The US Championships took place recently, which are being used solely as the method for selecting the US team for the World Championships in Daegu in August. Luke Coleman runs a critical eye over the process.
The USTAF National Outdoor Championships provided many great races last week as athletes battled to the line to claim one of the coveted spots on US team to this year’s World Championship in Daegu, South Korea. There were a few upsets but the biggest story of the weekend involved two of America’s top sprinters and was a case of one man ran the trials and one man made the team. The selection process of the US has come under scrutiny as a result of recent events and whether they are in the best interests of the sport.
100m runner Tyson Gay was the clear favourite to win the trials and be World and Olympic Champion, Usain Bolt’s main rival this September but was forced to pull out after the first round in Oregon due to a hip injury. The withdrawal means that Gay is now ineligible to compete in the World Championships in the 100m due to the criteria set down by the USATF that an athlete must place top three in the trials (as well as achieving the A qualification standard).
The 100m match up between Gay and the Jamaican was among the most highly anticipated races of the championships. The 2009 final in Berlin lived up to expectations where as the sprint pair produced two of the three fastest times ever with a 9.58 World Record and 9.71 American Record respectively (Tyson improved this mark one month later to 9.69 equalling second fastest time ever set in Beijing by Bolt in 2008). 2010 saw the tables turn with Gay getting the better of Bolt in Stockholm. Not only was this Bolt’s first defeat in 14 races over two years, it was also his first defeat to the American. Bolt subsequently ended his season after this due to a lower back injury. Gay then came out of the blocks quicker this year and is currently the fastest man of 2011 which fuelled the idea that the 5”11 American could topple the Jamaicans dominance of the event at global championships in recent times but has failed to set the world alight since his comeback from last years injury.
There was a stark contrast between the ill fortunes of Tyson Gay to the encouraging news for disgraced 400m World and Olympic champion LeShawn Merritt who was cleared to run in Daegu by the USATF this week. As current champion Merritt is given a wild card place in the World championships however US team policy requires athletes to compete in its trials, which were held last weekend, to be eligible for world championships but Merritt was unable to because his 21-month doping suspension does not expire until July 27. USATF’s board however granted Merritt an exemption and are allowing him to claim his wild card spot on the team as the addition will not cost another athlete their place on the team.
Merritt was suspended last October after testing positive in 2009 and 2010 for a banned substance he said was found in a male enhancement product he had taken. His ban began from the time of testing rather than the final decision by the arbitration panel meaning that the athlete is eligible for competition from end of July.
US selection process differs from other countries such as Australia and Ireland who simply must achieve the qualification standard and participate in the National Championships. The US feels their strength in depth means that a one off Trial is best indication of current form however there are many who feel that this is not the best approach.
The question is how fair is it that the fastest man on the planet this year can not make the national team while a man who has not raced in 2 years can? Does that really give a clear indication of form and the best medal chances?
In reaction to the news of Gay’s failure to make the team, there are many who feel the system needs to be reformed. Among these athletes is Sanya Richards-Ross, another athlete who was a victim of this rule. Like Gay she was top ranked athlete in 2007 and had been named world athlete of the year previously only to fall ill at the trials and get fourth. She went on attain gold in the relay and claimed the individual title in Berlin two years later.
“I think it should be first two (qualify), and the third should be a coaches’ selection based on fitness and race sharpness,” the American 400m World champion said recently
As it stands one of the top races of the upcoming Worlds will be a contested between Bolt and fellow compatriot and former World Record holder Asafa Powell.
“I’m disappointed,” Richards-Ross said. “I am a huge fan of the sport and I was looking forward to that race as well.”
Usain Bolt in recent times has given track and field a new lease of life. His dominance and cocky nature to match it has been one of the main attractions to the Jamaican but in order to sustain the new interest he needs to be challenged. This sport thrives on match ups – Ovett and Coe, Tergat and Gebrselassie, these names go hand in hand and generated pure excitement among the general track and field fans Gay and Bolt as a rivalry not only creates interest because of their ability but also because of their polar opposite personalities.
Bolt, a 6”5 larger than life character comes across as laid back, confident and in love with life and laps up the media. Compare him to Tyson Gay, a more traditional looking “power house sprinter” who comes across as a quiet, gentle natured man who always comes across as not comfortable with the media attention. You could not meet two men who are more opposite almost like the older wiser mentor versus the brash cocky youth. It adds to the rivalry established by the media.
Selection processes need to be addressed as 2 athletes coming back from drug bans (Justin Gatlin and Merritt) being on the team while one of the top talents in the sport not competing at the top level is something that cannot happen again if we are to promote the sport to the general public as well as retain some bit of integrity.