Marathon appeal a long shot

Canada's top female marathoners Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchesne have made it official: they are filing an appeal with Athletics Canada.

Canada’s top female marathoners Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchene have made it official: they are filing an appeal with Athletics Canada. They’re hoping the governing body will grant them an exception and include them on the 2012 Olympic team.

Marchant and Duchene came within a couple of minutes of the Canadian Olympic standard of 2:29:55 at the recent Rotterdam marathon. Their performances of 2:31:50 and 2:32:06, respectively, far exceeded the international requirement of 2:37 and were among the top 10 times ever run by Canadian women.

For all events — except the marathon and 50K race walk — Athletics Canada has a system of “A+”, “A” and “B” standards for Olympic qualification. Generally, the “A” standard is similar to the IAAF requirement with the “A+” standards slightly tougher. But Canada’s “A” standard for the marathon, in the men’s and women’s races, is considerably tougher than the international mark.

No ‘rising star’ in marathon

At the heart of the issue is that there is no “B” standard in the marathon, a mark that may be used to select “rising stars” in other track events.

“The purpose of the ‘rising star’ [category] was to get athletes experience for the next Olympics,” Marchant, 28, told the Globe and Mail. “It’s just unfortunate they made the criteria and didn’t consider the need for a rising star in the marathon.”

In marathon terms, she is still quite young. Duchene, who is 35, has a tougher case, but has every intention of competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In the Globe’s article, Athletics Canada’s CEO Rob Guy explained the rationale for not having a “rising star” criteria in the marathon. “It didn’t make a lot of sense to have a ‘rising star’ category for the marathon because that’s not typically how they develop,” he said. Most marathoners develop in track events such as  the 5000m and 10,000m, where there is a “rising star” provision. Eric Gillis was a “rising star” in the 10,000m in 2008, and he’s now a member of the Olympic men’s marathon team.

The flaw in that argument is that we’re seeing a growing number of the world’s top marathoners foregoing their track careers altogether, jumping straight into the marathon at a high level. It’s not necessarily the case anymore that a top marathoner be groomed through the 10,000m. At the last few Canadian track and field championships, the 10,000m hasn’t been competitive, and in one case, was cancelled altogether. It’s possible that women such as Marchant and Duchene find more value in developing their talents in road races, where they can compete  in deeper fields.

Despite these perceived flaws, the Athletics Canada selection criteria for the marathon was published in 2010. At the time, the standards of 2:11:29 and 2:29:55 were heavily criticized, but runners knew exactly what they had to do to make the team. There was no subjectivity. If Athletics Canada was to change the rules to allow a 2:31 and 2:32 runner on the team at the 11th hour, there could be legitimate complaints from other budding marathoners such as Dayna Pidhoresky or Emily Kroshus, who might have had a 2:32 marathon in their grasp, but decided not to try for it, knowing they wouldn’t reach the standard of 2:29:55 this year.

On the men’s side, if Dylan Wykes hadn’t run his 2:10:47 at Rotterdam, it’s doubtful that Athletics Canada would have made the exception for him, despite his 2:12:57 from a cold, windy day in Toronto.

Athletics Canada should consider amending its selection criteria for the 2016 Rio Olympics to allow for “rising stars” in the marathon. But at this stage, it’s too late for 2012.

Although Marchant and Duchesne are certainly deserving of being on the Olympic team, there are a variety of reasons why their appeal will likely fall short.

Appeals have been successful in the past — Gillis won his bid for inclusion on the 2008 team — but it’s usually “where… we didn’t follow the selection criteria that we posted,” Guy said. Unfortunately, for Marchant and Duchene, unless they can prove Athletics Canada didn’t adhere to its selection criteria, they likely won’t get an exception.

And, Marchant is correct when she says it will be a blow not just to two of Canada’s best marathoners in the past four years, but also to young Canadian girls looking for marathon idols at the London Olympics.