Aussie Trials controversy

By Mike Hurst

ATHLETICS Australia has moved to allay fears expressed by some coaches that the national federation’s decision to merge the showpiece Melbourne Track Classic with the Olympic team selection trials was putting promotion ahead of high performance.

The most commonly expressed concern is that elite overseas athletes invited by AA to spice up the Melbourne meet may in various ways change the competition for local Olympic hopefuls, either by turning certain track races into virtual time trials or, in the worst case, lead to some worthy locals even missing a berth in the final.

And at a level perhaps below the usual high performance concerns there is also the consideration that for many borderline finalists – for whom reaching an Olympic trial final would be the pinnacle of their career – the loaded field will in all likelihood see them eliminated in the qualifying round.

That depends upon the specific event of course. But in the men’s 400m for example there is so much depth at the level likely to earn selection on a six-man 4x400m relay squad that the presence of even one foreign sprinter could change the dynamics of the race, especially if he is given a free ride into the final at the new eight-lane home of Melbourne athletics, Lakeside stadium at Albert Park.

In the men’s 400m, for instance, NSW alone would be hopeful of fielding eight trials finalists more than likely including Steve Solomon (the defending titleholder), John Steffensen (2007 world championship finalist), Joel Milburn (2008 Olympic semi-finalist), Clinton Hill (2004 Olympic relay silver medallist on a comeback), Kevin Moore (2010 Commonwealth Games relay gold medallist), 46sec performers Matt Lynch and Paul Cummings as well as Wollongong’s James Grimm, an exciting 200m sprinter who is moving out to 400m this summer.

“We talked through all these details at quite some length,” AA competition manager David Gynther told The Daily Telegraph yesterday. ”Of the three-night trials program from 1-3 March, the Saturday night (March 3) would be the Track Classic grand prix as far as the rest of the world is concerned. That’s the arrangement we came to with the IAAF.”

The IAAF (the world governing body for the sport) provides seeding money to assist Australia to put on the grand prix meet so that athletes and coaches from the Oceania area may get to experience world class track and field in their own region.

Gynther confirmed that even with strict entry standards superimposed by AA to restrict fields for the Olympic trials there are some events which will need elimination heats. These include the men’s 100m and 400m, heats for which will be run on March 1.

“We’ve controlled the number of internationals entering the 400m. We’re targeting only one guy,” said Gynther, who finishes up at AA on January 23 and starts a new role as chief executive of Athletics Queensland in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Andrew Matthews, the former competition manager for Athletics NSW, will be AA’s new meet director for both the Olympic trials and the national championships also to be held in Melbourne, 13-15 April, 2012.

“I don’t think a lot of people will miss out,” Gynther reassured. “If you’re a borderline trials finalist the best thing you can do is perform well in the meet in your own city.

“Our trials will be very competitive. It’s a great place to be. The thing is we have to be fair. We have to allow as many athletes as possible to compete in the trials without hampering the very best.”

The fact that anyone selected through the trials process for the London Olympic Games is exempted from competing at the Australian championship is another grievance expressed by some stakeholders who feel their absence will undoubtedly diminish the prestige of the nationals, even though it would probably be in the Olympians’ best interest to get back into hard work rather than continue competing in the short term.

Gynther said that while last year AA invited five distance runners from overseas to the Melbourne Track Classic for the 1500m and 5000m, “this time it will be two or three”.

But one disgruntled coach, referring to the conflict of interests in stacking middle distance races at the selection trials, complained: “Selectors must look to see your competitiveness – not your ability to chase a pacemaker.”

2012 Australian Athletics Tour
28/01/12 Adelaide Track Classic
11/02/12 Go for 2 &5 Perth Track Classic
18/02/12 Sydney Track Classic
02/03/12 – 03/03/12 IAAF Melbourne Track Classic

2012 National Athletics Series
14/01/12 Brisbane Athletics Classic
21/01/12 Hunter Track Classic
04/02/12 Briggs Athletics Classic (Hobart)
25/02/12 Australian 20km race walking championships
14/03/12 – 18/03/12 Australian Junior Athletics Championships
13/04/12 – 15/04/12 Australian Athletics Championships

Heats for the mens 100m? I just reviewed the Qualifications if they stick to the 10.55s cut off they will be lucky to fill the 10 lanes in the straight with Australians. I think some of these coaches and athletes worried their athletes may miss out on a run at the trials might best consider focusing on the Nationals and then putting down another good off season to move themselves from the fringes of a top 8 to embedded well in it…