Beijing Stories: Selection is complicated, by Stuart Weir

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Stuart Weir and I joke, that if we both are at an athletics meeting, then, it must be something! This is Stuart's first piece for RunBlogRun, and I am pleased to introduce Stuart to you in the former colonies. In the UK, Mr. Weir has been writing about athletics for much longer than me.

Ennis_Jessica800m-World15.JPgJessica Ennis-Hill was selected, photo by PhotoRun.net

I asked him to take a different approach to covering our sport. This is a good discussion of the selection process on both sides of the pond.

Tell me what you think. As always, [email protected] is perfect way to reach me.

Gallagher_KerriSF-World15.JPgKerri Gallagher finished in top three in US Trials, photo by PhotoRun.net

Selection is complicated!

For a World Championship to accomplish its purpose, it should include all the best athletes in the world but it does not always. The system is that each national federation gets to select and nominate athletes from its own country - who have attained the qualifying standard. (In addition there are discretionary places for small countries).

How a national federation selects its athletes is up to it. Here are two quite different approaches. The USA selects in each event the top three in its national championships - provided the athletes have the IAAF qualifying standard. No ifs, no buts, no excuses. It is brutal but it is fair. All athletes know the rules and know that there is no discretion and no grey areas - OK there was the tie between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh for the final place in the 100 metres for the 2012 Olympic Games.

The British selection procedure is more complicated and less clear. An athlete has to finish first or second in the trials, having already achieved the required qualifying standard twice. The third selection is at the discretion of the selectors.

The weakness of the American system is that an athlete who has been outstanding all season but who either misses the trials or has a bad day at the trials will not go to the world championships. For example, in the women's 400 metres Francena McCorory has the world leading time and Sanya Richards-Ross is the reigning Olympic Champion and has been in good form this year but neither finished in the top three in the trials and neither was selected for the individual 400 metres in the 2015 World Championship.

In Britain Martyn Rooney, 2014 European Champion, ran a bad trial and was not selected. He appealed and then gained a place in the team - a messy procedure. In 2012, Britain selected an 800 metre runner on the basis of a "B" standard at the expenses of a runner who had been consistently faster all year. Was that a "fair" selection?

If it is fair or not, I suppose, depends on whether selection is rewarding or predicting! The US system rewards performance on a particular day but does not guarantee that the best athletes are selected. The British system seeks to predict which athlete is more likely to reach the final or win a medal. But that is subjective and can be controversial.

That the World Championship in an individual sport is organized by national teams, complicates the matter. One entry route into a golf major or tennis grand slam event is the individual's world ranking. For example the top 50 golfers in the world rankings are invited to each major.

By giving the reigning World Champion and the Diamond League winner a bye or wild card into the World Championship, the IAAF has gone some way towards this system. If the 2015 World Leader and the reigning Olympic champion were to be invited, that would help further towards ensuring and fewer of the top athletes are excluded from the world championships, which must be a good thing.

There is one potential negative consequence. At present one country can have 5 athletes in an event (3 selections plus reigning World Champion and Diamond League winner) and under my suggestion, there could be 7 from one country.

I see the problem but I could like with it to ensure that the World Championship field really does have the strongest possible field.

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