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World Athletics amends Olympic qualification timeline for road athletes

Marathoners and race walkers will be able to qualify for Tokyo 2021 as of September 1

Photo by: Todd Fraser, Canada Running Series

In April, World Athletics announced the suspension of Olympic qualification for all athletes until December 1. On Tuesday, this was officially amended for road athletes, and now marathoners and race walkers will be able to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as of September 1. The reason for this change is simply due to the limited number of qualifying opportunities for these athletes ahead of May 31, when the qualification period ends. As it stands now, track and field athletes will still have to wait until December to qualify for the 2021 Olympic Games. 

Olympic qualifying 

When discussing the decision to move the start of the qualification period up to September, Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, noted the lack of mass participation road races around the world due to COVID-19. 

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“Most of the major marathons have already been cancelled or postponed for the remainder of this year and the evolution of the pandemic makes it difficult to predict if those scheduled for the first half of next year will be able to go ahead,” Coe said. He added that marathoners and race walkers cannot be expected to compete as often as track athletes who run shorter distances and still produce high-quality times that would qualify them for Tokyo. He said the qualifying window for road athletes would be “really narrow … without this adjustment.” 

Evan Dunfee wins Fall Classic half marathon. Photo: RUNVAN/ Taylor Brown
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Along with the suspending Olympic qualification back in April, World Athletics froze the world rankings until December 1. These will remain frozen as originally planned, although world records are still up for grabs, as long as they’re ratifiable. 

RELATED: Athletics Canada names first three athletes to 2021 Olympic team

Where to race?

World Athletics can amend the qualification period, but that doesn’t mean mass participation road races will suddenly start to pop up once again. In the announcement released on Tuesday, several racing opportunities are outlined, the biggest of which is the London Marathon. The last World Marathon Major standing, the London Marathon is set for October 4, and organizers have refused to cancel even as the coronavirus pandemic persists around the world.

Pidhoresky wins the 2019 Canadian Olympic Marathon Trials. Photo: Maxine Gravina

The statement says London Marathon organizers are working with World Athletics to ensure athletes will have a chance to qualify for Tokyo 2021. Whether this means the event will be an elite-only run is unclear, but a decision regarding the fate of the race is expected within the next week. 

RELATED: With marathons cancelling into 2021, Tokyo Games look to be in trouble

World Athletics is also working closely with the Abu Dhabi Marathon with the hope that they can provide athletes with another qualification opportunity before the end of the year. For race walkers, two major race walking events are expected to be held between the September 1 and November 30. 

Many Canadians have yet to qualify, but Athletics Canada has already confirmed that marathoners Dayna Pidhoresky and Trevor Hofbauer and race walker Evan Dunfee have guaranteed spots for Tokyo. The rest of the Canadian team will be announced next June. 

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