Thirteen months after running 2:10:28 at the Berlin Marathon my name did not appear on Athletics Canada’s carding list. To many this was a shock. Not to me, I knew I hadn’t met the criteria. Others were left wondering, what the heck is “carding?”
Although “carding” can refer to unwarranted police checks, athletes use “carding” to refer to government funding. The Athlete Assistance Program (AAP), administered by Sport Canada, is awarded to track and field athletes through Athletics Canada. Carded athletes are awarded anywhere from $900-1500 per month (tax-free) depending on the level.
I knew my name wasn’t going to be on the carding list when it was published on Oct. 28. To be eligible, I needed a top-20 marathon finish at the Olympics or a sub-2:13:59 performance between Oct. 1, 2015 and Oct. 16, 2016. I finished 23rd in Rio and ran 2:10:28 four days too early on Sept. 27, 2015.
“I would in all likelihood defer my selection if I were to make the 2017 World Championships.”
I was agonizingly close to hitting the criteria but I’m not bitter towards Athletics Canada. I’m not going to appeal the decision nor complain about my omission. I will, however, address the qualifying window for the marathon, which is a flaw in the criteria as I see it.
Athletes selected for funding and breakdown
My beef with the criteria is that the window for marathon performances is too short. It’s 54 weeks. Historically that window used to be two years. Between Oct. 1, 2015 and Oct. 16, 2016 I ran one marathon. Sure, I could have run a marathon in the spring of 2016 but I put my focus on the Olympics. Marathon runners are probably only going to run two marathons, maybe a third, in a 54-week period. If athletes in any other track and field events only had two or three chances to hit a standard there would be a lot of complaints. The funny thing is marathoners would be pleased if we were given the shot at four or five attempts over a two-year period.
“I shouldn’t complain about not getting carded this year as I have benefited from the program immensely.”
Of course if one were to run a fast marathon a year earlier they would need to prove they are still progressing despite the lack of a fast marathon the next year if it was due to bad weather or championship race.
Many countries don’t have an athlete funding program at all while other countries’ programs are more top heavy (they only fund world/Olympic finalists). In Canada we are lucky to have a program that funds up-and-coming athletes as well as established athletes.
Between 2005 and 2012 I was carded most years and that funding was crucial in enabling me to train full-time. I shouldn’t complain about not getting carded this year as I have benefited from the program immensely.
My goal of top-15 at the Olympics would have likely landed me on the carding list. I don’t have a problem being left off the list after finishing 23rd. I’ve been to four major championships (Helsinki ‘05, Berlin ’09, London ’12 and Rio ’16) and have always placed in the top-30 but never placed in the top-20. I understand the argument that I’m not showing top-15 potential. (Even though I know I can do it.) Perhaps it’s a little frustrating that I won’t be carded when athletes who will never make a major championship are receiving financial assistance.
There are 68 athletes on the current carding list. There were 65 athletes on Canada’s 2016 Olympic team. One would think that there is a problem with the system when all Olympians aren’t carded. Some Olympians retired after the Games too. However, Athletics Canada needs to look out for the future as well; they can’t ignore the up-and-coming athletes. Unless there is an influx of money allocated to carding there simply isn’t enough to cover every Olympian plus every future star.
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After finishing 27th at the London Olympics in 2012 I lost my carding. I appealed that decision as I had run 2:10:55 in the qualifying window. I lost that appeal and didn’t receive carding again until 2016 after I ran 2:10:28 in 2015. Even running 2:11:24 in 2013 didn’t get me carded.
The appeal process is messy. When I appealed my case in 2012 my argument was that my 2:10:55 one year earlier was still relevant and showed potential to finish top-15 at major championships. Because there are a fixed number of cards, in order for me to receive carding another athlete had to lose their carding. On a conference call the other athlete’s coach basically made a case as to why I didn’t deserve to be carded. More or less you listen to another coach tell you that you suck. (Editor’s note: Lanni Marchant has similar appeal concerns.)
Athletics Canada gets criticism each year when the carding lists come out. Some warranted, much of it unwarranted. Being the second fastest marathoner in Canadian history is irrelevant in carding criteria and for good reason. How strong (or weak) an event has been historically in Canada is not an indicator of how well an athlete is poised to do at future major championships.
“There will always be a few deserving athletes on the outside looking in.”
Of course I could really use the money. However, I am still able to train and chase my goals because of New Balance and prize money from races such as Ottawa and STWM. The marathon has more exposure than many track events. It is a risky profession in the sense that you count on two marathons a year where injury or a bad race can wipe out a third of your income.
If I qualify for the 2017 World Championships in the marathon I would in all likelihood defer my selection. That decision is not to spite Athletics Canada. It’s a decision based on my job as a runner and wanting to provide for my family. If carded, the decision to run at the World Championships would be easier as the $18,000 in carding would more than offset most marathons I would potentially run. Most likely I will pick a race where there is potential for appearance and/or prize money. On the flip side I could go to worlds and aim for a top-15 or so in hopes of getting carded the following year.
The carding program in Canada is definitely a great program that allows many athletes to put more focus on training. There will always be a few deserving athletes on the outside looking in. It can’t be easy to give out 68 cards and expect everyone to be pleased.