Canadian marathoners upset with Athletics Canada's Rio qualification policy
Lack of 'competitive readiness' could keep some qualified athletes off Team Canada
Four Canadian marathoners achieved the 2016 Olympic qualifying standards last year, but whether they will all make it to the Rio starting line remains unclear.
The qualifying period opened on Jan. 1, 2015 and ends on May 29, 2016. Both Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchene beat the Athletics Canada women's standard of 2:29:50, while Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis, both 2012 Olympians, went well below the time required for men (2:12:50).
Since all four qualified in 2015, they are bound by an Athletics Canada contractual agreement to demonstrate "competitive readiness," a proof of fitness, as the Games approach. Therein lies the problem.
The specifics of what "competitive readiness" entails is confidential, negotiated between the athlete and Athletics Canada's head coach, Peter Eriksson.
While Marchant and Gillis each ran well in European half-marathon races recently and have reportedly satisfied this requirement, Duchene and Coolsaet missed their respective targets. At a time when the pair would normally begin a specific marathon buildup, they now must still find a suitable race in which to meet the fitness requirement before July 10, the deadline Athletics Canada has set.
Otherwise, they fear they could be left at home when the team departs for Brazil in August.
"Oh yeah, that's a big fear," says Coolsaet, whose 2:10:28 from the 2015 Berlin Marathon is the second fastest time ever recorded by a Canadian. "That's a very plausible situation where I don't end up chasing this fitness standard in June, which would mean I don't get to go.
"It doesn't make sense. I either have to compromise my Rio result or I jump through a hoop in June to get there."
Rio performance in jeopardy
For top marathoners, the window to achieve strong competition results is generally small since a great deal of their preparation involves high-mileage training when they won't be rested well enough to race fast. That often means targeting one marathon a year, and not racing at peak potential until that event.
Marchant, who is the Canadian marathon record holder at 2:28:00, like Coolsaet, represented Canada at the world half-marathon championships in March. The race was marred by cold, wind and rain with the majority of the runners posting results almost two minutes slower than their personal bests.
Still Marchant ran close to her personal best with a time of 1:11:26. Coolsaet struggled to a finish of 1:04:56, falling short of his target.
While he agrees that Athletics Canada should expect a fitness test he believes there is no correlation between an April result and a peak performance in the Olympic marathon, scheduled for Aug. 21.
Meanwhile, Krista Duchene, 39, has already failed three times to satisfy her requirement. Her coach, Rick Mannen, is hastily looking for another race with the Scotiabank half-marathon in Montreal on April 24, being an option.
"Unfortunately, in two of the three attempts she ran into extremely poor weather conditions," Mannen explained. "On the second attempt she came down with a nasty flu bug. She shouldn't have run the race but she went ahead and did it."
Earlier this month Duchene competed in Hamilton's Around the Bay 30 km road race with a target of 1:46:30, but the temperature plummeted. In the sub-freezing temperature and strong wind, she finished second in 1:47:48, 10 seconds behind Kenya's Risper Gesabwa.
Mannen says he is "struggling" to understand if there was any advantage of getting the standard so early.
Eriksson has little sympathy and said he has met with the more than 50 Canadian athletes who have achieved standard in their respective events.
"We sat down with all of them, the athlete and their coach, and said 'what are you going to do to show proof of fitness and when?" Eriksson said. "They told me, 'this is what we are going to do and this is when.' Boom, off we go. Now you have got to do it.
"The weather can be horrendous anywhere in the world when you go to compete. It was their choice. I don't dictate. Nobody dictates anything for anybody. They make their choices now they have to live with their choices."