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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Genevieve LaCaze selection fiasco shows Athletics Australia is out of touch with reality

Genevieve LaCaze selection fiasco shows Athletics Australia is out of touch with reality

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Genevieve LaCaze selection fiasco shows Athletics Australia is out of touch with reality

bY Mike Hurst
The Daily Telegraph
June 20, 2012

Steeplechaser Genevieve LaCaze exposed the faults in Athletics Australia's selection process. Picture: sportscrazephotos Source: Herald Sun

IT had been a rare good run for Athletics Australia until last week's enlightening Genevieve LaCaze selection fiasco.

In recent weeks AA selectors, endorsed by the AA board, overturned their own high performance manager Eric Hollingsworth's tougher marathon selection criteria and picked three men for the Olympic road race.

Then AA sensibly also picked Melissa Breen, a 100m sprinter who also had not produced an A-standard (11.29sec) qualifying performance.

For Breen, 21, the fact she had run nine B-qualifiers (11.38sec) during a season in which she raced over 100m on a ridiculous 27 occasions, was bad enough.

But in Jeff Hunt's case, he ran the IAAF qualifying time of 2hrs 18min for the marathon three times during the Olympic qualifying period, including two races an absurdly close six weeks apart in a desperate bid to reach Hollingsworth's standard of 2hrs 15min before AA's equally arbitrary selection deadline of June 11.

If AA had held the care for all athletes as its paramount objective, the IAAF standards would have sufficed from the outset and Hunt would not have severely jeopardised his Olympic marathon prospects by racing marathons in May and June perilously close to the Olympics which open next month.

Then predictably, barely 24 hours after AA's deadline, someone upset the applecart by producing an A-qualifier overseas. Genevieve LaCaze, 22, a Queenslander on scholarship at the university of Florida, ran the 3000m steeplechase in 9min 41.15sec which ranks her top-30 in the world on a three-per-nation adjusted list.

But 'rules is rules' and Hollingsworth declared she had missed the boat.

"It is not fair to the other hundreds of athletes who have complied with the deadline that was set,'' said Hollingsworth. "That's my position and I am happy to argue it with anyone. We put selection policies in place - everyone knew the date you had to qualify by, and she didn't.

"As far as I am concerned it is one of the cultural issues of this sport - and I was brought in to bring clarity, rather than everything being done behind closed doors.''

The case could be restated that hundreds of athletes have already been inconvenienced by AA's selection cut-off date of June 11, the selection criteria which stated athletes must compete in every meet on the domestic grand prix, and the failure to financially enable a good many to attend these compulsory meets.

But Hollingsworth got the job post Beijing for declaring he was the man who could fulfill AA president Rob Fildes' declaration that athletics would win six medals in London.

So support - financial and even just encouragement ‑ since the last Olympics has been diverted away from anyone Hollingsworth does not think can contribute to the medal haul. It is short-sighted at best.

As he explained on the ABC's 7:30 Report at the Olympic Trials way back on March 2: "We've got almost everyone over the line that we need for the team.''

The fact that on June 15 the AA board voted 5-2 against extending the Olympic deadline to enable LaCaze to fulfill her dream shows that Hollingsworth is not the only person out of touch with sentiment at the Australian Olympic Committee, much less the wider public will.

Within minutes of the news that AA voted to decline LaCaze's selection, a meteor storm of criticism ‑ on Twitter especially ‑ bombarded AA and the attack was continuous for some 48 hours before AOC president John Coates stepped in to broker an extension to AA's deadline to June 22 and save AA from what may yet still be eternal damnation.

Even so, June 22 was another arbitrary date and the AOC has since advised it will be happy to select athletes up to July 7 which is a day before the International Olympic Committee's entry-by-name deadline.

How did it come to this, that president Fildes and AA CEO Dallas O'Brien should be packing their luggage to attend the Olympics with a clear conscience while LaCaze should be told to wait four years because she was 24hrs late. Had she been ranked for a medal in London, no doubt AA would have found a way.

She ranks 29th on the adjusted list to date and therefore finds herself thrown in with the majority of Australian athletes who are in the early development stage. Read: not worth AA investing in unless they must.

Apart from being a topic ripe for a university treatise on the power of social media, the LaCaze affair was an AA public relations disaster of Olympic dimension.

Why? Firstly it proved how out of touch most of those at AA headquarters are with almost everyone else in the country with even a skeric of common sense.

At least the affair at last publicly exposes a largely arrogant leadership without relationships - particular media relationships which have collapsed due to the lack of transparency and judgment shown by AA's current media staff.

It is a savvy-free organisation at the moment and it just seems to get dumber and dumber.

Planning for the season to date has been diabolical, starting with the Olympic relay attempts first up in mid-January, but extending even now to the IAAF Oceania Area championship in Cairns, June 27-30.

Almost every country outside of North America will be competing in international Area championships this month and using these meets to hone Olympic preparations.

But AA's self-imposed early deadline obliged locals to largely skip this meet in their pursuit of Olympic qualification.

Thankfully the men's 4x100m relay, ranked 15 with only 16 teams admitted to London, will race in Cairns.

"Let's Go While We're Young"

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