Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 05 Jan 2008 05:34:25 -0500

Trials Times


(Rerun from June 1999 RW. This column can still stand as my response to eliminating the "B" standard for the next men's Olympic Trials Marathon and requiring qualifiers to break 2:19. Only 34 runners bettered that time at the latest Trials.)

Jim Howell is the only member of my family ever to compete in the Olympic Trials. The two of us were related only by marriage, but we'd lived and trained together before he qualified for the marathon with a little more than a minute to spare.

Jim ran in the 1972 Marathon Trials, and I was almost as thrilled to see him there as he was to be there. He had no chance to make the team, so this was his "Olympics."

His time in the 2:28s wouldn't come close to qualifying now, but maybe it should. The field of sub-2:30 runners wasn't overcrowded in Eugene that year, and wouldn't be now if a similar standard applied.

This is the contention of Al Morris, among others. He's an exercise scientist with the military, and he attended the meetings at the 1998 USATF convention where the question of easing the men's qualifying times came up, and was shot down.

"What if we held a race and not enough runners showed up to make the party exciting, meaningful and important to TV that is showing this party to millions of viewers?" Morris asked. The most exclusive parties in U.S. running are the Olympic Trials, where he contends that the guest list is too limited.

"What if we reach only about 100 competitors?" he wondered. (In the 2007 race, the finishers numbered 104.) That's too few, in his view.

"One can make the case for 500 or more entrants. Imagine the 'hometown-hero' effect we could establish across this great land if we expanded the Olympic Trials fields."

Al Morris asked what I thought of his idea. My reply:

Keep the standards fairly high and the honor of running in this event special. But open the qualifying window wider.

This would cost the Trials little or nothing. Only the fastest, the "A"-standard qualifiers, would earn expense money. The additional runners would pay their own way.

Bring the men's event into line with the women's. The women have an eight-minute window (2:39 to 2:47 for the 2008 Trials) for "B"-standard qualifying (and no plan to eliminate these second-tier runners in 2012).

The men trying to reach the lower standard had to squeeze into a two-minute gap in the most recent Trials. I'd like to see the upper limit rounded off at 10 minutes above the "A" qualifier, for men and women.

These times would create more of the hometown-hero marathoners that running needs. My ex-brother-in-law Jim Howell became one in 1972 to those of us who knew and ran with him. Developing others like him now would be a wise and cheap investment, giving the not-quite-great marathoners a chance to run their "Olympics."
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