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.