US Olympics trials: After Athing Mu's debacle should America learn from Kenya?

Reigning Olympic 800m champion Athing Mu.

US Olympics trials: After Athing Mu's debacle should America learn from Kenya?

Joel Omotto 18:36 - 29.06.2024

Athing Mu’s unfortunate fall at the US Olympics trials has brought into focus the cruel nature of America’s selection criteria, showing why it could be good to go the Kenyan way.

The US Olympic trials continued to much fanfare and amid the jubilation and tears of joy, there was also disappointment and tears of sorrow.

This is because a number of athletes are set to miss out either because they failed to make it into the top three in the final or had misfortunes befall them when it mattered most.

Among them is Olympic 800m champion Athing Mu who fell just a few minutes to the finish line in the final and while she got up and finished the race, she was placed last and missed out on a ticket to defend her title.

Mu was in tears following her ordeal and efforts to save her fell on deaf ears as her appeal was dismissed.

Also missing out is Brooke Andersen, the 2022 hammer throw champion, and Laulauga Tausaga-Collins, the reigning women’s discuss world champion.

Tausaga-Collins had throws that missed the legal targeted area by a wide margin while Andersen fouled in the final round and despite her top ranking, she will not be in Paris.

All these are victims of the cruel nature of the US Olympics trials where only the top three get a ticket to the Games.

This is informed by the fact that America has an embarrassment of riches in track and field and it is hard when up to 12 athletes in one race have attained the Olympics qualifying standards while there could be up to four more eligible via the World Athletics rankings.

However, as witnessed with Mu, the system is also proving costly for Team USA somewhat as it leaves out the best runners and take those lucky to profit from a misfortune to the Olympics who might struggle to win medals or even reach the finals.

Effectively, America is losing medals in June when the Olympics will take place between July and August.

The selection criteria has been criticised by some while others accept it, albeit, reluctantly.

“Another indication that regardless of how good we are, we can leave some better athletes home than other countries have. It’s part of our American way,” said Mu’s coach Bobby Kersee, who is among those who reluctantly support the selection method.

US sprint legend Michael Johnson, however, fully supports the approach.

“I think we all feel terrible for Athing. Our US Trials selection policy works best because it eliminates politics in selection. And the strength and depth of the US team allows such a policy,” Johnson wrote on X following Mu’s misfortune.

Well, the politics Johnson is talking about is akin to the selection policy embraced by Athletics Kenya where during the trials, the first two across the line sealed their Olympics ticket while the third athlete was chosen by a panel of selectors.

While it is prone to politics and questions as to how the third athlete was chosen, it eliminates a scenario where a top athlete misses out on the team due to an unfortunate incident or sickness just before or during the trials.

It would be hard to imagine Faith Kipyegon missing the Olympics if she tripped and fell or pulled a hamstring in the final.

Even with the rich athletics talent that Kenya has, Kipyegon is sort of a ‘sure bet’ for a medal at the Olympics and missing her would be catastrophic.

While there could be equally good athletes in the lineup, having the medal prospects is always important which is why Athletics Kenya reserves the third slot to avoid situations where the best misses out due to various circumstances.

For Team USA, Mu, the Olympic and 2022 world champion, who won bronze at last year’s Worlds, before claiming the Diamond League Trophy, will not be in Paris.

Such is life, but from the unfortunate incident, maybe America may need to learn a thing or two from Kenya.