I have written before about the ludicrous new IAAF qualifying standards. The men’s discus and hammer were hit harder than perhaps any event. This year is a test run with the new system before they hike the standards up even higher for next year’s Olympic games. The idea was to simplify the system, but in the end it seems that athletes, coaches, and even federations are confused about the process.
Let me take a step back and explain the standards using the men’s discus as an example. The qualifying standard for this year’s world championships is 65 meters. In addition, the winners of area championships such as the NACAC Championships are also considered to have met the standard. The IAAF has also determined an ideal field size for each event. In the throws, the predetermined field size is 32 athletes. If there are fewer athletes over this standard than this field size, the IAAF will go down the world list and extend invitations to additional athletes. That is exactly the case this year as just 26 athletes either met the standard or qualified as area champions. That meant that 6 athletes received at-large invitations.
Go back to USAs and the top three finishers were Jared Schuurmans, Russ Winger, and Andrew Evans. Jared had the standard so he made the team automatically. Winger did not have the standard, but came through with a win at the NACAC Championships to also secure his spot. Evans had only thrown 63.91 meters this year and was passed over for fourth place finisher Rodney Brown, who had achieved the standard earlier this year.
Under the old system this would have made sense. No standard, no team. But under the new policy it gets a bit confusing. The USATF’s general policy is that they want to pick the athletes that perform well at the US Championships. This is reflected in their selection criteria:
The intent is that, to the extent possible, the order of finish at the U. S. Championships shall determine whether an athlete competes in the World Championships.
Read a little deeper and they have even outlined this exact scenario and stated that in the case where someone could be invited by the IAAF, then they should receive the spot even if someone behind them has the standard:
In the event that one or more of the top three placers in the Trials has not met the qualifying standard but has a performance that appears to be good enough to warrant an invitation based on the ranking list and number of known qualifiers, USATF may solicit an invitation from the IAAF for that athlete(s) notwithstanding that other U.S. athletes have met the qualifying standard.
So the only question is then if Evans “had a performance that appears to warrant an invitation based on the ranking list of known qualifiers.” He did indeed. Remember the field size in Beijing will be 32 athletes. He is 33rd on the world list, but when you exclude athletes that were not nominated by their countries such as Chase Madison and Viktor Butenko he was well positioned for an invitation. In fact, he would have been the fourth of six athletes given an at-large selection, just ahead of Daniel Ståhl, who was named to the Swedish team this week with a season’s best of just 63.38 meters.
I have never met or spoken to Evans. I have no personal preference as to who makes the team and have no clue who would actually throw further at the meet. But the point of a selection policy is to provide clarity. As soon as the policy was announced months ago I had a suspicion this type of case would turn up. USATF tried to think this through, but still dropped the ball. This is one of the many flaws in the new system and I hope that it will be reassessed and addressed before the Olympics next year. In the meantime Evans is collateral damage as he has missed out on his chance to make his first World Championships team.
Addendum: When I first wrote this I thought I might have been missing something. Perhaps I am, but at least I am not alone in my conclusions. Coach and Throwholics editor Norm Zylstra has also been writing about this over on the Track and Field News forums and forwarded a quote from E. Garry Hill, editor of Track and Field News:
The way I read it, if Evans is in the top 32, Brown can’t displace him, even with a Q.