The men’s hammer competition at last week’s IAAF Hammer Challenge meet in Ostrava assembled the best field of the year so far and included the Olympic gold medalist, the Olympic silver medalist and eight of the top eleven throwers in the world so far this season. Yet despite the big names, only two throwers eclipsed the IAAF “A” qualifying standard for this summer’s World Championships. And only five even surpassed the “B” standard, the minimum standard for entry to the World Championships. It is not that the results were bad; quite to the contrary the results were quite strong and for just the second time this year two throwers broke 80 meters in the same meet, something that didn’t even happen at last year’s Olympics and only happened three times during the entire 2012 season. The culprit wasn’t the performances, it was the exorbitantly high new IAAF Qualifying standards.
The qualifying standards in nearly every field event were raised after the London Olympics, but no event was hit harder than the men’s hammer throw. The new A qualifying standard is 79.00 meters. The B standard is now 76.00 meters. To put that in perspective 74.69 meters was good enough to qualify for the finals in London and 78.71 meters earned a medal. Yes you read that correct: the A standard is higher than what was required for a medal at the Olympic Games. As a result of these high standards, it is not surprising that only five men have met the A standard this year, by far the lowest number amongst all track and field events. Even the B standard is much higher than the mark required to make the finals at the majority of major championships over the past 25 years, as shown in the graph to the right and discussed in a previous analysis. At the end of this post I have also compiled an analysis which shows how many individuals have met the A standard in each event and how high the A standard would need to be if just the top five athletes in each event had reached it.
The decision to raise the standards is having the odd effect of lowering the standard of competition in the hammer throw. It is doing this in two major ways: (1) by keeping potential medalists and finalists out of the World Championships; and (2) by inadvertently limiting the funding and sponsorship opportunities available to top throwers in every country.
Potential Medalists and Finalists Will Be Left Out of the World Championships
At the top end, the new standard could keep potential medalists out of the World Championships. Neither silver medalist Primoz Kozmus nor bronze medalist Koji Murofushi broke 79 meters before the Olympic Games last summer. If that were the case this year, they might be missing out on the World Championships. Their countries have the opportunity to nevertheless take them since they have met the B standard (Murofushi also gets a pass since he is defending World Champion), but the trend is for more and more countries to require all participants to reach the A standard which would leave them off the team. This rule was what left 2010 and 2012 European Championship finalist Mattias Jons off of the Swedish Olympic team last summer despite a high world ranking, strong competition results, and the B standard.
Even if a country chooses to take the largest possible team, no one will be able to send a full squad of three throwers this year even though one thrower with just the B standard can always be included. That means traditionally strong countries like Belarus and Russia will likely leave 78 meter throwers and potential medalists at home. For example Russia currently has three potential medalists but will only get to send one to Moscow. Belarus has two throwers just inches under the A standard, but only one will get to go. Raising the qualifying standards will lower the standard of competition.
The new standards will have perhaps a stronger affect on the lower level. You might think that if an athlete does not meet the B standard, they should not be at the meet anyway since they have no chance of being a factor. But the case of Alex Smith proves otherwise. Smith’s personal best if just 75.63 meters and his All-Athletics ranking is just 46th in the world, yet his consistency earned him a spot in the London Olympic final. Individuals like him, who are under the B standard yet have a proven consistency that will get them into finals, will no longer be able to compete at major championships, which again will lower the level of competition. In Smith’s case, the situation is actually worse than this. Even if he reaches the B standard, he would still not qualify since UK Athletics is now requiring that he reach the A standard in order to make their team for Moscow. Athletics Weekly has reported that he is giving up on Moscow and shifting his focus towards next season and the 2016 Olympics since reaching the A standard is not realistic for him. As he told Athletics Weekly: “It’s put me in a situation where I need to throw a four-metre PB and be throwing a medal-sort of distance to have the opportunity to go, which seems silly especially given how I did in the Olympics last year.” Federations like UK Athletics tend to implement these policies to ensure they only send individuals capable of making the final, but Smith clearly shows people who have not many any standard are also capable of making the final.
Problem Compounded By Standards-Based Funding Decisions
Not only are the high standards keeping the best athletes out of the major championships, but it is also hurting hammer throwing where it hurts the most: their wallet. Hammer throwers already have a tough enough time trying to make a living because the hammer has been excluded from the diamond league. and the replacement IAAF Hammer Challenge will hardly pay the bills for anyone. That leaves hammer throwers dependant on two other groups to make ends meet: sponsors and federations. Both will be giving out less to hammer throwers as a result of these high standards.
Sponsors look for stars to sponsor and in small countries like Switzerland, that means individuals that qualify for the World Championships. With it now harder to make the World Championships in the hammer throw than any other event, those throwers on the cusp of qualifying (i.e. those who need the help the most) will now find it harder to get sponsorships.
But, more significantly, the standards also affect the funding athletes receive from their federations. Most federations and national Olympic committees connect their funding programs to the IAAF qualifying standards, with the most funding going to A qualifiers, and limited or no funding going to B qualifiers. They use A standards because they think that it is a good measure of who is world-class, but it is not an equal measure in each event. Once again this means higher hammer standards translates to less funding for hammer throwers, a sport which needs the funding more than other events. It also means athletes who are ranked higher in the world will get less than their counterparts in other events. For example in Switzerland our top triple jumper is one of just five Swiss athletes with a top 60 world ranking in their event from All-Athletics. Yet he isn’t among the 27 athletes included in the top two tiers of support from our federation since he is still far from the A standard. These two levels include many individuals ranked outside the world’s top 200. I even rank among the top 15 Swiss athletes based on World ranking and am left out of all three levels of support which includes nearly 150 other athletes.
A Call For Change
The hammer is hardly alone here; this year the triple jump and discus are also particularly affected. High standards in nearly every field event are causing similar disadvantages in qualifying and funding. The IAAF Constitution and the first article of the IAAF Code of Ethics relate to equality and non-discrimination “in any form.” Equality of events is as important as equality among individuals. Yet these decisions clearly show not all events are treated equally. The IAAF needs to develop fair qualifying standards and work with national federations to use more common sense in their funding policies in order to ensure fairness in the sport.
Below is an analysis of how many individuals have met the IAAF qualifying standard in each event during the Moscow qualifying period (as of 30 June 2013) and how high the standard would need to be adjusted if just five individuals had met the standard as is the case in the hammer throw. The number of qualifiers does not include automatic qualifiers who earned spots due to their placing at other competitions such as the World Championships, World Cross Country Championships, Area Championships, etc. Statistics were compiled using Tilastopaja.
|Event||Gender||Current Standard||Qualifiers||Adjusted Standard|
|20km Race Walk||Men||1:24:00||> 100*||1:17:47|
|50km Race Walk||Men||4:02:00||> 100*||3:37:54|
*Because results from 2012 also count towards qualifying in the marathon and race walking events, the exact number of A qualifiers is difficult to determine but easily exceeds the numbers listed.