Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Irish Marathon Selection Dilemma

Ireland have now announced their selections for the Olympic marathon and as usual with Olympic selections there is some controversy.

Kevin Seaward, Sergiu Ciobanu, Mick Clohisey and Paul Pollock all competed in the Berlin marathon in September to clock their qualifying times and finished in that order with times between 2:14:52 and 2:15:38. 

Clohisey subsequently clocked a marginally faster time than Ciobanu at the Seville marathon in February.

Simple selection then? Seaward, Clohisey, Ciobanu.

Not so fast.

The selection criteria (which can be found in full here) seems to be a bit vague and contradictory.

As a general principle then it is possible for the selection panel to have sole discretion as to which athlete they are allowed to select.

However, general principles are subject to specific principles which are outlined for the marathon.
There are two specific factors which influence this decision both of which could be viewed to impact the selection process. However, these are also not the only factors that the selectors can use (i.e. they can do what they want). 

The first of these criteria is that they can look at the speed factors of a marathon within a minute.

 Now this might be relevant as you could look at Berlin's speed factor and that of Seville. ARRS compiles these ratings here. As we can see - Berlin is on average 81 seconds faster than an average marathon. Whilst a time isn't given for Seville, given that Clohisey was faster on what we can safely assume is a slower course, then on a pure time basis Clohisey should be selected ahead of Ciobanu despite having been beaten by him in Berlin.

The trouble with this analysis is that it does imply that the selectors are effectively looking at "best" time and have limited discretion. This factor is only needed if it is accepted that the primary route for selection will be the fastest marathon time and can only be superceded by specific circumstances. Otherwise - why stipulate that it should only be looked at within a minute. Where Ciobanu appeals then this would likely be the grounds to do so.

The second of these criteria is that they can consider when the initial qualifying performance occurred with more preference for earlier performances on the basis that the athlete has time to improve before the games.This is irrelevant (as all athletes first qualified at Berlin) aside from the insight it gives into the purpose of the selection policy. 

It indicates that the focus of the selection policy is to select the best possible team for the Games rather than the fairest team or on a strict time basis.

So we have a clear time on a time basis of Seaward, Clohisey and Ciobanu. 

The team named today by Irish Athletics is Seaward, Clohisey and Pollock (link here). 

Irish Athletics don't embellish in their press release but you must imagine that Pollock has been selected on the basis of his impressive World Half performance of 62:46 - 14th in the race and well ahead of Seaward (65:23 / 41st) and Ciobanu (66:30 / 50th).

Now the selection based on a really good half marathon performance isn't stated anywhere in their guidance although arguably that could be one of the "other factors" referred to in the document. 

Understandably this has caused some controversy with Ciobanu's coach expressing mild disappointment at the decision. 

(from Irish Independent - link through above)

Pollock seemed to be aware that "form" would be used to determine the places as can be seen from his blog post (here). 

Now personally I can't see any reference to "form" being used as a selection criteria in the official documentation (please let me know if I'm wrong) which means that either:-

a) Pollock has been informed of something diferent.
b) Pollock assumed that "form" would be used (not totally unreasonable but he seems pretty clear that its included in the criteria - maybe I've missed it). 
c) The policy has been changed. 

Clearly as can be seen in the article above - Ciobanu's coach feels that there has been miscommunication about the policies that are being implemented and how consistently the policies have been implemented in this selection decision. The comment on "form" by Pollock without a corresponding line in the policy suggests there may be some merit to this 

Ciobanu's options are now to:-

a) Accept his place as an alternate and start stretching trip wires on all the local trails near Seaward, Clohisey and Pollock's houses (and the selectors as well - just because). 

b) Appeal within 24 hours on the basis that the selection policy has been incorrectly applied. This would be difficult due to the "sole discretion" criteria allowed as part of the general conditions. 

I would be very surprised if the appeal is successful to the Irish appeals panel. If they did decide that an error had been made in procedure then Ciobanu would not be automatically selected but the matter would go back to the selection panel. 

Where the appeal is not successful then Ciobanu would (I imagine) be limited to appealing to the Court of Arbitration for sport which would be able to consider much wider factors than the appeal to the Irish appeals panel.

The key point in any appeal on the procedural grounds would be to what extent Irish athletics selection panel are allowed to disregard the times run and their stated criteria and make a decision purely on "gut" instinct. The inclusion of factors such as the above create a dichotomy.

By specifically naming factors which imply that time is the most important factor and needs to be overridden by another factor then athletes would seem to have a right to expect this to be adhered to. The inclusion of these factors, whilst also stipulating that the panel can ignore them as they see fit or the "sole discretion" of the panel acting as "experts" rendering any other factors irrelevant. 

I am split on the issue as to who should be selected. I have great sympathy for Ciobanu having beaten both Clohisey and Pollock in an unofficial "trial" race at Berlin with all the principal contenders and then being denied selection on the basis of a marginally faster time by Clohisey at a different (later) race and by a performance from Pollock over a different distance. 

That said, Pollock would look to have a better chance at the Games on the basis of his 62 minute half marathon which given the conditions I would estimate suggests roughly 2:11/2:12 fitness (backed up by Hawkins who he narrowly beat clocking that time in London).

My selection would be Seaward, Pollock and Ciobanu. I think Pollock's 62 minute half would be sufficient to suggest to me that he should be able to perform at a significantly better level than his Berlin performance. By contrast, Clohisey's performance at Seville of 2:15:11 does not suggest he will perform noticeably better than Ciobanu who clocked 2:15:14 to beat Clohisey in Berlin. 

The obvious solution to me is to have a Trials race in March or April where the first 3 who have the qualifying time within the qualifying window are selected. This is simple, gives athletes a clear target, provides the domestic scene with a focus for that year (as everyone will want to qualify for the trials) and should be held as a domestic only race with sufficient prize money that the athletes are compensated for not being able to do another Spring marathon. 

Bryn Running

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