Blog cafe Trials and error

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Aug 27 2008, 05:49am hrs
The United States will conduct a post-mortem into a disappointing Olympic athletics performance that has seen US sprinters eclipsed by their Jamaican rivals, the chief executive officer of USA Track & Field said. Numerous stories of this sort have appeared on the Web and in print recently. Usain Bolts jaw-dropping excellence notwithstanding, many of Americas top track stars performed below expectations.

While I have heard many musings about selection or training of relay teams, housing and training of athletes, and even too much pampering of runners, I have not heard any discussion of maybe the most influential force on US track performance at the Olympicsthe US Trials system. As a fan, I love the trials, in some ways more than the Olympics themselves. They are near sacrosanct both because of the popularity and because of the equity of the qualification based on performance system. Yet, any comprehensive discussion of ways to improve US that does not genuinely include the Trials falls short.

There are tradeoffs to the Trials, Athletes with slight injuries or an off day lose out. So, for instance, the American trio in the 200m in Beijing excluded both Tyson Gay and Xavier Carter, who held the second and third fastest times in history coming into the Olympics with times earned in the last two seasons. American mile record holder, Alan Webb, did not qualify in the 1500m, while the two runners other than Lagat did not qualify for the 1500 final. The cases of Gay and Lagat highlight an insidious problem with the Trials injury. A multi-heat, high-intensity Trials setup along the lines of the Olympic meet schedule places tremendous physical stresses on athletes only 6 weeks to 2 months before the Olympics.