Why Discretionary Selection is a LOSE - LOSE
Today, the U.S. Olympic Triathlon team was announced. Given the current qualifying criteria, everyone knew this selection process was not going to be easy. The U.S. had 1 male and 1 female slot up for selection at the discretion of the selection committee. On the men's side athletes in the mix were: Matt McElroy, Kevin McDowell, Ben Kanute, and Eli Hemming. On the women's side the three main contenders were Taylor Spivey, Katie Zafares, and Kirsten Kasper.
The committee decided to select Katie Zafares and Kevin McDowell. Both are incredible athletes and it should be noted that is blog is not meant to attack them in any way but more to question the "Process" of selection. Massive congrats to both Katie and Kevin. I am going to speculate that the final selection came down to Matt vs Kevin (one could definitely argue Kanute for the MTR spot) and Taylor vs Katie (even though Kirsten has numerous incredible performances). I will address the women's selection first. Below is an excel sheet of Taylor and Katie's most recent head to head races in the past 2 years along with some races where one of them raced and the other did not. Obviously with what Covid caused and numerous cancelled races, some of these results are in August 2019:
When racing head to head, Taylor took 4 of their 5 most recent races by what I found on World Triathlon's website. Katie did win ITU Worlds in 2019 which is a massive accomplishment. In their MTR that they raced together they virtually tied, with Katie being 0:02 seconds faster however Taylor ran 0:06 faster so I called that a draw. The last three head to head WTS races have all resulted in Taylor beating Katie. World Triathlon Ranking and Olympic Ranking both have Katie ranked in 1st and Taylor in 2nd and 4th. Given Taylor's recent strong performances and Katie's recent struggles USAT's social media accounts were bombarded with numerous angry comments saying Taylor got "robbed" of a spot. Obviously both athletes are absolutely incredible and people need to remember that while it is ok to question the process of selection, one should never get mad or insult the athlete who received a spot even if you don't think they deserved it. On the Men's Side we can Compare Matt and Kevin:
This spreadsheet came from the instagram page @onyerleft.triathlon. We see here that Matt took 6 of the last 9 head to head battles with Kevin and also had a WTS podium back in June 2019. However, Kevin has cracked the top 20 twice at the WTS level with a 18th (Hamburg 2020) and recent 11th (Yokohama). These two did have a recent showdown in 21' Arzachena where they went into the run together but Matt ran a 15:11 to Kevin's 16:03. Matt has been less consistent over the two year span, injuries played a role, but when healthy he has 3 wins at the world cup level and is clearly the stronger runner. However, nobody can question the work ethic and heart of Kevin. Where it gets messy:
We know that Toyko, given the course, is likely to be a running race in the olympic distance race. USA's has also put a strong emphasis on their relay team's chances at a medal in the olympics. USA has incredible athletes, but the selection process is messy. When we compare to USA Swimming, a sport that does have an Olympic Trials, we see a very different outcome. One of the most underrated parts of Michael Phelps career was the fact he made so many olympic teams at Olympic Trials. You could argue it was more difficult to even get to the olympics in so many events that other athletes concentrate on. USA Swimming never handed him a spot. Therefore, when he qualified there was no talk of "I'm faster than him now". The athletes who just missed the team could go home knowing they gave it their all and came up a bit short when it mattered. With discretion, there is always the "what if". The German Triathlon committee recently pulled off something brilliant. Like the U.S. they had 1 male spot and 1 female spot left for grabs. They developed a unique criteria and hosted a in-country olympic trials. I believe around 8-9 men and 8-9 women were invited to the race that hit their specific criteria. The format they decided upon was as super-sprint time trial. Athletes went off one by one individually and raced against the clock. They decided they valued an all-around athlete that they (I assume) wanted on leg 2 and 3 of their relay leg. The informed the athletes that the top female and top male would both earned a spot to the German Olympic Team and on the Mixed Team Relay in the Olympics. Just imagine: the top 5-10 women and top 5-10 men all with a shot to make the team no matter how bad or good their last race was. Imagine an Olympic trials, and how that could help the future development of the sport. We could have a few younger athletes with strong potential given a chance to race the proven performers. The clock doesn't lie. The winner would be in, and those who lost would be bummed, and the "what if" would forever be gone. In such a difficult sport, I believe discretion is not the answer. No matter who gets selected, the fans are angry, some athletes are angry, and while I wish Team USA the best, it would have been cool to see them all race for the final spot one last time. My heart breaks for Matt and Taylor. -JT Rodgers (Wave1 Performance)