honest and real. There are fast runners and slow runners, there are good hurdlers and 400 meter runners. To make the USA Track team, one better be one of the best in the world, or they do not stand a chance in most events.

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