A marathon to Rio

It is exactly the right decision at the right time, although the reasoning behind it is a bit questionable. The DOSB (Germany’s NOC) has decided, upon a request by the German Athletics Federation, to adjust the qualification standards for 17 athletics events in favour of the athletes. This brings all of them in line with the international standards, set by the IAAF, except for the marathon and road races. But these standards were changed as well, resulting in, as I can imagine, at least four extremely happy faces.

They belong to the Marathon-Twins Anna and Lisa Hahner, as well as to Philipp Pflieger and Julian Flügel, all of which are now within the standard, required for qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics. They will all have to confirm their performances at a half-marathon in March or April, but this was already part of the original requirements. Especially for Lisa Hahner, this will be a major relief, having failed the previous qualifying time by a mere nine seconds, in Frankfurt, last year. Nine (9!) seconds, after 42.195 kilometres…

It is a step in the right direction. For far too long, the DOSB’s qualification standards, particularly in the so called ‘core-sports’, athletics and swimming, were sometimes simply ridiculous. In some cases, athletes would have had to break the national record, just to qualify for the following Olympics. The problem here is not only that some of those records were held by former-GDR-athletes, but that the DOSB, perhaps ‘encouraged’ by demands from the political arena, had totally unrealistic expectations. German athletes have excelled in both athletics and swimming from time to time, but we are not a super power in either of these sports. And still German athletes sometimes had to run faster, jump higher, throw further than their American, Jamaican, Russian or Chinese opponents, just to qualify for the Games.

The actual reasoning behind this decision, as presented by the DOSB, is slightly different. They put the blame on the current situation in world athletics. With all the doping allegations and corruption scandals, we need to protect our clean athletes and ensure that they don’t have any unfair disadvantages. OK, that’s understandable. But there are two problems with that:

  1. Are all of our athletes really clean? German athletics has had its own experiences with doping cases, involving at least two Olympic champions. And that does not even include the GDR-past. Of course, we have to assume that they are clean, unless proven otherwise. And we definitely want to assume that… But isn’t it just a bit ambitious to mention this as part of the primary reason for the standard adjustment?
  2. What are the unfair disadvantages which they now no longer have to face? To change our standards doesn’t change the standards of other countries. Not a single athlete from another country will be disallowed to participate in the Games, and rightly so(!), because Germany decides to send more athletes. Athletes with a doubtful doping record will still participate in the Games, and ‘our clean athletes’ will have to compete against them. Isn’t that still an unfair disadvantage?

Anyway, I’m extremely happy about this decision and do sincerely hope that it will set an example for future qualification rounds. And, no doubt, Anna Hahner, Lisa Hahner, Philipp Pflieger and Julian Flügel won’t give a damn about the reasoning behind it…

Congratulations to all of you and the best of luck on your way to Rio 2016!

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