Olympic A standard
If you follow the Olympic Trials in Eugene from June 22-July 1, 2012, you will hear a lot of talk about the Olympic A standard. Here is an explanation of what and how the Olympic A standard works.
The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) oversees the track & field competition at the Olympics. The goal of the IAAF is to have 2000 athletes in the 47 different events at the London Olympics. For every event there is an A standard and a B standard. The A standard is the better mark (faster/farther). For example, in the women’s 1500 meters, the A standard is 4:06.00 and the B standard is 4:08.90. For most events, with the marathon, 10,000 meters, race walking events, decathlon, and heptathlon being exceptions, the qualifying window for an athlete to achieve the Olympic standard is from May 1, 2011 to July 8, 2012.
Each country can send three athletes in each event provided they have achieved the Olympic A standard. If a country only has athletes with the B standard, they can only send one athlete. There is also a special rule that allows countries that do not have any athletes who have achieved the Olympic standard in any track and field event to send one athlete of each sex in one event to the Olympics.
In a nutshell, countries will send three athletes in events where they have at least three A standard athletes. If they have just two A standard athletes, they will send those two. If they have just one A standard athlete they will send just the one. If they have no A standard athletes but multiple B standard athletes, one B standard athlete will get to go.
In the United States, both achieving the Olympic standard and placing in the top three at the Olympic Trials are factors. In most every event, the USA has at least three A standard athletes; in most events, the athletes who place in the top three at the Olympic Trials will have also achieved the Olympic A standard. We’re not known as the best track & field team in the world for nothing!
But there are exceptions and you could hear about those exceptions during the course of the Olympic Trials. Important points to keep in mind:
- In the US, the focus is on the Olympic A standard, not the B standard. In 99% of the cases, any US athlete who is a legitimate contender for the US Olympic team will have at least the Olympic B standard.
- Athletes need to have achieved the Olympic standard only some time since May 1, 2011. They do not have to achieve the mark at the Olympic Trials.
- United States of America Track & Field (USATF), the US governing body, has stated that the Olympic standard needs to be achieved by the end of competition (for each event) at the Olympic Trials. Unlike some other years, athletes will not have the opportunity to “chase” the standard after the Trials. “Chasing” the mark refers to athletes who go to meets after the Olympic Trials but before the Olympics in an attempt to achieve the Olympic standard.
Here are some scenarios and explanations of who will go to the Olympics.
Scenario 1 – top 3 have all achieved the Olympic A standard.
1st – Amy (has A)
2nd – Lisa (has A)
3rd – Janet (has A)
Amy, Lisa, and Janet go to the Olympics.
Scenario 2 – A runner with only the B standard places in the top 3.
1st – Deborah (only has B)
2nd – Lisa (has A)
3rd – Janet (has A)
4th – Amy (has A)
Deborah is skipped. Lisa, Janet, and Amy go to the Olympics.
There is a huge advantage to arrive at the Olympic Trials with the Olympic A standard already achieved. Any athlete who has not yet achieved the Olympic A standard and wants to go to the London Olympics, has to not only place in the top three at the Olympic Trials but also make sure that their mark meets the Olympic A standard. Otherwise they will be like Deborah in scenario 2 above, skipped over by athletes with the A standard.