What has to happen for Curtis Thompson to lock up an Olympic berth?
It’s a difficult, complicated question and one that the USATF – the governing body for track and field in the United States – provides no answers to.
In fact, it’s a question nobody provides any answers to.
It’s a strange way to run a sport, leaving people to just guess who’s on an Olympic team. You’d think this is something they’d want people to know. And the amount of incorrect information that was out there Monday evening was unfortunate but understandable considering the actual process that determines Olympians is not only ridiculously complicated but also a virtual state secret that doesn’t appear to be published anywhere.
But that’s the reality of track and field today in the U.S. They don’t make it easy to be a fan of the sport. Imagine watching the Super Bowl and not only not knowing who wins the game for 10 days but not even knowing what the process actually is to determine the winner?
That’s what we’re talking about here!
Thompson, a Florence graduate, on Monday evening in Eugene uncorked a 271-7 when he won the Olympic Trials in Eugene. It’s the 3rd-best javelin throw in Olympic Trials history with the current javelin implement and the No. 18 throw in the world this year, only a few inches short of Thompson’s personal best of 271-11 from 2016.
When you win an event at the Olympic Trials with one of the best performances in the world, you’d think you’d have an Olympic spot locked up.
But the selection process isn’t that easy. Not even close.
And the ridiculous thing is nobody even knows exactly what that process is. It doesn’t appear to be written anywhere – not on the USATF web site or the World Athletics web site. People covering the meet in Oregon didn’t understand it, people tweeting about Thompson’s performance didn’t understand it, even Jim Lambert and I didn’t understand it and we spent all day trying to figure it all out.
Messages sent to the USATF asking for an explanation went unanswered and you can Google all you want you’re just not going to find out how the process works.
But Lambo and I finally cobbled together enough information from various sources to get this figured out, and here’s how it works:
✔️ Every event has a performance standard that World Athletics (formerly IAAF) sets. If you reach that standard and finish in the top three in your country’s Trials, you are an Olympian.
✔️ The javelin standard is 278-10, a mark that only three Americans have EVER hit: Breaux Greer in 2007 (91.29), Tom Petranoff in 1991 (89.16) and Tom Pukstys in 1997 (87.12).
✔️ Thompson’s 271-7 is his best throw during the Olympic qualifying period, so he needs to be ranked in the top-32 by the IAAF to make the U.S. Olympic team.
✔️ That throw ranks Thompson No. 18 in the world this year. But it doesn’t mean he’s ranked No. 18 in the world by World Athletics.
✔️ You can find the rankings here: https://www.worldathletics.org/stats-zone/road-to/7132391?eventId=10229636&qualificationType=q4 (warning – it doesn’t always work. Good luck.)
✔️ It’s not clear what exactly determines an athlete’s ranking and it’s not explained anywhere, but it appears from context to be based not just on performances but also place in various meets with a premium on major meets.
✔️ Every performance is given a numerical rating, and an athlete’s top-five ratings are combined and averaged out to determine their ranking number. The meets that are considered appear to go back as far as 2018.
✔️ Before the Trials, Thompson was sitting in the No. 32 spot in the ranking system. The World Athletics web site that shows the so-called “quota” rankings has not been updated with Thompson’s performance Monday in Eugene.
✔️ The five performances that formed his ranking before the Trials were the 2019 U.S. Championships in Des Moines, Iowa; the USATF Showcase in Prairie View, Texas, earlier this month; the USATF Grand Prix in Eugene in April; the 2018 NACAC Championships in Toronto; and the USATF Throws Fest in Tucson, Ariz.
✔️ Thompson received 1,222 points for the USATF Throws Fest, 1,190 for the NACAC meet, 1,116 for the Grand Prix, 1,164 for the USATF Showcase and 1,112 for the 2019 nationals. That’s 5,584 points for an average of 1,170 points, which is the figure that ranked him 32nd.
✔️ There’s no way of knowing exactly how many points Thompson gets from throwing 271-7 at the Trials because the formula is not explained anywhere, but it has to be somewhere over 1,222 since it was a superior performance to the one that earned him 1,222. Let’s say conservatively he earns 1,230 points. By subtracting his worst performance in the top five (1,112 from 2019 Nationals) and adding 1,230, his total increases by 118 and his average increases from 1,170 to 1,194. That moves him up to 27th in the ranking system. (Curtis told us this morning that he is actually now 28th, so our estimate was close!).
✔️ The cut-off for qualifying is June 30. But considering how difficult it is to move up or down in a ranking system that considers meets going back at least three years, it won’t be easy for four throwers to pass Thompson in the next eight or nine days.