Chanman's Blog

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.

TEAM USA – The Distance Squad to Berlin

Posted in USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on August 4, 2009
Tags: ,

The dust has settled from the USA Championships in Eugene in June and on August 4, USATF announced the official USA team that will go to Berlin to compete at the World Championships.  In the distance events, it is not necessarily the top 3 placers from Eugene who will be going.  There’s this whole complicated qualification procedure that involves A & B standards.  Last year I explained the qualification system for the 2008 Olympics.  If you missed it….well, you missed it.  The qualifying system is different for the 2009 World Championships.  I will try my best to explain the criteria but keep in mind I am doing it with pen and paper (keyboard and computer screen?), not powerpoint and a laser pointer.

To be eligible for the World Championships athletes must have achieved either the A standard or the B standard in a legal competition sometime in the qualification period, which in this case was January 1, 2008 through August 3, 2009.  USATF, however, put July 31, 2009 as the final day to achieve a mark.

Defending World Champions from the 2007 World Champs in Osaka are granted automatic entry in their event and do not count against a country’s maximum of three entries per event (“reigning world champion exemption”).  A country can send up to three athletes in an event (not counting the above mentioned reigning world champion exemption) as long as all three athletes have the A standard.  A country can also send one athlete per event with a B standard (along with zero, one, or two with the A standard).  The USATF chose to use the USA Championships to determine their team, creating a rank order list based on finish at the USA Championships. 

In events in which the top three all had the A standard or two of the three had the A standard and the other one had the B standard, it was clear cut who was on the team.  But in other cases, it was unclear and athletes had until July 31 to “chase marks” at meets (mostly in Europe).  This is different from last year, when athletes did not have the opportunity to “chase marks.”  Due to the complexities of visas and travel to China, for the ’08 Olympics USATF required athletes to have achieved the standard by the end of the Olympic Trials.  Also last year, athletes needed the A standard to be on the Olympic team.

This is the USA team in the distance events (800, 1500, 3000 Steeplechase, 5000, and 10,000).

MEN’S 800 METERS –  A standard-1:45.40; B standard-1:46.60

  1. Nick Symmonds
  1. Khadevis Robinson
  1. Ryan Brown


Since the US can send one person with the B standard and there were no injuries or scratches, this is the team.

MEN’S 1500 METERS – A standard-3:36.20; B standard-3:39.20

1. Lopez Lomong B Subsequently achieved the A standard, running 3:32.94 in Monaco on July 24.
2. Leo Manzano A  
3. Dorian Ulrey none Subsequently achieved the A standard, running 3:35.23 in Rome on July 10.
Also: Bernard Lagat A Automatic qualifier because he was 2007 World Champion.


Since the US can send one person with the B standard, after the US Championships, Lomong knew he was going to be on the team and did not need to chase the A standard.  Manzano, with the A standard and 2nd place finish, was also guaranteed a spot.  Ulrey, with no A or B standard, needed to chase the standard.  Numerous other athletes who placed 4th place and lower also had outside chances of making the team, depending on what Ulrey and Lomong were able to do.

Ulrey, a senior at Arkansas, left Eugene with a 1500 PR of 3:39.93.  He knew he needed to get at least the B standard (and hope Lomong achieved the A standard) to make the team for Berlin as the USA’s one B standard entrant.  The story is that he got a call on Tuesday from his coach and later that day was on a plane to Rome.  He arrived on Wednesday and by Friday was on the starting line.  He proceeded to run not just a B standard, but an A standard!  A 4.7 second PR and he was now officially on the team.

That ended all hope for anyone else hoping to make the team, as Lagat along with Lomong, Manzano, and Ulrey were now officially the team.  To cement his place as the USA Champion, Lomong ran an impressive 3:32.94 in Monaco.  So now all four US athletes running the 1500 have the A standard.

MEN’S 3000 STEEPLECHASE – A standard-8:23.00; B standard-8:33.50

1. Joshua McAdams A
2. Daniel Huling A
3. Kyle Alcorn A


They all have the A standard and there were no injuries or scratches so this is the team.

MEN’S 5000 – A standard-13:20.00; B standard-13:29.00

1. Matt Tegenkamp B Subsequently achieved the A standard, running 13:07.97 in Heusden on July 18.
2. Chris Solinsky A  
3. Evan Jager B Did not chase the A standard in the 5000.  Ran PR’s in the 1500 (Heusden, July 18) and 3000 (Monaco, July 28).
Also: Bernard Lagat A Automatic qualifier because he was 2007 World Champion.


Again, Lagat as reigning world champion is an automatic entry.  At this point it is uncertain if Lagat will run the 1500, the 5000, or both.  Another interesting side note in this event is that Tegenkamp, Solinsky, and Jager are all teammates on the Oregon Track Club (OTC) and coached by Jerry Schumacher.

Since the US can send one person with the B standard, after the US Championships, Tegenkamp knew he was going to be on the team and did not need to chase the A standard.  Solinsky, with the A standard and 2nd place finish, was also guaranteed a spot.  Jager, with only a B standard, was in limbo.  There was hope for anyone who finished in 4th place or lower to get the A standard and possibly make the team.  This would only occur if Tegenkamp and Jager both continued to have only the B standard – in which case the team would be Tegenkamp (one US entrant with a B), Solinsky (A), and some other runner who achieved the A standard.  But the likelihood of this was very low.  The OTC would do everything they could to ensure that all three of their athletes got to race in Berlin.

Tegenkamp solidified the OTC’s stranglehold on this event by running 13:07.97 in Heusden on July 18.  By achieving the A standard, he “brought” his younger teammate Jager along to Berlin.  Lagat as the automatic qualifier, Tegenkamp and Solinsky with A’s, and Jager as the one USA entrant with a B will be the team (although there are rumors that Lagat will choose to run only the 1500 or only the 5000).  Coach Schumacher and the OTC were quite confident Tegenkamp would easily get the A standard and bring Jager along.  So confident that Jager did not even try to get the A standard in the 5000 himself, instead he raced and PR’ed in a 1500 (Heusden,  July 18 – 3:38.33) and a 3000 (Monaco, July 28 – 7:41.78) in preparation for the 5000 in Berlin.

MEN’S 10,000 – A standard-27:47.00; B standard-28:12.00

1. Galen Rupp A
2. Dathan Ritzenheim B
3. Tim Nelson A


Since the US can send one person with the B standard and there were no injuries or scratches, this is the team.

WOMEN’S 10,000 – A standard-31:45.00; B standard-32:20.00

1. Amy Begley A
2. Shalane Flanagan A
3. Katie McGregor B


Since the US can send one person with the B standard and there were no injuries or scratches, this is the team.

WOMEN’S 5000 – A standard-15:10.00; B standard-15:25.00

  1. Kara Goucher
A Scratched the 5000 to run the Marathon.
1. Jen Rhines A  
2. Angela Bizzarri None Chased standard but did not get it.
3. Mary Culley None Subsequently achieved the B standard, running 15:21.87 in Leige on July 15.


Since Goucher scratched to run the marathon, Rhines was the only person guaranteed to be on the team when we left Eugene.  Everyone was left to chase the standard.  Of the finalists in the 5000, only Sara Slattery (11th place) had even the B standard.  Three people who were not even in the race (Shalane Flanagan, Jennifer Barringer, and Lauren Fleshman) did have A standards but that was likely to be irrelevant.  If no one new achieved the B standard, would Slattery go?  Would/could Flanagan, Barringer, or Fleshman end up running the 5000 in Berlin because of these bizarre circumstances?

Because of her 3rd place finish at USA’s, Bizzarri had priority over all others.  If she could get the B standard, she would be good to go for the World Champs, as the US’s one B standard entrant.  If she failed at that, then Culley was next in line based on the rank order established by the finishing order at the USA Champs. 

July 15 in Leige was the fateful day that determined everything.  Bizzarri, only a junior at Illinois University, could not improve on her 15:33.02 PR at the USA Champs, finishing in 15:57.23, over 22 seconds off what she needed.   After the meet Bizzarri announced she was done chasing the standard and would go home and  get ready for her upcoming senior season of NCAA cross country.  Culley, who came into the race with a PR of 15:33.92, ran 15:21.87 to come in 2nd and get the B standard.  Interestingly, in the same race in Liege, Renee Metivier-Baille (9th at USA’s), won the race in 15:20.53.  If Culley had failed to get the B standard, Metivier-Baille may have found herself at the World Championships (you could argue that Metivier-Bailler was on the World Championship team for the 1.34 seconds between the time she finished and the time Culley came in).       

With Bizzarri out, Culley is now on the team as the one US entrant with the B standard along with Rhines (A standard).  Since there are no other eligible athletes with the A standard (to be eligible you must have competed in the event at the USA Championships, thus eliminating Flanagan, Barringer, and Fleshman), the US will only have two entrants in the Women’s 5000.  This is the only distance event that the USA will not have at least three entrants.  What a difference a year makes.  Last year at the Olympics, the US had three athletes in the 5000 Final: Goucher (9th), Flanagan (10th), and Rhines (14th).      

WOMEN’S 3000 STEEPLECHASE – A standard-9:40.00; B standard-9:48.00

1. Jennifer Barringer A  
2. Anna Willard A Scratched the 3000 Steeplechase to run the 1500 only.
3. Bridget Franek A  
4. Lindsey Anderson A Added to the team when Willard scratched.


When Willard decided to scratch from the 3000 Steeplechase, 4th place Anderson moved on to the team, joining Barringer and Franek.


WOMEN’S 1500 – A standard-4:06.00; B standard-4:09.00

1. Shannon Rowbury A
2. Christin Wurth-Thomas A
3. Anna Willard A


They all have the A standard and there were no injuries or scratches so this is the team.  There was some debate whether or not Willard would scratch from the 1500 to focus solely on the 3000 Steeplechase.  But since the Steeplechase was before the 1500, this possibility seemed remote.  Still, until Willard stated in an interview after winning the 800 in Paris that she would run only the 1500, Erin Donohue in 4th place was holding out hope she would make the team.

WOMEN’S 800 – A standard-2:00.0; B standard-2:01.30

1. Hazel Clark A  
2. Geena Gall B Ran a few races but did not get the A standard (best was 2:00.44).
3. Phoebe Wright B Ran a few low key races but did not get the A standard (best was 2:00.40).
4. Maggie Vessey B After several attempts, achieved the A standard, running 1:57.84 in Monaco on July 28.


And I save the most dramatic story line for last.

Clark was set as the US champion and with an A standard. 

Gall, with a B standard and 2nd place, was also guaranteed a spot.  If she were to get the A standard it would “bring” Wright and her B standard along.  Gall ran three races in 12 days in Europe (July 13 in Lignano-PR-2:00.44, July 15 in Leige-2:01.07, and July 18 in Heusden-2:01.61) but did not get the A standard.  Since she did not need to get it to qualify for Berlin, she came home and resumed training.

Wright had a tough road.  She did go to Europe for one race on July 11 in Belgium but was well off the mark at 2:04.49.  She then ran two low-key all-comers meets in the US (July 18 in Georgia and July 25 in Virginia) trying to get the A standard.  She came up short, running a best of 2:00.40 and then called it a season, leaving her fate in the hands of other runners.  Since she is still a college student at Tennessee with eligibility remaining, she probably just didn’t have the means (contacts nor finances) to spend a lot of time in Europe and to get into the right races to have a real chance at breaking 2:00.  Her only hope was that Gall would get the A standard.

And that brings us to Ms. Maggie Vessey.  She has such an interesting story.  A Northern California girl from Santa Cruz, she began 2009 with a PR of 2:02.01 from her 5th place finish at the Olympic Trials in 2008. She won the Prefontaine Classic (as an unsponsored athlete) by sitting back in last place for much of the race and then kicking by six world class runners in the last 150 meters to win in 2:00.18.  Thanks to this performance she got a sponsorship deal with New Balance.   At the USA Championships, she employed the same strategy through the rounds in the 800, sitting back in last place and then kicking hard over the last 200 meters.   And the same strategy again in the 800 Final…only this time it didn’t work out because she sat too far back and could only move up to 4th place.

So off to Europe went Vessey.  Her good looks, interesting story, and unique race tactics gave her a huge internet following on and 

First up, July 10 in Rome, where she employed the same sit back and then kick strategy.  The good: she won her second major international competition (Prefontaine being the first).  The bad: her time of 2:00.13 did not get her the A standard. 

July 17 in Paris (just hours after Shannon Rowbury twittered that she was hanging out with Vessey in their hotel room getting ready for their 800), Vessey tweaks a hamstring during warm-ups and does not start the race. 

July 22 in Belgium.  Oh so close…2:00.04.

July 24 in London she had a similar strategy for the first 400-600 meters but this time no kick, finishing in 2:03.06.  I began to wonder if she had burned herself out running all these races chasing the standard.

July 28 in Monaco – last chance.  Vessey shocked the world and herself (again!).  Employing a new strategy, she was mid-pack after 200 meters.  After 400 meters she started moving up.  And at 600 meters she was fighting for 3rd place.  With 100 meters to go it was just her and the Russian national champion Mariya Savinova  (1:57.90 PR).  And in the final meters, Vessey pulled away for, not just the win (her 3rd major international win of the season), not just a PR, not just the coveted A standard, but also a then world leading mark of 1:57.84!  Remember, this is an athlete who started 2009 with a PR of 2:02.01.

So that’s the team – Clark (A), Gall (the one US entrant with a B), and Vessey (who thanks to her A standard makes the team, keeping the US from sending just two athletes in the 800).