“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
These were the words of the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron de Coubertin, but the Games in Tokyo next year seem to have taken a pronounced shift away from that with a toughening of the standards and a change of system for qualifying in all the athletics events.
The IAAF have replaced the old qualifying standards with a new dual qualification process. Standards still apply but these are now a lot more demanding. Athletes can also gain selection on the strength of their world ranking. The latter is anything but simple with points for both performance and bonuses for winning national championships.
The IAAF wants to achieve 50% of target numbers for Tokyo from athletes achieving the standard for their event with the remaining half from the new world rankings system. If applied today only two athletes, Thomas Barr and Ciara Mageean, would represent Ireland in track and field in the Japanese capital.
Mageean ran 4:04.13 which is inside the IAAF’s standard of 4:04.20 while European bronze medallist Barr’s 48.31 in the 400m hurdles is well inside the required 48.90 seconds. However, Leon Reid (200m), Phil Healy (400m) and walker Alex Wright are only marginally outside their respective qualification marks and who would dismiss Mark English running 1:45.20 after his splendid bronze medal performance in the European Indoors recently.
Those most affected are the female steeplechasers and the marathon runners. Ireland had a full complement of three in these events at the Rio Games but it is unlikely that even one will be present in Tokyo. The women’s steeplechase now requires running 9:30 or better which only one Irish athlete, Roisin McGettigan, has ever bettered with her national record (9:28.29). The respective marathon times (2:11:30/2:29:30) would place in the top four all-time Irish performances for both men and women.
The IAAF announcement came as nothing short of a kick in the teeth, or any other part of the anatomy you care to choose, for Belfast marathon man Stephen Scullion. The Clonliffe Harrier felt he was a shoo-in for Tokyo after running 2:14.34 in Houston back in January but now has to start afresh on his journey toward the Rising Sun. He has been trying to make sense of the new qualification system.
“The 1080 points, I scored at Houston for 2:14:34, won’t be good enough unless it’s combined with perhaps 1130-40 points, and that might bring my average to around 1110, a score I predict will be good enough for the Olympics,” he blogged.
“….As you can see, Houston Marathon as far as I can see it, will not be good enough to contribute to being an Olympian, even though in 2016, the fastest Irish marathon runner to make RIO was 2:14:55. Sigh!”
Surely when the French nobleman came up with vision for the modern Olympic Games, he did not intend that they should be exclusively for just the “Citius, Altius, Fortius”. Was it not an untrained Greek shepherd, Spyridon Louis, who won the first marathon in Athens 123 years ago? The sport lives on but the romance seems to be dying almost by the day.