The IAFF's newly relaxed marathon standards create a bizarre situation.
Back in April, as Outside reported, the IAAF released the entry standards for the 2016 Olympic Games. These standards, determined through an extensive review of hundreds of race results, represent the minimum mark an athlete needs to achieve in order to be eligible to compete in Rio. Unlike in previous years, the IAAF didn’t prescribe separate “A” and “B” standards for qualification, with the predictable consequence that the new single standards were slightly more relaxed than the “A” standard had been for London 2012.
Apparently, they were not relaxed enough.
Following a review of the entry standards in the wake of last summer’s World Championships in Beijing, the IAAF has now made some of them slightly more attainable.
On December 10, the organization issued a press release from its headquarters in Monaco announcing the changes. As to the reason why they were made, the announcement states that, “The aim is to have more athletes achieving the standard and therefore, to get closer to the target number of participants.”
From our perspective, the most interesting updates to the qualification standards came in the marathon. The previous standards were 2:42 for women and 2:17 for men. These have been changed to 2:45 and 2:19, respectively.
Which meant that, briefly, we had the bizarre situation where it was “easier” to qualify for the marathon at the Olympic Games than it was to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials. The “B” standard for the latter, set by USATF, was 2:43 for women and 2:18 for men.
Literally as I was writing this article, however, USATF announced that it had changed its standards to match those of the IAAF. This is likely to result in a larger field at the February 13 marathon trials in L.A.
That’s a good thing. Increasing the field size provides more exposure for the sport, as more talented amateurs from around the country will be celebrated in their local communities. One of the benefits of the marathon is that the length of the race and relative lack of spatial restrictions (i.e. it’s not run on an 8-lane track) allow a fair, safe trials to accommodate more athletes than other events.
At the 2012 trials, there were only 85 finishers in the men’s race, and 152 finishers in the women’s race. For now, USATF can easily afford to be more inclusive. If the American running scene becomes so competitive in the coming years that the Olympic standards become too easy then, well, it’ll be a nice problem to have.