Road To The Olympic Games

Canada's Brannen can't run with 'rabbit'

Nathan Brannen's quest for a place on Canada's 2008 Olympic team received another setback Tuesday when he was told his pacemaker Nick Willis will not be allowed to compete.

Nathan Brannen's quest for a place on Canada’s 2008 Olympic team received another setback Tuesday when he was told his training partner Nick Willis, who had planned to act as his pacemaker at the upcoming Canadian Olympic trials, will not be allowed to compete.

Willis, the 2006 Commonwealth 1,500m champion, is from New Zealand but attended the University of Michigan with Brannen. He had offered to drive to Windsor, Ont., with Brannen and pace him to the Olympic A+ 1,500m standard of 3:36.60 during the 1,500m heats which are scheduled for Friday July 4.

Athletics Canada told Brannen that the deadline for foreign athletes to enter the Canadian Championships was June 16.

The 26-year-old from Cambridge, Ont., said he had no idea the deadline had passed since Canadians may still enter up until next week.

Not in panic mode

"I am very disappointed, disappointed that they wouldn’t try to help out an athlete who should be making the team," Brannen said at a barbecue at Willis’s house. "I just felt they didn’t want to help me. It was like ‘No we are just following the deadlines. That’s it. Tough luck.'

"Right now I am not quite in the panic mode but getting close. I would still like to try to do it in the heats but I don’t know. One scenario is I try and do it all by myself and go for it."

If he were to set a fast pace in the final he would jeopardize his chance of finishing in the first four, another criterion for Olympic selection. The other competitors likely would follow on his heels and let him do all the work before launching their sprint finishes.

Two other Canadians have achieved the 1,500m A+ standard: Kevin Sullivan of Brantford, Ont., and Taylor Milne of Guelph, Ont. Milne surprised many with his victory at the Harry Jerome Track Classic in Burnaby, B.C., last Saturday.  He ran 3:36.00, a personal best by three seconds. Brannen was sixth in 3:38.70. His fastest time of the season is the  3:37.69 he recorded at the Adidas Track Classic in Carson, Calif., May 18.

Immediately after the Jerome meet, Brannen admitted his dogged pursuit of the qualifying standard has left him emotionally and physically drained and he welcomed the opportunity to go back to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and train for two weeks before the trials.

Ruptured disc

Brannen had surgery on Nov. 29 to repair a ruptured disc in his spine. The surgeon told him he may never race again. He didn’t train for months. But he returned to form and stunned many track fans with a season debut time of 3:38.41 in April. 

Martin Goulet, Athletics Canada’s Chief High Performance Officer, says the criteria for qualifying have been posted for a year and that Brannen has had ample opportunity to achieve the standards. The deadline, he says, has always been July 6. The Olympic team is to be announced on the morning of July 7.

An exception has been made for the Canadian sprint relay team which competes in Prague July 9 and again in Lucerne, Switzerland, on July 16 in an effort to reach a ranking of top 16 in the world.

According to IAAF rules, the national Olympic committees must submit entries to the Beijing organizing committee by July 23.  Other countries allow their athletes to chase the standard after the trials. In Britain, for instance, the first three finishers in each race are nominated to the team regardless of whether they have achieved the standard or not. They have until midnight July 18 to achieve the Olympic "A" standard.

Medical exemptions

One option Brannen is considering is filing an appeal for an extension of the qualifying period on the basis he missed valuable training time because of the back surgery. Pole Vaulter Dana Ellis and hurdler Perdita Felicien are also asking for medical exemptions. But they have A+ standards from a year ago and Brannen doesn’t.

"We are using our principles and the objectives that have been set," says Goulet of Athletics Canada. "Only in exceptional circumstances would we grant an exemption or extension and that kind of thing and only for athletes who are proven world level athletes. 

"In the case of Perdita Felicien there is no question about it. We are talking about different people and different situations. Perdita hasn’t raced at all. In the case of Nathan he has several chances to compete and perform. He did compete several times, and has one more shot at nationals, maybe two if he wants to look at heats and final."

That’s not how Brannen views it. He feels that despite the fact he is short of fitness because of the rehabilitation time from surgery he could make the standard before the final deadline.

"I feel mine is actually a better appeal, "Brannen declares, "At least I am showing something.  She isn’t showing anything.  As much as I like Perdita I just have a hard time with her case over mine. I feel I have worked hard mentally and physically to achieve the standard and she hasn’t raced once.

"I understand if I don’t hit the standard, I don’t hit the standard. But if I hit it, but it’s five days late, and she doesn't hit anything at all, then most people would say they would rather send an athlete who has hit the ‘A’ rather than somebody who ‘might’ run really well."

Goulet expects several appeals to be filed as injuries are commonplace at this time of the season.

"If an appeal is made on medical considerations we need to have a medical assessment, we need to have the prognosis, all these things," Goulet declares, "In the case of Perdita, as soon as the injury occurred in February she was immediately in contact with our national team medical people and there was an ongoing file. It didn’t come from nowhere.

"So several elements need to be in line to be viewed in a positive fashion to an appeal that is related to a medical exemption or to an extension. These are very exceptional circumstances."

Willis the rabbit

Goulet also frowns on Brannen’s intention of using Willis as a rabbit at the national championships.

"We want to ensure at nationals we can reproduce as much as possible the conditions we will deal with in the Games situation," Goulet says.

"To my knowledge there are not necessarily rabbits in the Olympic Games. Nathan is a great athlete. He’s in that situation but he’s not the only one. Others are missing one or two standards and they are going to have to fight to the end. These standards were published well ahead of time. They are there for everyone to see."

At a time when he would prefer to be gearing up for the Olympics, Brannen is up against the proverbial brick wall. An extension on the deadline would surely be a lifeline but that is in the hands of Athletics Canada.