Making The Team After Making The Team ⏱️

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More Countries Name Their Olympic Teams – For Better Or Worse 🌎

Photo by Kevin Morris / @Kevmofoto

With Olympic Trials in countries around the world fading into the distant recesses of track fans’ memories and 22 days remaining until track and field starts up in Paris (yes, we’re counting), what’s a track fan to do to fill the days?

Sure, you can watch Diamond League and Continental Cup meets, or – God forbid – turn your attention to a different sport like Wimbledon or the Tour de France, but isn’t it more fun to obsessively follow the rollout and fallout as countries roll out their Olympic rosters? We sure think so!

As of July 7th, the last of the Road To Paris rankings are in the books and we can finally put down our exhausted and overworked calculators. In case you’re curious, the event with the largest number of entrants hitting the Olympic qualifying standard (outside of the marathons, which have larger fields) was the men’s 800m, where 40 of 45 available places came from auto qualifiers. The event with the stingiest standards was the women’s javelin, where only eight of the 32 entrants qualified by hitting the standard.

Now it’s time for the national federations responsible for naming their countries’ Olympic teams to add a little chaos to the mix. Every championship year comes with controversy, whether it’s from federations making subjective roster choices, filling out relay pools, or leaving qualified athletes at home. This year was no exception.

The British Trials were full of insane drama both during and after the meet, with protests, falls, upsets galore, and even an “I am Spartacus” moment”. And that’s all before the team was named, in which UK Athletics’s predilection for maintaining stricter standards than World Athletics itself once again meant that athletes who are qualified to compete on paper weren’t selected to the team. British Athletics named a 48-athlete roster, but there will be six events without a British entrant – despite having qualified athletes. Throwers got a particularly rough bargain – with three hammer throwers, a shot putter, and a discus thrower left off the team.

After significant backlash, UKA chair Ian Beattie took to Athletics Weekly to try and explain himself. He boils down the British selection standard into an attempt to prioritize athletes the selection committee believes can finish top eight. Of course, it all comes down to money and what the federation is able and willing to fund with its combination of public and private support.

That’s hardly comforting to Phil Norman, the national champion in the steeplechase, discus thrower Jade Lally, the best British thrower since 1983, or shot put champ Amelia Campbell. All three have discussed retiring from the sport after failing to be selected for the team. Lally, in particular, didn’t mince words, telling The Telegraph: “I have to retire because of British Athletics. I’m proud to be British … but I’m ashamed to represent British Athletics. If you are a British athlete, and have already missed out on a championship, I would 100 percent encourage anybody to switch to another country if that is an option. I feel like I have wasted a career trying to prove a federation wrong.”

British athletes aren’t alone in being less than thrilled with their federations this week. Ethiopian Freweyni Hailu has come forward to publicly criticize her athletic federation’s choice to leave her off the country’s 1500m roster after Hailu took World Indoor gold in the event. Hailu is currently listed as a reserve in the 5000m but isn’t a primary entrant in any event.

And then there’s the always-controversial choices by Team USA to select its relay teams. The men’s relay pool includes Christian Coleman (fourth in 100m and 200m), Kyree King (fifth in 200m, 10th in 100m), and Courtney Lindsey (sixth in 100m and 200m), but not high schooler Christian Miller, who finished fifth in the 100m. It does include another high schooler, 400m finalist Quincy Wilson. The women’s roster features 100m fourth and fifth placers Tamari Davis and Aleia Hobbs, but not past Team USA relay legs Abby Steiner or Jenna Prandini. And with a whole lotta slots to fill in the 400m between the men’s, women’s, and mixed relays, there’s a good chance that some hurdlers or 200m runners may be called into action as well. The full Team USA roster can be found here.

In other interesting team-selection news, Graham Blanks will be representing Team USA in the 5000m after Trials third-placer Parker Wolfe just barely missed the ranking cutoff. Whittni Morgan will be representing the U.S. on the women’s side after U.S. champ Elle St. Pierre opted to prioritize the 1500m and third-placer Parker Valby opted to focus on the 10,000m. (Listen to Whittni Morgan on The CITIUS MAG Podcast here.)

Ugandans Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei will both be doubling in the 5000m/10,000m; Ethiopian Olympic champ Selemon Barega is focusing on just the 10,000m (although his teammate Yomif Kejelcha is doubling). Olympic 200m champ Andre De Grasse is running both the 100m and 200m (and presumably the 4x100m relay) for Canada. NCAA 1500m champion Maia Ramsden will be representing New Zealand for the second time this year after placing tenth at World Indoors.

And perhaps the most intriguing announcement of all comes from the Netherlands, where Sifan Hassan is entered – as of now – in the 1500m, 5000m, 10,000m and marathon. She’s highly unlikely to contest all four, but after pursuing a historic triple in 2021 and ending up with two golds and a bronze, we can’t rule anything out! – David Melly

Unpacking The Controversies Of Olympic Qualification 🫠

Photo by Kevin Morris / @Kevmofoto

Now that we know the team rosters, it’s time to unpack (or complain, or angrily defend) the rankings system and selection policies that got us here.

Whether you’re a British athlete who qualified but can’t go or an American field eventer on the outside looking in on World rankings – or a fan just hoping that your favorite athletes will grace your TV screen sometime this August – there’s growing discontent with the status quo. But is the core issue confusion and misunderstanding about how the current system is designed to work, or systemic inequities that should be addressed?

This has been a hot-button discussion topic in the various Lap Count/CITIUS MAG group chats, as well as by athletes and fans on Twitter and in the comment sections of virtually every social media post announcing team rosters. There’s a real diversity of opinion – both on what the problems and solutions are, and whether certain features of the system are even a problem.

Here’s a quick rundown of common criticisms, reactions, and responses to issues highlighted by this year’s round of Olympic qualification.

“The ‘meet classification’ system is unbalanced.”

Creating an Olympic qualification system that prioritizes fairness, incentivizes head-to-head competition, and balances regional interests is no easy feat. Less than a decade ago, we only qualified athletes on automatic standard, and the World Rankings system was created to push top athletes to compete against one another and create an avenue for others to race their way into qualification.

The “weighting” element of World ranking comes from the categorization of meets into 10 categories, wherein athletes’ performance receives a certain number of bonus points for place. Finishing eighth at a Category “B” meet wins you the same number of placing points as winning a Category “D” meet, for example. The weighting of meets considers a number of factors, including historic field quality, prize money, and facility specifications. One thing that is not taken into account is accessibility or geographic location. WA has made some efforts to bring high-quality competition to parts of the world that haven’t historically been hubs of professional athletics, but there remains serious inequities. The Continental Tour Gold meets, for example, are all “A” level meets, weighted heavier than the U.S. Trials or NCAA Championships, and while they take place across five different continents this year, six of the 11 occur in Europe. If you’re interested in chasing bonus points, the easiest way is still to galavant across that particular continent all summer – which is a much more reasonable ask for a Dutch athlete than an Australian.

And then there’s the cold war between the NCAA and World Athletics. Collegiate races outside of the Division I championship are rated lowly (should the SEC championship, one of the premier sprint competitions in the world, really be an “F” meet?), which is a big part of why many collegians end up on the wrong side of the ranking quota. 

In theory, the NCAA is an “amateur” league and track and field is a “professional” sport (imagine big asterisks on both those terms), but the reality is that many of the world’s best are currently competing in the collegiate ranks. The NCAA also doesn’t comply with World Athletic policies in technical areas like shoe requirements or drug testing procedures, and for whatever reason has demonstrated little to no willingness to conform.

But should we change the way we categorize and rank performance? Or is it the impetus of non-European athletes to maximize their own opportunities and prioritize high-ranking events in their own region? There’s no easy answer. Some options…

  • Change the weighting system: A few simple changes could go a long way toward leveling some of the biggest imbalances in the existing World ranking system. WA could stand to be more proactive about setting up higher-caliber meets around the world, whether by directly supporting meets in underserved regions looking to improve their categorization with things like prize money grants or technical assistance or by offering waivers for worthy meets that meet some, but not all, criteria for a certain category. 

Or more simply, if there is a particular meet where one event has absurd depth for some reason (like the Sound Running TEN or the Kenyan Trials 5000m), WA could allow organizers to petition for one-off increases to placing points for those specific events.

  • Better harness the opportunities we have: It’s important to remember that the ranking system is still relatively young. We’ve only been using the current format (a mix of auto-qualifiers and performance-based rankings) since 2019, and each year World Athletics has retooled the system in small ways to try and make it better reflect the realities of the track and field world. 

There are imbalances in the system that are deliberate: WA rightly wants to incentivize participation in circuit-style events like the Diamond League and the Continental Cup and boost interest in regional championships like NACAC and African Champs. USATF has put some effort into hosting events like the Grand Prix meets that offer a lot of rankings points but national governing bodies could be doing more to help domestic meets land in the highest-possible category. Some of the burden does have to fall on individual coaches and athletes to build a race schedule that is both aimed at hitting the standard and racking up ranking points – Americans tend to be good at the first, but not as good at the second.

  • Do away with standards entirely: There are few other sports where you can qualify for a championship without playing your way in. Whether it’s getting a world ranking in tennis or making the playoffs in baseball, track and field is somewhat of an outlier in that we essentially allow byes into our biggest meets by virtue of hitting a performance threshold sometimes over a year in advance of the Big Show. The real “make ‘em race” boosters out there will argue that the path to truly professionalizing track and field is to go all-in on a system that forces athletes to compete early, often, and against other pros to even make it to the Olympics.

“Not every top-three finisher at Trials makes the Olympics.”

American fans in particular have chafed at the recurring phenomenon that a worthy, but not quota-hitting, top three performance in the U.S. Olympic Trials does not necessarily guarantee a spot on Team USA. There’s been a lot of attention given to the Parkers (Valby and Wolfe) in the distance events.

But the starkest example from 2024 came in the women’s high jump, where Kentucky’s Charity Hufnagel won the U.S. title in a lifetime best 1.94m, beating two athletes out of the 16 in the entire world to hold the Olympic standard. However, only the second and third placers from the event will be in Paris. The problem, ultimately, is that a top-three performance at a meet like the U.S. Trials will likely move an athlete up in the world rankings, but your score is an average of 3 or 5 (depending on the event) performances from throughout the qualifying window, so if you break through to world-class at the national championships but only posted middling marks leading up to it, tough luck.

Photo by Kevin Morris / @Kevmofoto

Then again, not all national trials are category “B” meets like the U.S.’s. Others are as low as category “F,” like the Kenyan Trials. A third placer at Kenyan Trials only gets five bonus points for placing third, compared with 70 in the U.S. (Even if that third-place finisher put up a mark like Koitatoi Kidali at the Kenyan Trials, going 1:42.66 in the 800m final.) One solution would be for World Athletics to allow for a “trials superscore” placing system for the top three regardless of meet. That way, finishing in the top-three at your country’s Trials would help push you closer toward a qualifying mark – but not guarantee it.

Of course, not all countries’ Trials are equally deep – nor is every event within a championship equally strong. It’s a safe supposition that regardless of your body of work leading up to that point, finishing top-three in the 100m hurdles in the U.S. or in the 1500m in Ethiopia means you deserve to compete at the Olympics, but a third-place finish in a small national championship doesn’t necessarily mean you’re top 30ish in the world in your event. There needs to be a balance between rewarding championship performances – the best indicator for subsequent championship performance – and recognizing that winnowing down fields doesn’t necessarily mean every country deserves a spot.

“Not every federation sends all their qualified athletes.”

This is maybe the trickiest one to wrap our minds around from a policymaking perspective, and is really the only complaint where nobody in our group chats can put together a Devil’s advocate-style counterargument. Anyone who doesn’t actively work for a national federation has to feel the intense sense of injustice that bubbles up when athletes that have rightfully qualified for the Olympics don’t get to go. We recognize that robust funding is not always easy to come by in this sport, and that federations are forced to make tricky decisions about what they can afford, but at the very least, national federations can – and should – offer qualified athletes the chance to pay or fundraise their own trip if they can’t provide institutional support for everyone.

Countries set their own selection rules, but World Athletics is, ultimately, the governing body of national federations, so they have significant power to require conditions for team participation in championships. So here’s what we propose: If a country has more than three healthy, qualified, and willing athletes, they can choose their team however they want, but they must enter three athletes into the global championship. If a country has three or fewer athletes qualified in an event, they must enter the qualified athletes they have. 

It would create significant complications for WA to compel the federations to fund every athlete’s trip (although, ideally, they should), but the very least they can do for athletes who earn their spot on the starting line is give them a singlet and the chance to compete. It’s also in WA’s best interest to quash any notions that qualifying on ranking is somehow less meaningful than qualifying on standard– and it waters down the championships themselves if the best athletes in the world aren’t actually there. – David Melly

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Will SPRINT Save The Sport? 🎬

Photo by Kevin Morris / @Kevmofoto

Well, it’s been one week since SPRINT, the Netflix documentary following the sport’s biggest 100-meter stars, premiered on the streaming service, and the results are in: every single track athlete now receives the same salary as Max Verstappen, every SportsCenter segment leads with discus and 10k highlights, and Chris Chavez is more influential over American culture than Roger Goodell.

Or maybe not. But it sure seems like some track and field fans were under the impression that SPRINT would transform the sport overnight into a global money-maker, and that any impact less than track and field immediately becoming the new Formula 1 is a sign of failure. The reactions from featured athletes have been mixed. Fred Kerley doesn’t seem to be much of a fan of his edit and Gabby Thomas diplomatically commented that the doc “shows such a small part of our journeys,” while others have been silent one way or another.

Generally speaking, the subjects of a documentary not being thrilled with the final product is a good sign that the portrayal is honest, rather than sycophantic or deferential. A good documentary portrays its subjects as they are: complex, flawed, passionate, sensitive… human. Stories also need heroes and villains, even if that storytelling is rooted in reality – just ask any Real Housewife or Survivor contestant.

Another common criticism was that the show focused too much – or not enough – on some athletes compared to others. Here, production considerations have to be given a little credit. How much footage, access, and time you have is as critical to building six episodes’ worth of story as who’s the most interesting. The best example of this comes from the cycling world, where two-time defending Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar was conspicuously absent from the first season of Unchained because his team didn’t want to participate (they signed on for the second season after the show’s success – take notes, track fans!). So if your big complaint is that SPRINT didn’t feature your particular fave heavily enough, keep in mind that they might have said no, or been unavailable, or – let’s be honest here – simply been boring when the cameras turned on.

The Netflix viewer base is also newer and far less informed than the average Diamond League viewer or TLC subscriber. So if your big critique of the show is “Enough already with this Noah Lyles guy!”, keep in mind that the numbers still tell us that more people’s favorite track and field star is a two-time Bachelorette contestant than a three-time World champ. The whole point of the show is to introduce a couple million new people to the athletes we already have a lot of strong feelings about and induce them to feel strongly as well.

Ultimately, the biggest Achilles heel of SPRINT is a pre-existing problem not of its own making: It can be really hard to follow track. Unlike the NFL, we don’t have sixteen weekends in a row where you’re guaranteed to see your favorite athlete compete. There isn’t one set of competitions you must enter to qualify for the World Championships. And there’s no guarantee that the best runners in the world will show up to the same place at the same time more than once a year – and even then it’s not a sure thing

So the filmmakers are forced to build a season-long narrative from a smorgasbord of practice footage, press conferences, and meets (if you can even obtain race video!) from wildly different times and places and present it as a linear storyline… And then dumb it down so someone who’s never watched a track meet before can understand what the heck is going on.

But here’s the silver lining: SPRINT is introducing the world to some of track’s biggest names right before they all get on everyone’s television for the 2024 Olympics. The challenge in track and field has never been getting people to watch Sha’Carri Richardson run the Olympic final; it’s getting them to care about Sha’Carri Richardson the day before and the day after. 

Worst case scenario, we have a few more casual sports fans tuning into track during the Olympics with a sense of “oh yeah, I’ve heard of that person and they seem pretty cool.” Best case scenario we get the full F1 effect, and the next time you’re at the bar, people all around you are animatedly passing off talking points from SPRINT to their friends and dates, as if they were their own. 

Either way, with season two already on the way, people’s budding interest – no matter how deep – will be quickly reinforced. SPRINT won’t change the world overnight. But it’s well-timed and well-framed to make a lasting impact on a sport that badly needs the boost.

TLC PSA: How to Not Totally Eat Shit During Cross Country Season 🤕

Photo by Kevin Morris / @Kevmofoto

If you’re part of our core readership (people whose bodies require an extensive “pre-run activation circuit” in order to even jog in the morning) then this section isn’t for you. Keep doing your band exercises. Nothing can save you, now.

But if you’re one of the precocious high school or college cross country runners who makes reading The Lap Count a part of your Wednesday ritual, listen up. Given that you’re a teen or early-twenty-something who subscribes to at least one weekly track and field newsletter, we assume that you’re a real running-obsessed go-getter… (…or you’ve been sent this by your running-obsessed uncle who’s looking for ways to relate to the youth. Welcome!)

You might be type who starts every easy run way too fast after watching some bookmarked YouTube video called “running motivation,” or something like that. Next, you lace ‘em up and bolt out the door. Regardless of conditions – we’re talking real feels in the low 100ºF range – that first mile is sub-six. The second one is marginally slower. Mile three: a death march. By mile four, you’re huddled under a tree for shade, your goose thoroughly cooked. There will be no mile five. 

Your hope is this approach clicks and you make The Big Jump. That might happen. But what also might happen is you are the king or queen of preseason workouts and a husk of a harrier by championship season. 

We know you. We see you. Hell, some of us once were you. And we want to save you from the greatest danger to your fall season: being excessively motivated during the summer. 

DON’T: Repeatedly re-watch races from the Olympics. The Olympics are inherently inspiring. In your case, potentially too inspiring. Do you know how many 2016 cross country seasons were tanked by an unanticipated 100-mile week, capped off with an all-out two-hour long run — just because Matt Centrowitz won gold in the 1500m? Too many. Some never recovered.

DO: Watch track during the Olympics. Yay, the Olympics!

DON’T: Break the bank on a month-long altitude trip. A month in the mountains won’t do you much long-term good and, unless you live on a cruise ship, where you’d otherwise post up for the summer is totally fine for off-season training. Instead, invest the $4,000 you’d spend on an August in Flagstaff in stocks or bonds or something.

DO: Spice up the monotony of base training by visiting some nice local trails, or running a progression run on your favorite road loop.

DON’T: Half-step your friends on easy runs or completely disregard your coach’s/team’s training plan in favor of racing your training partners multiple times per week during your workouts. 

DO: Meet up with friends for easy runs and occasional harder efforts, as it works with your training schedule. Running is supposed to be fun and at this point, not anguished!

DON’T: Build a mini-peak around your hometown’s regionally-famous mid-summer road race. You’re young and have plenty of scholastic or intercollegiate eligibility left. You’ve got bigger fish to fry. Save this kind of stuff for when you’re out of college and the $300 first prize can be legally spent on beer (even though it probably should be spent on student loans).

DO: Treat said road race as a tempo effort, as a little treat to yourself. What is a “tempo effort?” Nobody knows, and that’s the beauty of it. An easy way to keep things under control is to pretend like your picture is being taken at all times and you HAVE to post the result to Instagram— so relax that form and stay smiling.

DON’T: Lose your mind over a small injury. Certain unnamed Lap Count contributors have learned the hard way that the cure to IT band syndrome during a scheduled 90-mile week is not breaking every run into six mile doubles and hitting the mileage regardless. 

DO: Rest as needed. Do a plank or some push-ups if you’re saucy. Maybe foam roll a few minutes each week. It’s a long summer and a long season and while you won’t derail your fitness taking a down week or two, failure to listen to your body may lead to a November spent limping around the course, cheering in the dreaded stressie boot.

So there you have it. Get your runs in. Don’t run them too fast. Drink water. Hang out with friends. Be normal. Return to campus fit, but not too fit, and you’ll have a hell of a fall campaign. – Paul Snyder

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

Photo by Christel Saneh for World Athletics

– It’s time for our now-annual notice that Faith Kipyegon has broken the women’s 1500m world record, this time, lowering her own mark to 3:49.04 at the Paris Diamond League. In a slightly more shocking twist, right behind her was Jessica Hull, who PR’d by ~five seconds to run 3:50.83. What a race! What an opportunity to yell “What the Hull?!” at your television!

– Also in Paris, Yaroslava Mahuchikh of Ukraine bested the 37-year-old world high jump record, clearing the bar set at 2.10 meters – 6’10 ¾”. Sadly, the normally-strong Diamond League broadcast missed the opportunity to show the record-setting jump live and it didn’t hit the airwaves until 10 minutes after it happened.

– Under the Kyle Administration, this newsletter was not terribly bullish on the state of the men’s 800m. Well, today we want to come out and say “the 800m slaps now!” Also, also in Paris, three men broke 1:42 as part of a blanket finish – Djamel Sedjati, Emmanuel Wanyonyi, and Gabriel Tual – and posted the third, fourth, and fifth outdoor 800m times ever. 

– At the FBK Games in Hengelo, Netherlands, Femke Bol won the 400m in 50.02, Keely Hodgkinson took the 800m crown in 1:57.36, Jasmine Comacho-Quinn ran 12.39 to win the 100m hurdles, and three women threw over 20m in the shot: Jessica Schilder, Chase Jackson, and Lijiao Gong. For the men, Niels Laros set the world 1,000m U20 record in 2:14.37, Telahun Bekele won the 5,000m in 13:01.12, and Ferdinand Omanyala nabbed the 100m in 10.01.

Sha’Carri Richardson graced the front cover of Vogue and gave a very in-depth interview. In addition to introducing the fashion community to sprinting, existing track fans got to learn much more about Richardson’s life off the track (she watches Scandal and listens to Beyonce –  relatable queen).

– One of the most fun parts of showing up early to Paris is to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies, even though they kick off a week before track and field action starts. Olympic hurdles champ Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (and NCAA champ at Kentucky – go Cats!) was named the flag bearer for Puerto Rico and veteran marathoner Ser-Od Bat-Ochir, competing in his sixth(!) Olympics at age 42(!), will be carrying Mongolia’s colors.

– In non-protest-retiring news, 2018 World Indoor champ Andrew Pozzi, a three-time Olympian in the 110m hurdles, announced that he’ll miss Paris with injury and retire at 32.

Trey Cunningham, the 2022 World silver medalist in the 110m hurdles, came out as gay in a New York Times profile on Monday. Congrats on living your truth, Trey!

– Over on the CITIUS MAG YouTube channel, we’re dropping episodes of a fun docuseries about British Olympian Patrick Dever’s path to Paris.

– LetsRun reported an extremely in-depth look into the unusual circumstances surrounding the doping case of 19-year-old sprinting sensation Issam Asinga, who among other feats, ran a wind-aided 9.83 100m to beat Noah Lyles in 2023. Assinga is currently serving a four-year suspension for a positive sample collected in July of that year but maintains his innocence.

What To Watch 📺

The penultimate pre-Olympic Diamond League – Meeting Herculis EBS in Monaco – takes place July 12th, and the fields are loaded. 

The 1500m features, among others, Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Yared Nuguse; Jessica Hull will take her 3:50 chops to the 2,000m; the pole vault’s got Nina Kennedy and Katie Moon; the 400m has three women who’ve run sub-50 this season; the men’s 800m touts Arop, Sedjati, Tual, and Wanyonyi; we get a Benjamin vs. dos Santos vs. Warholm showdown in the 400m hurdles; and lots more. 

The broadcast will get underway this Friday at 2:00 pm ET on Peacock (subscription required).

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