David Woods, a journalist for the Indy Star, has posted an op-ed about the Darwinian selection process for Team USA. Because Sanya Richards, whom Woods considers to be the "world's best athlete" finished 4th in the women's 400m dash at the U.S. nationals and didn't make the team in that (her best) event, he opines that, "as this sport becomes increasingly competitive internationally, Team USA is ill-served with an all-or-nothing selection process." Does Woods have a point?
For one thing, Richards certainly didn't look like the world's best athlete on Saturday when she faded to a 50.68 finish, over one second behind Dee Dee Trotter's impressive – and world-leading – time of 49.64 seconds. Yes, she has been fighting an illness all spring and no, she's not in top shape right now. What about Trotter, Natasha Hastings (49.84) and Mary Wineberg (50.24) who all finished ahead of Richards Saturday? Should one of their performances be disregarded because of Richards' stellar past and uncertain rest of the season? That certainly wouldn't make sense. Of course, completely disregarding Richards' previous string of 18 consecutive outdoor victories in the 400m doesn't make sense, either.
So what is the best way to overcome this dilemma? Unfortunately for Richards, there seems to be no answer, at least for this season. She will have to just focus on the 200m dash, for which she did qualify for worlds in Osaka. Next season, though, the USATF should take note. By holding the trials from June 27th to July 6th, the athletes are going to have to hold their peaks for at least 40 days. That's tough to do. The athletics events in Beijing begin on August 15th, 40 days after the last trials event is held. Even if you account for travel time and time to allow the athletes to overcome jet-lag, 40 days is way too long for the athletes to maintain their peaks.
This year, the athletes will have had to maintain their peaks for at least 61 days when they compete in Osaka. That's practically impossible. All future trials should be held within 3-4 weeks of the world-championship or Olympic event. That way, a one-shot selection process would make much more sense because no excuses could be made for an athlete not being in shape.