Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field

A Canadian track and field athlete's route to Tokyo Olympics, explained

The 2020 Olympic standards, which drew criticism from many upon release by the International Association of Athletics Federations in March, have proven to be a challenge early in the outdoor season.

New, dual qualification system proving to be formidable challenge

Brittany Crew of Mississauga, Ont., recently met the 2020 Olympic qualifying standard of 18.50 metres in women's shot put with a throw of 18.61 but it was achieved five days before the start of the qualifying period on May 1. Athletes can also gain entry based on a world ranking system in which they accumulate points based on result and placing at a competition. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images/File)

The 2020 Olympic standards, which drew criticism from many upon release by the International Association of Athletics Federations in March, have proven to be a challenge early in the outdoor season.

To qualify for next year's Summer Games in Tokyo, athletes can either achieve the toughened standard or gain entry based on their world ranking within a qualifying period that has been extended in most events by two months.

The IAAF wants to achieve half of target numbers for Tokyo from the new standards and 50 per cent from the global ranking system in which athletes accumulate points based on result and placing at a competition.

"But you can only get points from specific types of competition," says CBC Sports' Anson Henry. "The big international competitions like the world championships, Pan American Games, all the Diamond Leagues, those are the obvious ones. But you can also get points from the national championships.

"Placing scores vary, depending on the competition. The bigger the competition, the bigger the points."

WATCH | CBC Sports' Anson Henry discusses Olympic selection criteria:

Members of the Canadian athletics team express their concern in not knowing how to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games. CBC Sports' Anson Henry breaks down the process. 3:25
For example, the winner of a 1,500-metre outdoor race at the NCAA championships would earn 60 points. In comparison, the 1,500 champion at a Diamond League meet collects 200 points, igniting debate that athletes with the top agents/sponsors are rewarded for gaining entry into higher-profile meets.

In events up to the 1,500, a runner's ranking would be determined by their top-five results from July 1, 2019, to the end of next June. For the 5,000, it would be three results and two results in the 10,000.

Men's marathon standard slashed by 7 minutes

Vancouver's Natasha Wodak has held the Canadian 10,000 record of 31:41.59 since May 2, 2015. Problem is, the new Olympic standard for women is 31:25.

The 37-year-old, who currently ranks 17th in the world in the event, ran 31:43.26 earlier this month at the Payton Jordan Invitational in California and fortunately has nearly 14 months to lower her time, but getting an opportunity to improve upon her 22nd-place finish at the 2016 Olympics in Rio won't be easy.

Canadian distance runner Natasha Wodak has nearly 14 months to meet the challenge of the 31-minute 25-second qualifying standard in the women's 10,000 metres for next year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Her personal best is 31:41.59 . (Submitted by Christopher Kelsall/Athletics Illustrated)
Rachel Cliff and Cam Levins are the only Canadian marathoners to meet the Olympic standard of 2:29:30 and 2:11:30, respectively — the men's time almost eight minutes lower than the 2:19:00 Rio mark.

Lanni Marchant held the women's national mark for more than five years until Cliff stopped the clock in 2:26:56 in March at the Nagoya Women's Marathon in Japan.

Canadians setting PBs

Brittany Crew of Mississauga, Ont., who has consistently rewritten the Canadian women's shot put record, topped her previous mark of 18.60m by throwing 18.61 at the Virginia Grand Prix in late April. The throw ranks fourth in the world this season and met the 18.50 Olympic standard but was achieved five days before the start of the qualifying period on May 1.

Other Canadians have set personal-best times of late, only to remain on the outside of Olympic qualifying:

  • Calgary's Trevor Hofbauer, the 2017 Canadian marathon champion, ran 2:16:48 at the Hamburg Marathon in Germany two weeks ago.
  • In early April, Canada's Melanie Myrand (2:33:17), Emily Setlack (2:35:44) and John Mason (2:15:15) set PBs at the Rotterdam Marathon in the Netherlands. Myrand has taken off since last fall, Setlack's performance was an 11-minute PB and Mason's time was the fastest by a Canadian this year.

Marathon runners can also qualify for Tokyo with a top-10 finish at this year's track and field world championships Sept. 28-Oct. 6 in Doha, Qatar, at a World Marathon Major (Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City or Tokyo), or a top-five placing at a IAAF Gold Label Marathon such as Dubai, Rotterdam or Paris, to name a few.

About the Author

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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