Class Acts: Bryan Clay and Jenny Meadows

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

The American and British Olympic selection systems are vastly different. Those who finish in the top three at the U.S. Olympic Trials, provided they had met the “A” standard in their events, are automatically selected. It is a no-nonsense, cutthroat method that leaves no room for appeal. The British model is a lot more complex. Prospective athletes still compete at the U.K. Olympic Trials, but there is plenty of room for subjective selections. Those who had met the “A” standard, even in meets outside of the U.K. Trials, have the upper hand.

The Americans have considerable depth of talent, so perhaps an unforgiving approach is ideal. The British, in contrast, have a smaller pool of available athletes. The two systems, although imperfect, seem properly suitable for the two countries.


Clay (L) and Meadows (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Jonathan Charters)

Bryan Clay, the defending decathlon champion from Beijing, bungled the sprint hurdles and the discus events at the U.S. Trials. Clay finished in 12th place, his points total was considerably less than the “A” standard. He has not met the Olympic benchmark prior to Eugene.

Jenny Meadows‘ case is similar. Meadows is an 800m bronze medalist from the 2009 World Championships and the reigning European Indoor Champion. Although she had run the required “A” standard, Meadows was left out of the final lineup for Team GB, having missed the U.K. Trials and the European Championships due to injury. The British selectors chose the up an coming Lynsey Sharpinstead, despite having only “B” standard credentials.

Following Clay’s shock exit from Olympic contention, track fans clamored for Clay to complete an “A” standard decathlon. The loyal fans reasoned that the Olympic qualifying window extends up to 8 July, whereas the USATF’s self-imposed deadline is the end of each particular event.

Clay, in a statement posted at the USATF website, chose to stick with the rules:

“My love of the sport compels me to preserve its integrity… Though it pains me, I believe that the USATF Committee’s decision to take only two decathletes to London is the right one. Ultimately, it is in the best interest of the sport to keep the integrity of the rules in place, and to support and uphold the decisions of the USATF Committee.”

Click here to read Clay’s full statement

Meadows could have lodged an appeal for her inclusion. Since “B” standard athletes could only be sent if there are no “A” standard athletes in the lineup, a favorable ruling would drop the 21-year old Sharp out of the Olympic Games. In a BBC interview, Meadows said:

“I find it difficult [to appeal] the selection. Usually three ‘A’ standard runners are selected and there are currently four of us. So for me to appeal I would basically deselect Lynsey and I haven’t got the heart to do that.”

Click here to read the BBC article

The Beijing Olympics could have been Clay’s (32) and Meadows’ (31) last chance to compete at the quadrennial event. Despite the desire to represent their respective countries in the Olympics, the two acted selflessly in respect for the integrity of the sport and for a fellow athlete. In a sport where drug cheats cast a dark shadow, these acts of fair play, sportsmanship, and commendable conduct truly stand out.

I salute Bryan Clay and Jenny Meadows for being class acts.


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