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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 30, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

    I’m sorry but no place for B-standards in London

    Ian O'Riordan

    If the athletic performances so far this year are anything to go by, only the highest standards can apply at the London Olympics.
    ‘REMEMBER, BOB,” he said. “No fear. No envy. No meanness.” So Liam Clancy told Bob Dylan, first time they met in New York, around 1962. Dylan says he never forgot it, although there have been moments in the 50 years since when he showed a little fear, some envy, and wasn’t particularly kind – and not just that time I met him on Leeson Street.

    Con Houlihan also gave me good advice the first time I met him. “Remember, Ian,” he said. “Never apologise. Never explain. And never admit you’re wrong.” But sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet and admit you’re wrong, apologise, and at least try to explain yourself.

    I was standing outside the Savoy Hotel in London last Monday, looking down the side alley where Dylan recorded that classic video for Subterranean Homesick Blues. This was after passing through Covent Garden and Mayfair, around Hyde Park, past the Royal Albert Hall. This was the London of D.A. Pennebaker, of Dylan’s Don’t Look Back, and it seemed as hip now as it was in 1965.

    If there had been some lingering doubts about London’s mood or warm embrace as an Olympic host city then maybe a few days of walking around the old historic sites and stylish backstreets was what I needed, not just a tour of the Olympic venues – although that’s not what I’m here to apologise for.

    It was somewhere around mile 16 in last Sunday’s London Marathon, both legs already completely shot, that I realised these Olympics are going to be something very special, not just because of the unbelievable crowds shouting from both sides of the road. It was around here we briefly passed the elite runners, mostly Kenyans, going in the opposite direction, naturally, and already about three miles ahead. From there until the end they would either sustain or indeed quicken the pace, while the rest of us fell further and further behind, praying out mercy.

    By the time I eventually reached The Mall, Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany were back in their tracksuits, finishing off several rounds of interviews, looking as if they would quite willingly run a lap of honour. Kipsang’s time of 2:04:44 was just four seconds off the course record, despite leading the charge mostly solo from just beyond halfway, and Keitany’s 2:18:37 shattered the Kenyan record by more than a minute, making her the third fastest woman in marathon history.

    Yet at that stage neither of them could be certain of their selection for the Olympics; only on Wednesday did the Kenyan athletics federation confirm them both, along with Abel Kirui and Moses Mosop in the men’s marathon, plus Edna Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo, who actually finished second and third to Keitany in London on Sunday.

    Kenya may boast over 300 runners with the marathon A-standard for London, but they can only send three men and three women, just like the rest of us. This embarrassment of talent meant they could afford to leave behind Patrick Makau, the man who ran the world record 2:03:38 in Berlin last September, but who dropped out of London, and Geoffery Mutai, who ran the unofficial world best of 2:03:02 in Boston last April, but also dropped out while attempting to defend that title.

    Two sub-2:20 women, Florence Kiplagat and Lucy Kabuu, were also left behind.

    This gives a clear indication of just how incredibly competitive the Olympic marathon will be this summer, and it won’t be any easier inside the Olympic stadium, especially when the Jamaicans, Americans, Ethiopians and co also have their say.

    Some countries actually realised that in advance, and raised their qualifying standards for London even higher that the A-standard – particularly in the marathon. As a result, British athletics has been split this week over their decision to drop the official men’s A-standard from 2:15:00 to 2:12:00, and likewise the women’s A-standard from 2:37:00 to 2:31:00 (while also applying the IAAF guideline of a top-20 finish at the World Championships last summer).

    Sunday’s race acted as their final marathon trial, and originally they only selected Scott Overall and David Webb in the men’s team, plus Paula Radcliffe, Mara Yamauchi and Claire Hallissey in the women’s team – leaving out Lee Merrien, despite his 2:13:41 last Sunday, a personal best by 46 seconds, well inside the official A-standard of 2:15:00, and when there was still a vacant spot to fill.

    “You don’t get people to jump higher by lowering the bar,” says Charles van Commenee, head coach of UK Athletics, whenever he’s asked about his strict and often ruthless policy on selection. He’s not alone: Canada set their Olympic marathon standards at 2:11:29 for men and 2:29:55 for women, although two women, Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchene, are appealing that rule, having recently run well inside the official 2:37:00 As it turns out, Merrien was added to the British team yesterday, thus giving them their full quota of marathon men and women.

    The controversy about that decision rages on. Either way, a statement from UK Athletics hardly admitted they were wrong, didn’t exactly apologise, nor really explained anything – except to suggest something to do with “exceptional circumstances”.

    You’d think Britain would be keen to get as many athletes as possible to the start line in their host city. That remains our intention. But with the spring marathon season now winding down it seems unlikely anyone will join Mark Kenneally as our sole men’s marathon representative, although the three places in the women’s marathon must still be somehow split between Linda Byrne, Ava Hutchinson, Catriona Jennings, and Maria McCambridge. It’s a pity the Olympic Council of Ireland didn’t agree to more definite qualifying criteria, such as nominating the Dublin Marathon as a sort of Olympic trial, as was originally suggested.

    In the meantime the focus switches to the track, and that fast-closing window of opportunity for Irish athletes to nail the A-standard. David Gillick, Joanne Cuddihy, Ciara Mageean, Jason Smyth, Brian Gregan and Thomas Barr are all in with a shout, although close enough won’t be good enough, – and that’s what I’m here to apologise for.

    So, I’m sorry, but if the athletic performances so far this year are anything to go by, then I was wrong to suggest that B-standards should still be considered for London, even in exceptional circumstances. With some countries obviously prepared to leave world record holders behind, that shouldn’t require any further explanation.

    I’m sorry but no place for B-standards in London
    If the athletic performances so far this year are anything to go by, only the highest standards can apply at the London Olympics.
    ‘REMEMBER, BOB,” he said. “No fear. No envy. No meanness.” So Liam Clancy told Bob Dylan, first time they met in New York, around 1962. Dylan says he never forgot it, although there have been moments in the 50 years since when he showed a little fear, some envy, and wasn’t particularly kind – and not just that time I met him on Leeson Street.

    Con Houlihan also gave me good advice the first time I met him. “Remember, Ian,” he said. “Never apologise. Never explain. And never admit you’re wrong.” But sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet and admit you’re wrong, apologise, and at least try to explain yourself.

    I was standing outside the Savoy Hotel in London last Monday, looking down the side alley where Dylan recorded that classic video for Subterranean Homesick Blues. This was after passing through Covent Garden and Mayfair, around Hyde Park, past the Royal Albert Hall. This was the London of D.A. Pennebaker, of Dylan’s Don’t Look Back, and it seemed as hip now as it was in 1965.

    If there had been some lingering doubts about London’s mood or warm embrace as an Olympic host city then maybe a few days of walking around the old historic sites and stylish backstreets was what I needed, not just a tour of the Olympic venues – although that’s not what I’m here to apologise for.

    It was somewhere around mile 16 in last Sunday’s London Marathon, both legs already completely shot, that I realised these Olympics are going to be something very special, not just because of the unbelievable crowds shouting from both sides of the road. It was around here we briefly passed the elite runners, mostly Kenyans, going in the opposite direction, naturally, and already about three miles ahead. From there until the end they would either sustain or indeed quicken the pace, while the rest of us fell further and further behind, praying out mercy.

    By the time I eventually reached The Mall, Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany were back in their tracksuits, finishing off several rounds of interviews, looking as if they would quite willingly run a lap of honour. Kipsang’s time of 2:04:44 was just four seconds off the course record, despite leading the charge mostly solo from just beyond halfway, and Keitany’s 2:18:37 shattered the Kenyan record by more than a minute, making her the third fastest woman in marathon history.

    Yet at that stage neither of them could be certain of their selection for the Olympics; only on Wednesday did the Kenyan athletics federation confirm them both, along with Abel Kirui and Moses Mosop in the men’s marathon, plus Edna Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo, who actually finished second and third to Keitany in London on Sunday.

    Kenya may boast over 300 runners with the marathon A-standard for London, but they can only send three men and three women, just like the rest of us. This embarrassment of talent meant they could afford to leave behind Patrick Makau, the man who ran the world record 2:03:38 in Berlin last September, but who dropped out of London, and Geoffery Mutai, who ran the unofficial world best of 2:03:02 in Boston last April, but also dropped out while attempting to defend that title.

    Two sub-2:20 women, Florence Kiplagat and Lucy Kabuu, were also left behind.

    This gives a clear indication of just how incredibly competitive the Olympic marathon will be this summer, and it won’t be any easier inside the Olympic stadium, especially when the Jamaicans, Americans, Ethiopians and co also have their say.

    Some countries actually realised that in advance, and raised their qualifying standards for London even higher that the A-standard – particularly in the marathon. As a result, British athletics has been split this week over their decision to drop the official men’s A-standard from 2:15:00 to 2:12:00, and likewise the women’s A-standard from 2:37:00 to 2:31:00 (while also applying the IAAF guideline of a top-20 finish at the World Championships last summer).

    Sunday’s race acted as their final marathon trial, and originally they only selected Scott Overall and David Webb in the men’s team, plus Paula Radcliffe, Mara Yamauchi and Claire Hallissey in the women’s team – leaving out Lee Merrien, despite his 2:13:41 last Sunday, a personal best by 46 seconds, well inside the official A-standard of 2:15:00, and when there was still a vacant spot to fill.

    “You don’t get people to jump higher by lowering the bar,” says Charles van Commenee, head coach of UK Athletics, whenever he’s asked about his strict and often ruthless policy on selection. He’s not alone: Canada set their Olympic marathon standards at 2:11:29 for men and 2:29:55 for women, although two women, Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchene, are appealing that rule, having recently run well inside the official 2:37:00 As it turns out, Merrien was added to the British team yesterday, thus giving them their full quota of marathon men and women.

    The controversy about that decision rages on. Either way, a statement from UK Athletics hardly admitted they were wrong, didn’t exactly apologise, nor really explained anything – except to suggest something to do with “exceptional circumstances”.

    You’d think Britain would be keen to get as many athletes as possible to the start line in their host city. That remains our intention. But with the spring marathon season now winding down it seems unlikely anyone will join Mark Kenneally as our sole men’s marathon representative, although the three places in the women’s marathon must still be somehow split between Linda Byrne, Ava Hutchinson, Catriona Jennings, and Maria McCambridge. It’s a pity the Olympic Council of Ireland didn’t agree to more definite qualifying criteria, such as nominating the Dublin Marathon as a sort of Olympic trial, as was originally suggested.

    In the meantime the focus switches to the track, and that fast-closing window of opportunity for Irish athletes to nail the A-standard. David Gillick, Joanne Cuddihy, Ciara Mageean, Jason Smyth, Brian Gregan and Thomas Barr are all in with a shout, although close enough won’t be good enough, – and that’s what I’m here to apologise for.

    So, I’m sorry, but if the athletic performances so far this year are anything to go by, then I was wrong to suggest that B-standards should still be considered for London, even in exceptional circumstances. With some countries obviously prepared to leave world record holders behind, that shouldn’t require any further explanation.

    • JOD says:

      Con Houlihan’s advice seems to be the Rule of Law in this ruined kip. Probably about the only law our Elites observe to the letter.


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