In last month's Olympic-focused column, I challenged you to predict who would win the Olympic slots at the Tuscaloosa trials race. Did you pick Matt Reed and Julie Ertel to win their respective races and earn those coveted spots on the Olympic team?
If you?did?so, good for you! You're sharp.
Did you predict that the men would lose a third starting spot after the Richard's Bay World Cup on May 4, thus reducing the USA to only two starting positions at the Olympic Games?
I suspect most of you did not. What happened? How did we lose a starting slot?
In the world of obtaining Olympic slots, recall from my column about the qualification process that only eight countries get three men and three women on the triathlon start line in Beijing. Which countries can send three athletes per gender is determined by the "2008 Olympic Qualification" document found on this page.
What it boiled down to heading into the Richard's Bay World Cup race was that Hunter Kemper was the third place, U.S.A.-ranked male, and his ranking points totaled 2,359. The United States, at that time, was the last country to qualify three men for the Olympic tri.
The country closest to taking that spot away at Richard's Bay was Russia—specifically Dmitri Polyansky. His Olympic rank prior to the race put him a mere 53 points away from Hunter Kemper. The scores he accumulated leading up to Richard's Bay were 419, 379, 293, 252, 238, 221, 167, 126 and 126.
Polyansky was not the only athlete close to Hunter Kemper in ranking. As of April 26, the ranking sheet listed the final three countries with three slots as Australia, Switzerland and the USA:
Brendan Sexton — Australia (2507)
Oliver Marceau — Switzerland (2452)
Hunter Kemper — USA (2359)
Dmitri Polyansky — Russia (2306)
Richard's Bay World Cup
Dmitri Polyansky did indeed have a good race at Richard's Bay, placing seventh and scoring 319 points. This pushed Russia into the seat of having three starting positions for the men's race in Beijing, and the U.S.A. fell off the back with only two starting slots.
Technically, the current situation means that Matt Reed is no longer a member of the USA Triathlon Olympic team. If we do not get the third men's slot back by the end of the ITU World Championships race on June 8 in Vancouver (the cut off for Olympic ranking points)"Big Matty" Reed loses his Olympic slot.
If, after Vancouver, we have only two country slots, the final individual athletes on the American team will be determined at the Des Moines ITU World Cup race on June 21. To see why this is the case, carefully read USAT's Amended Selection Criteria on their website.
The good news from Richard's Bay is that Matt Reed had a fabulous race, placing second and scoring 472 points. This boosted his Olympic ranking points to 2,305. Still not enough to get that third country slot back, but within a stone's throw.
2008 Lisbon ETU Triathlon European Championships
After Richard's Bay, there remained only three races left to score the all-important points that determine how many athletes each country sends to the 2008 Games.
The first important race occurred May 10 at the 2008 Lisbon ETU Triathlon European Championships. This race is considered a Continental Cup race, earning more points than a World Cup event, but less than a World Championship event. For the points breakdown, look here.
Because Continental Cup events, as their name implies, are specific to the continent they're held on, there were no American athletes at this race. The Continental Cup event for the U.S.A. was the 2008 Mazatlan PATCO Triathlon Pan American Championship event, held the same weekend as the Tuscaloosa trials race. Our top-ranked athletes (sans Jarrod Shoemaker, who already has his Olympic slot) were all at the trials. But while Tuscaloosa was exciting, there were no ITU points awarded for this event. Points are critical—especially now, as you know.
After Richard's Bay, Polyansky not only pushed Russia past the U.S., but he also stepped over Switzerland's Olivier Marceau. After Richard's Bay, Switzerland became the team we needed to beat out to be the last country to secure three slots.