Let's say you fell into a vat of magic potion and suddenly gained the physiological talent to be an Olympic triathlete—or perhaps you think you already have that talent without the magic vat. What do you need to do to get to the start line in Beijing?
Bad news for you: It's too late to start trying to qualify now for the August Games.
In order to be eligible for an individual start at the Olympic Games, American athletes must meet one of the following guidelines established by the International Triathlon Union (ITU):
- Win the Pan American Games (Ala Julie Ertel or Andy Potts.)
- Win the 2008 ITU Triathlon World Championships
- Be in the top 125 of the ITU Olympic Qualification Rankings
- Be in the top 125 of the ITU World Cup Rankings
Because Julie and Andy have already secured their eligibility, does that mean they are automatic selections to the USA Triathlon Olympic team?
By winning their respective Pan American Games races, Julie and Andy secured Olympic spots for their respective countries. In this case, the U.S.A. gained one slot each for both the men's and women's races. Recall from last month that only eight countries are allowed three athletes on the start line at the Games.
Each country's selection process determines if the winners of the Pan American Games will automatically represent their nation at the Olympics. In the case of the U.S.A., Julie and Andy did not secure individual spots on the U.S. Olympic Team by winning the Pan Am Games. But, they did become eligible to be chosen by the U.S. Olympic Committee to compete in Beijing.
How about if I just plan to win the 2008 ITU World Championships?
As with winning the Pan Am Games, winning World Championships gives you individual eligibility for consideration but does not necessarily mean an automatic berth to the Olympics. It is up to your country to decide if World Championships is a qualifying race. This time around, it is not a qualifier for U.S. athletes, but it was for athletes heading to Athens in 2004.
The two final ways to win eligibility to toe the start line for the Olympic Games include being ranked in the top 125 athletes in the world on the Olympic Qualification list or the ITU World Cup ranking list in your respective gender.
Ranking points are, as you would imagine, accumulated by placing well in races. Rankings are also used to determine entry priority and eligibility into World Cup and World Championship races.
For the 2004 Games, World Rank was accumulated for a time period just under four years. After the 2004 Games, the International Olympic Committee ruled that no sport could use a qualifying process longer than two years. For this reason, the ITU established the 2008 Beijing Olympic Qualification Ranking using two years of race results. To maintain fairness and have a way to determine entry priority into the early events, World Cup Ranking from 2004 to 2006 was used.
How fast can I accumulate points?
It is easier to accumulate points if you have two bases covered: 1) Be a really fast athlete and 2) Have the full support of your National Governing Body (USA Triathlon).
I can't tell you which athlete holds the record for the fastest rise in World Rank; but I can tell you that few athletes will rise as fast as Andy Potts. His first World Cup race was in April of 2003, and just over a year later he secured his Olympic ticket for Athens by being the second American male across the finish line at the 2004 ITU Triathlon World Championships—a mere 12 seconds behind the already-qualified Hunter Kemper.