As I’m checking through results this morning, I see that USATF President Stephenie HIghtower is debating whether or not to “waive” the rule that defending World Champions must compete at our National Championships in order to defend at Worlds.
The issue in her mind being that “rules are rules”, and wondering if they would be “setting a precedent” by allowing him to run without competing at Nationals.
I’m going to give you my two cents and then you can state your opinion either by voting on the poll to the right and/or leaving a comment.
Based on the history of the “Wild Card” for Worlds precedent has already been set. The Wild Card was initiated in 1997, precisely because Michael Johnson was injured and UNABLE to compete at Nationals – and therefore unable to earn a spot on the team and defend his title in Athens. So the Wild Card was created to allow defending World Champions to go directly to the World Championships without having to go through their National Championships.
So the precedent was set with the very first athlete to use the Wild Card as Michael Johnson did NOT compete at the 1997 National Championships!
Technically neither did Maurice Greene when he defended his World title at the next World Championships in Seville in the 100 meters. Greene began competition in both the 100 and 200 at Nationals but withdrew from the 100 final in order to focus on earning a spot to Seville in the 200 meters. He did so with the knowledge that he already had spot in Seville in the 100 no matter what happened in the 100 final – because he was already in as the defending champ holding the Wild Card. So Greene focused on the 200 team – and made it.
It was after this that USATF looked at what athletes needed to do to constitute being on the team. And Greene’s 1999 performances were the basic guideline – as one merely has to show and compete – regardless of the event – and is not required to run in the final.
Which then leaves the question of why does it then matter at all if the individual shows up to run a single round of any event? Now the real reason is that USATF wanted to insure that our top athletes made an appearance at the National Championships – that there was not a mass exodus of top talent because “x” number of athletes didn't have to compete because they held Wild Cards. That’s a marketing reason not a “make the team” reason IMHO.
The only legitimate answer I can come up with is “to show fitness”. If that is the case then one doesn’t even have to compete at Nationals at all in order to show fitness. Though again, going back to the institution of the Wild Card ruling, it was put into place because an athlete was NOT fit at the time of the National Championships.
Having said all of this, my conclusion is that precedent was set with the very institution of the Wild Card rule and that the rule that is currently in effect has absolutely NOTHING to do with setting one’s “qualification” for Worlds.. Therefore my conclusion is that USATF should simply disband the rule altogether as it really serves no useful purpose! And Merritt, or any other athlete should be the Wild Card pass that they earned when they finished first in the previous World Championships.
I would love to hear your thoughts.