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HomeWorldAthing Mu’s fall exposed the self-defeating cruelty of the US Olympic trials

Athing Mu’s fall exposed the self-defeating cruelty of the US Olympic trials

The track and field events at this summer’s Olympics don’t start until August, but Team USA is already losing medals in June.

Athing Mu, who won gold in the women’s 800 meters in Tokyo and followed up with a world championship title the following year at the age of 20, will not go to Paris. That includes Brooke Andersen, the 2022 women’s hammer throw world champion, and Laulauga Tausaga-Collins, the 2023 women’s discus world champion.

What happened? Simple. The USATF Olympic Trials took place.

Tausaga-Collins made a mistake during the discus qualifying round in a spectacular way, with throws missing the legal target area by such a wide margin that the organizers were lucky no one was on the track. Andersen, whose best throws this year rank first, fourth, seventh, 10th and 12th in the world, who were fouled in a more mundane manner in the final.

But the lingering image of these trials may be of a tearful Mu, who finished last after falling in the first round of the finals in Eugene, at the showcase venue for the sport in the United States. She had battled back from injury and a self-imposed break to rediscover her love of running, and she looked great as she won her semi-final.

American athletics rejected Mu’s appealin which veteran coach Bobby Kersee claimed she was cut by another runner.

There is no doubt about Mu’s ability. Her 10 fastest times are all well under 1:58, including a national record of 1:54.97 last fall at the Prefontaine Classic. In place of Mu, the United States will send Juliette Whittaker, who had not exceeded the 1:59 mark until Monday’s final, when she finished third in 1:58.45. Whittaker is a rising star who won the NCAA championship for Stanford earlier this month, but reaching an Olympic podium in a few weeks will require a tactical race and perhaps some luck.

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Whittaker certainly met the Olympic qualifying standard and did so in the final of the trial. In the hammer throw, three athletes who meet the standard look up to Erin Reese, who finished third in the trials but does not yet have a place in Paris.

All this means that the US track and field community must ask itself the question: Is the current format – in which athletes’ places on the Olympic team are determined solely by performance at the trials – really the best way to choose a team ?

It’s a question that has come up before, especially in 1992, when Reebok’s ubiquitous “Dan and Dave” ad campaign built around world decathlon champion Dan O’Brien and 1990 Goodwill Games champion Dave Johnson came to a screeching halt when O’Brien missed his three attempts in the pole vault at the US Olympic Trials. One bad day at an event with literal pitfalls washed away millions of dollars in marketing, along with a golden opportunity to firmly cement the sport in the consciousness of a country with a limited attention span.

The processes are largely unique to the United States. And in some ways rightly so. One reason is that the country is ashamed of its wealth. In many countries, qualification is quite easy. Anyone who gets acquainted with World Athletics’ high standards for qualification is in.

Think about Ireland. For a country with just over five million inhabitants, Ireland does quite well in athletics. The women’s and mixed 4x400m relay teams are legitimate medal contenders. But even in the 400 metres, where Ireland is clearly strong, only three athletes are currently ranked high enough to secure an Olympic place. Holding trials for the individual 400 meters would therefore be pointless. The US, on the other hand, has 12 sprinters in the men’s 100 meters who have met the automatic standard, and then another four who would currently qualify based on the world rankings if they lived in almost any other country on Earth. It makes sense to reduce that number through trials.

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Another factor behind the trials is the US’s obsession with ‘playoffs’ and ‘clutch performances’. US pro and college sports awards tournament winners, not regular season winners. In Olympic sports, the media and viewing public focus almost exclusively on the Olympic Games themselves, with the world championships coming in a distant second place and the Diamond League or World Cup competitions barely registering. The trials – as an extension of the Olympic Games – are seen by many in the U.S. Olympic community as the best possible test for future Olympians. Others disagree. Kersee called Mu’s exclusion “another indication that no matter how good we are, we can leave better athletes at home than other countries. It’s part of our American way of doing things.”

And so the trials are undoubtedly dramatic. Viewers are treated to cathartic moments like Sha’Carri Richardson, who lost her spot on the Tokyo Olympic team after testing positive for the drug in cannabis. on the way to victory in the 100 meters to claim a berth for Paris.

But they are also subjected to close-ups of Mu crying as she finished and walked under the stands, a journey of just a few yards that must have seemed like miles. And as we see in the women’s hammer throw and other events where some top American athletes have fallen short of standards, that drama remains unresolved as everyone packs up and leaves Eugene.

What is the solution? The world championship model refers to a way to ensure that athletes like Mu are not left out. World Athletics reserves places for defending champions and for winners of the Diamond League season, and a country that has a defending champion can bring a fourth person to the championships.

Even without a fourth-place finish, would the trials be lessened if a defending Olympic champion or world champion who meets the Olympic standard automatically gets a spot on the team?

And even if it were, is a little volatile drama in Eugene worth sacrificing an opportunity for something even more exciting in Paris?

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