MAY 17, 2011

I meet people regularly who have no idea that there are ever any competitions for track and field outside of the Olympic Games.  People that I sit next to on planes who decide to strike up conversation are in for a confusing journey through a sport they didn’t know existed three out of every four years.  It’s so difficult sometimes to get people to understand professional track and field that I’m tempted to lie and say that yes, I am in fact a basketball player, because YES, I’m SO TALL.  Once, someone innocently and naively asking questions about what I do said, “So, your sport doesn’t matter in non-Olympic years?”  That felt good.

I’d like to explain Track and Field to you.  There is Indoor Track and Field and Outdoor Track and Field, but since I’m a javelin thrower (and do not compete Indoor), I’ll focus on Outdoor.  This post will focus on World Championships and the Olympic Games, although we compete in many more competitions than just those two important events.

First of all, the Summer Olympics (which Track and Field is contested in) are every four years (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and so on).  You might have known that, but you’d be surprised how few people do.  In Track and Field, we have a World Championship meet every other year (2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, etc.), and every single year, USA Track and Field (USATF) hosts our National Championshipmeet at the end of June.  That means that, annually, we have a chance to prove that we’re the best in our event in the United States, regardless of whether or not the Olympics or World Championships are being contested that summer. 

If it’s a World Championship (this summer in Daegu, Korea) or Olympic year, our USA National Championship meet (the one at the end of June) serves as our qualifier to make that World Championship or Olympic team.  Generally speaking, if you place in the top 3 at USA National Championships, you get to compete at World Championships or the Olympics that same summer.  In an Olympic year (2012, for example), the qualifier is called Olympic Trials, and there is a qualifying round in each field event, but it is for all intents and purposes the same meet as every other year.

There is another requirement we must meet in our quest to make Team USA.  Each event has a World A Standard and a World B Standard.  The A Standard is a little better (farther, faster, higher) than the B Standard, and holds more weight when it comes to qualifying for a team.  See a list of A and B Standards for the 2011 World Championships here (distances in meters).  These standards are simply measurements that athletes must record to be eligible to compete at the World Championships and Olympic Games.  They ensure excellence of competition. 

Weird things happen sometimes in team selection, so it’s always the safest bet to throw the A Standard and win USAs.  Guaranteed team spot.

Once you get to World Championships or the Olympics, there is a qualifying round first, and then a final.  There can be lots and lots of people in the qualifying round, but only 12 go on to the final in field events.  In the throws, only 8 of those 12 get six attempts (3 in preliminaries and 3 in finals), as the four with the lowest performances after three rounds are removed from the competition.

Graphic2

There are many, many more events in professional track and field outside of National and World Championships and the Olympics, but I’ll explain those in a subsequent blog.  In the meantime, check out www.iaaf.org to see if you can discover our world a little bit on your own. J The video included in this blog is a PSA filmed by the Big Ten Network after I made the Olympic Team in 2008!