World Champs: Fast times trump team trials in final selection

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World Champs: Fast times trump team trials in final selection

The British Athletics Championships and World Trials at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, United Kingdom on 1-2 July 2017

The British Athletics Championships and World Trials at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, United Kingdom on 1-2 July 2017

This isn’t the start of a campaign complaining of mistreatment or four hundred words bemoaning too-stringent qualifying standards

This isn’t a woe is me offering on behalf of Andy Vernon, more an extended musing and lament on the trappings of doing things by the book and falling just short.

Andy’s attempts to make the world champs came up agonisingly short. The width of a vest short.

His last-ditch attempt at the 5,000m qualifying time at the weekend fell just five-hundredths of a second shy.

So near and yet so far

It was a case of so near and yet so far. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more apt use of that cliché this season, especially in a race of 12-and-a-half laps.

The final, final additions to the team for this summer’s champs were announced earlier today by British Athletics. Ultimately, Andy can’t have too many complaints. He didn’t make the QT set by the IAAF – which was also the one adopted by British Athletics.

The fact he came second at the trials is rendered meaningless. The absences of many at the trials and the lowly finishing positions of others since selected makes further mockery of that competition.

While the majority of those selected fulfil the criteria set out last September, there are the inevitable more questionable picks.

Selection criteria falls short

Marc Scott finished the right side of the qualification line at the weekend. 0.23 seconds to be exact. A personal best at just the right time has seen him secure his selection. The fact he finished fourth at the trials and 12 seconds off the automatic qualification place has been forgotten.

Rosie Clarke is the fastest Brit over the barriers this year and ran well-inside the qualifying mark – back at the beginning of May. She hasn’t ran on the track since, but selection was guaranteed in the first wave earlier this month.

Jess Martin has been selected, no questions asked, despite finishing 11th at the trials and without a performance suggestive of a medal challenge this summer. Her selection is based on a 10,000m qualifying time ran last August.

This isn’t to call out those that were selected or to do them down. It’s more an attempt to highlight that the current process isn’t completely up to scratch.

Don’t bother with the trials in future

What’s the message the selections send out?

It’s that if you don’t have the qualifying time, don’t bother with the trials and just find a fast race instead. Because ultimately that’s all the governing body seemingly cares about this time around. No matter that those selected on this basis will still be more than 200m behind the winners come August.

It’s little wonder athletes decide not to support the national championships when selection can be secured on the basis of a doctor’s note and a qualifying time ran months, if not a whole year, ago.

And this is where the disappointment of failing to make the team will be even more galling for somebody like Andy. It’s his pursuit of a 10,000m spot that probably put paid to his chances.

Andy didn’t hide when the reality suggests he’d have been better doing so. Grinding out three 10,000m races in one month would be enough to take the wind out of anybody’s sails.

Given the leniency afforded to those who skipped the trials in July, giving the Parliament Hill event a swerve would undoubtedly have been a smart move – but would have left the event bereft of such a classy run lapped up by the thousands watching from lane three.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing

It may have just left him with more in the tank for Hengelo. It may even be the sort of exceptional circumstances that leaves somebody 0.05 seconds shy of a 5,000m qualifying time in mid-July.

Call it stupidity, naivety even. Say he only has himself to blame. Hindsight is wonderful. There was probably little option but to compete anyway given the hardly harmonious relationship he’s had with British Athletics over the years.

The selection criteria prioritises times over positions – and undeniably puts another nail in the coffin of the British trials.

As we’ve said already, fundamental change needs to happen to reinvigorate the trials.

The examples highlighted in this team selection do little to enhance the prospects or standing of the trials going forward. It does nothing to promote the sport to the grassroots or encourage athletes at home to support the championships – and will undoubtedly leave even wider gaps in the start lists in future.

Ultimately, fine margins make all the difference. That Andy’s crowning glory of 2017 may ultimately have put paid to his world champs ambitions is even more gut-wrenching – especially given some of those that have seemingly made it by stealth.

Words by Christopher Rainsford
Image from Andrew Peat