December 12 2017
Shalane Flanagan announced on December 11 that she intends to race Boston in 2018.
Every four years, the best of the best come together in their respective sports to compete for a spot on the Olympic team. They get to race for the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage in sport, and the opportunity only comes every four years. Many athletes train their entire lives for that single moment of hopefully punching a ticket to the Summer Games—and in the case of 2016, a ticket to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
For runners, the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials start on July 1 and go through July 10. They are run at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., home of some epic performances that hosts some of the best runner pride there can be in a single location. Think of it this way: Have you ever seen a track meet with barren stands? This event, and this stadium, will have packed seats, screaming fans and a whole lot of energy. While making the team is a big deal and obviously the main objective from an athlete’s standpoint, the Olympic Trials are also more than just that contest; it’s a competition between the top American track athletes and a chance for track and running nerds to see their idols all in one place.
But what exactly are the Olympic Track Trials, and how do they work?
In most countries, a committee selects their athletes. However, the selection for Team USA is based on performance and competition. In the past, the Olympic Trials has also served as the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, part of the reason it is still considered one of the best track meets in the country.
Most track events have three rounds: preliminaries, semifinals and final. The number of rounds is determined by the total number of athletes entering. For some events, this can go up to 30 athletes. Any event that has a high number of entries, including the men’s and women’s 100 meters, will have an additional “preliminary” round for entrants who haven’t met both the “A” or “B” standards.
Wait—what does “A” and “B” standard mean?
Athletes who have hit the “B” qualifying standard are able to compete at the trials, but they pay for own expenses to make it happen. Athletes who have hit the “A” qualifying standard are eligible for financial assistance to compete. However, it goes a few steps further. Making the team isn’t simply placing in the top-3 at the Olympic Trials in your respective event; all athletes must also hit the “A” standard to make the team. For example, if you see a pro athlete clicking her heels on Instagram because she hit the “A” standard at a meet prior to the trials, this means she can focus only on placing in the top-3, rather than worrying about hitting that time again. Those who successfully advance through the preliminary round will be able to compete in the main three rounds with the standard ‘A’ and ‘B’ athletes. It gets more complicated if anyone in the top-3 hasn’t hit that “A” standard, but we won’t get into that here.
Okay, got it, do go on…
The only events that have no qualifying heats are the men’s and women’s 10,000 meters. This is due to a variety of factors, one being it’s nearly impossible to run a hard 10,000 meters only to turn around and run in a final a few days later.
The top three men and women in each event will earn their spot to Rio—as long as they have met the qualifying 2016 standards (as explained above). The only exception is the relay, which up to six athletes are able to join Team USA in case a backup is needed.
But why should you even care about all of this?
This is the race to qualify for the Olympics—so there’s that, which is a big deal by itself. We all love watching the Olympics every four years, but if you watch athletes trying to qualify, you’re seeing many people reach a place that they’ve never reached before and pushing themselves in ways they’ve never done before. Said Allyson Felix at the pre-trials press conference, “Trials is hard. It’s this huge thing you have to get through. A lot of times you do feel like it’s this bigger thing than even the Olympic Games. A lot of other people from other countries, they don’t have that pressure that you have to go through here. It’s the hardest team to make and everything has to click on that specific day.”
So basically, you’re seeing runners literally chase after their dreams, whether it’s to make a fourth time, first time or just run a massive PR at the Trials. And how about those athletes that are a full-time worker first and runners second? Hell yeah. Add in the magic of Hayward Field (yes, it’s rumored that actual magic happens here), and you’ve got yourself a pretty entertaining few days of competition.
With 26 running events, three walking events, 16 field events, the decathlon and heptathlon that are waiting to see which athletes will represent their distances at the Games, there’s no doubt records will fall, whether personal, American or even world.
You can watch nearly 17 hours of the Olympic Track and Field Trials on NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports Live Extra app or USATF.TV. Check out the list of events at the USATF website and the air schedule for NBC on their website and below**:
** All times are in Eastern