Athletics Australia will this week make its nominations to the Australian Olympic Committee on who should represent that nation in the marathon at the Olympic Games in London.Controversially, AA have set a higher selection standard than that imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations and the International Olympic Committee, lowering the men’s mark by three minutes from 2:15:00 to 2:12:00 and the women’s mark by five minutes from 2:37:00 to 2:32:00. It’s the only event on the athletics program where they have deviated from the international standard, something that we have previously commented on.
One man (Michael Shelley) and three women (Benita Willis, Lisa Weightman and Jessica Trengrove) have met the tougher AA-standard, while Martin Dent and Jeff Hunt are in the no man’s land under the IAAF mark but slower than AA’s.
Here’s the two best reasons we believe that both Dent and Hunt should be selected alongside Shelley, Willis, Weightman and Trengrove to fill Australia’s quota of 6 athletes in the marathon in London.
1They have the ability to be competitiveAthletics Australia’s selection philosophy for the Olympics is based on athletes being capable of finishing in the top 16 in their event. The fastest time ever required for a 16th place finish in an Olympic marathon was in Beijing, with 2:14:00. Dent has run 2:12:23 and Hunt 2:13:14 during the qualifying period.
2The importance of distance running in AustraliaRunning is one of Australia’s most popular sporting activities, with over one million Australians participating annually according to the 2009 Census, and over 40% of those running more than twice a week on average. The ever growing popularity of mass participation running events reflects this participation.
With such a broad participation base in distance running generally, it is little surprise that the marathon is the only athletics event where Australia has enough athletes qualified to fill its full quota of places across both men’s and women’s events.
Despite the high participation levels, Athletics Australia has historically been poor at engaging runners who participate outside of its formal structures, and last year launched a new initiative, iRun, in order to remedy this. However, both will struggle to maintain what level of credibility they have in the broader running community if, on one hand, they try to break the perception of elitism that formal athletics bodies hold by saying that they value participation, while on the other hand they don’t select all of the nation’s world class runners to participate in the sport’s most iconic event.
On the other hand, selecting a full contingent of runners to contest the final event of the Olympic Games, which will shown on a Sunday night in prime time in Australia, provides the opportunity to both inspire and promote the sport.