Why Pan-American Games Was So Important

The Pan-American Games triathlon was a really important race for the US men, as well as the Canadians. That race may have been both our Countries’ last best chance to earn a third quota spot for the London Olympics. The Olympic quota process is a little confusing for most of us, so I’ll try to break it down.

Eight countries get to bring three people to the Olympics, and those 3rd person quotas are given to the first eight countries to have three athletes eligible for the Olympics. All other countries can have a maximum of two quota spots. If you take a look at the Olympic Simulation it makes more sense.

The first five quota spots go to the countries that win their continental championships. So the countries of the athletes that win in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceana, and America all get one quota spot. The next three quota spots go to the 2011 World Championships podium.

After that there are 39 more spots given out by the Olympic Points Ranking, and then a handful of spots are given to emerging countries that wouldn’t otherwise have a representative at the Olympics.

Further, no athlete can earn more than one quota spot for their country, meaning that because Alistair Brownlee won both the European and the World Championships, his World Champs quota spot rolled down to 4th place, which was Javier Gomez. And since Gomez already earned a quota spot at Worlds, it doesn’t matter that he is first on the Olympic Points Rankings, he can’t earn a second spot for Spain.

Now remember that only eight countries can have three quota spots, and those quota spots are dealt out in the order described above. That means the third place person from each country is really only racing against other third place athletes. In order to earn that third quota spot a country must have a third ranked person in the top eight of third ranked people.

Right now, the third ranked American is Hunter Kemper, but he is the ninth or tenth third ranked guy in the world, meaning the US does not currently have a third Olympic quota for London. The eighth place third ranked person is Bevan Docherty from New Zealand, with a little over 2000 Olympic Points to Hunters 14 hundred and change. Manuel Huerta is another 100 points behind that, but beyond that are Kevin Collington and myself with just over 500 points. Meanwhile, Matt Chrabot and Jarrod Shoemaker are sitting in first and second for the USA with plenty of points.

The beauty of the system is that an athlete can earn a quota spot for their country without any previous Olympic Points Ranking at all by winning one of the automatic quotas at continental or world champs. So if a US athlete other than Matt or Jarrod had won the Pan-American Games then they would have earned the first quota spot for the US and Matt and Jarrod are ranked high enough that they would easily secure the second and third quota spots.

Now, the original plan was for Chrabot and Mark Fretta to domestique for Kemper at Pan-Ams, but then Kemper crashed in South Carolina a couple weeks ago and broke his elbow. Manny was the alternate and he did an excellent job. With Fretta and Chrabot’s help he stayed comfortable in the breakaway of 15 men, then ran with Renaldo Colucci from Brazil and McMahon from Canada. Since Canada is in a similar situation to the United States, they were equally motivated for a win, while Brazil is lower in the ranking and Colucci is their top ranked male (meaning his motivation was purely to win the Pan-American Games, with no ulterior motivative). Huerta and Colucci ran together the entire 10k, but in the final sprint the Brazilian took the tape. (I was at home watching the twitter feed and cheering loud enough that even though Manny couldn’t hear me, my neighbors definitely could.) Manny stepped up and did a great job. It was the best we could have done as a country, even if it wasn’t Gold.

Unfortunately what that means is that the US men are in a bad spot if we want to take three men to the Olympics next year. Kevin and myself are realistically too far back with too few races left to get back into the mix. Hunter is still injured, and there’s no telling how soon he will be back to winning world cups. Manny is 700 points behind Docherty, but that’s quite a bit considering that both of them well be racing and earning more points. Manny would basically need to place top 5 in two World Cups that Docherty doesn’t go to, and stay even with him in all the races he does.

And why should Manny go to every race from now until the end of the Olympic Points Qualifying Period? Even if he earns the third quota spot for the US it wouldn’t actually put him on the team. He still needs to be one of the top two Americans in San Diego for that to happen. In 2008 Matt Reed was in the same position, he raced every World Cup he needed to and just barely squeezed high enough in the rankings to earn a spot for the US. He qualified for the US team, but he was toast once he got to the Olympics, and the whole process burned him out on ITU racing. As much as the US wants the third quota spot, I don’t think the US wants to repeat what they put Reed through.

So realistically, what this means is that we’re all vying to be one of the top-2 Americans in San Deigo. If we’re top 2 and in the top 9 we get a spot, if we’re top two outside the top 9 then USAT has some discretion, but how that will play in is pretty uncertain.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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  1. So New Zealand technically does not have three spots yet because the Oceania Champs that determine that spot have not been held yet. Currently, the best way to view our “automatic” hope for 3 spots is to move ahaed of the 3rd ranked Russian and Spanish athletes, as their Conti-Champs have been held already (Ali Brownlee won those). Points-wise the 3rd ranked athletes for those 2 countries are very close to the points of Docherty so it is still 700-odd points to get that spot.

    Oceania Championship in 2012 will play a huge part whether the USA gets a 3rd spot. We need the 2 top-ranked Aussies or Kiwis to win that race: Kahlefeldt, Sexton, Sissons, or Docherty. Then we would be in a good position if Manny still races well through the end of qualifying.

    The problem is that that Oceania 2012 will have up to 10 Aussies and 10 Kiwis racing (it would be similar to PATCO 2012), and there are a lot of “2nd-tier” athletes (i mean that with respect) that could win (Royle, Baile, Good, Robbins, Huggett, Dodds, Ellice, Elvery) especially if the big boys dont want to race. If one of those guys wins….we have to beat the Ruskies or the Spanish.

  2. That’s a good catch Barrett.

    To clarify, on the current Olympic Simulation Kris Gemmell is the Oceania champ, but that’s based on the previous year and not the deciding Oceania Championships (December 3rd). He is actually only about 300 pts ahead of Manny, so if Australia were to win OCs (any Australian because they already have three spots according to points), then Docherty becomes the 2nd ranked New Zealander, and Kyle Jones (the third ranked Canadian) would be in position for the 8th and final 3rd quota. Kyle is about 350 points ahead of Manny.

    All that said, we have no control over who wins OCs, and even before then there are two World Cups that could change things.

  3. I there is duplication between the Continental Champions and the WC Podium, do the extra spot(s) roll down to the next WC finishers or do they do the roll-down off of the Olympic Points List? And is that WC podium the final WCS points standing or the WCS Grand Final results? And if the rolldown is based on points, is it Olympic Points or WCS Points or ITU Points?

    I <3 our sport!

  4. This is yet another example of USAT dropping the ball. We need to be paying our ITU athletes enough so that they are not racing other non-drafting Olympic races (sorry Ben), and focusing on ITU races. How many WCS or World Cup races whre there this year where we didn’t field our maximum allowable team? Too many. We need guys 100% focused on ITU, and to do that the federation needs to start paying people to do it. Where that money is going to come from, I don’t know? But it needs to be done or this scenario is going to replay itself every four years.

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