Welcome back for part 2 of the 2016 Olympic qualifying posts (for the complete Olympic qualifying document, click here). In part 1 (check it out here) I went through the thoroughly confusing and poorly defined world cup qualifying process. The focus was on how many important details the UCI neglects to quantify in their rules and the level of confusion that can present for NGB's and their athletes. I also briefly touched on the general lateness of this document reaching the masses. I will assume, with no evidence mind you, that some nations (cough* GB cough* cough*), may have had a heads up on the details of it, but that's neither here nor there. With only 4 months left in the world 2014/2015 world cup qualifying period, we now finally have the details of how this upcoming world cup and world championships season will factor into the 2016 qualifying process. More than a little behind the 8 ball there UCI, but hey, better late-er-est than never I suppose. Anyway, before I waste any more time discussing my frustrations with the release date, lets get into the step by step process of making 2016!
First off, the qualification process is largely unchanged from the London 2012 process. Still a 2 year rolling accumulation of points from world cups, world championships and continental championships. Seems like an awfully long time period to select the athletes for 1 Olympics. And 2 years is a long time and very heavy expense on every nation but especially the nations with less budget than the powerhouses like Great Britain and Australia. So, why not just the 2016 world championships with back-ups from the overall world ranking like in 2004? Well because you could have an athlete with an exceptionally poor 2016 world championship performance who might not have had a stellar international ranking and now they are left out of the games. Ok then, how about using just the 2015/2016 overall international raking for the year? That way you get a sampling of the best athletes for that season leading up to the games. Sounds good right? Not to the UCI that doesn't sound good. To them that means that the season before (2014/2015) would potentially be a very lightly attended world cup season and that would mean money out of the UCI's pocket instead of in it. By forcing a 2 year long points accumulation process you force attendance of all nations interested in Rio at all 6-8 of the world cups in the 2 seasons prior which means greater profits for the UCI through all the various avenues (licensing, permits, TV rights, team registration, etc). So of course a 2 year long process sounds best to the UCI. Let alone all the additional income they will receive from making hosting UCI CL1-3 events a requirements for NGB's that want to attend the world cups. As well as making it a necessary part of the athlete's qualifying process for the world cups. I know track cycling is not nearly as profitable as road cycling for the UCI, but we also don't have as much money to spend. It's a double edged sword for sure, and I certainly do not have a solution to offer, I'm just making a point.
The biggest change for the Rio 2016 qualification compared to London 2012 is that now it will be possible for correctly qualified nations to enter a maximum of 2 athletes in both the sprint and keirin events. Any nation that qualifies a team sprint will receive 2 start positions in the sprint and keirin events to be filled from members of the team sprint team already present at the games, assuming the nation is fielding a full team for all the Olympic events. In order to better explain my wording please see the table below.
For sake of simplicity I will focus on the men's quota per NOC (National Olympic Committee). So at first glance under the Event Specific Quota" it lists 2 athletes for both the sprint and keirin events, 1 for the omnium, 4 for team pursuit and 3 for team sprint. Sounds good right? Not exactly. Add up all the maximums and you get a total of 10 male athletes across all the events. Yet the quota listed per NOC is 8. So this means that a nation could field a maximum of 1 team pursuit (4 athletes) and 1 team sprint squad (3 athletes) with potentially 1 additional athlete as a back up for either the team sprint or team pursuit. Then from those combined 8 athletes you can fill your 1 entry for the omnium and 2 entries for the sprint and keirin. Now what I believe this could mean for a nation that would qualify a team sprint and thus sprint and keirin positions as well, they would have the ability to bring a maximum of 5 athletes (3 team sprint, 2 sprint/keirin) and still be inside the maximum for the NOC quota. I am unsure if this would stretch so far as to say they could bring the full 8 and make 3 for team sprint, 3 riders to be mixed amongst the 2 start positions in the sprint and keirin. This is a bit of grey area that isn't accurately defined by the UCI. Now for those of you wondering about the * next to the quota per NOC number, noted in the paragraph below the table, this is what I like to call "The Forsterman Claus". This is the UCI establishing the provision that if a nation wanted to register a additional track rider as a road, BMX of MTB rider and have that athlete "swap" over for a track event, this is the clause allowing them to do so. Of course this would never happen in the US, but for nations where the 10 potential medals for track cycling to be of greater precedence, this is an easy decision.
The next part I find interesting is the Athlete Eligibility section. The only things riders need to do is be 18, have a UCI license and appropriate nationality and then have a minimum of 10 UCI Points in the final 2014-2016 Olympic ranking TBC (to be commenced?) June 2014. What I understand this to mean is that any athlete must wishing to compete in the Olympics must have competed at either a world cup, world championship of congenital championship in the last 2 years before the games and have earned 10 UCI points during that time. Now I'm not sure if I'm missing something here but it does not say that those points must be earned in the respective event and if I am not mistaken 10 points could be earned as easily as placing in the top 24 in and individual event or top 20 in team sprint at any of those events over the 2 year period. Thus theoretically meaning so long as an athlete has those 10 points and the nation earns the given event spot at the Olympics, then said athlete would not have to race any addition races prior to the games and could go back into an extended training block and not have to peak for anything (cough* GB cough* cough*). Which would be exactly what the UCI was "trying" to prevent by making UCI CL1-3 races mandatory for qualifying for world cups and world cup participation necessary for world championships, so on and so forth.
Now, onto the Qualification Pathway. This is where things get a little bit tricky and need some reading between the lines to interoperate the outcome.As at the previous Olympics, for the sprint athletes, Team Sprint is the name of the game. If you make the top 9 team sprints, while not exceeding the continental maximums, then the NOC has the right to enter 1 team sprint team and 2 riders in the sprint and keirin events. After those 9 countries are established, all the athletes from those countries are then removed from the individual rankings in the sprint and keirin. Once the new individual rankings are created, then the next 9 individual athletes earn spots, so long as continental maximums are not exceeded. One of the things not clarified at this point is wether or not those individual entry spots for the sprint and keirin would be a "named" spot, reserved for the individual? Or would it then be a NOC spot, reserved for the NGB to determine who receives the entry at the Olympics? An interesting question that is left unanswered and leaves a pathway open for athletes to forgo racing every race and just "drop in" to the Olympics.
The next part that I'll walk you through is the contential allocations. The continental allocation system was created with the intention of prohibiting all of the competing nations to be from one single area, i.e. Europe. By limiting the number of possible nations per event per continent it was supposed to open the games up to nations that might not other wise have been able to qualify for the games. This was done with the spirit of the Olympic movement in mind such that the Olympics are intended to be an event open to all the nations of the world in all the given sports. With the size of the Olympic movement increasing exponentially over the years, a way to cap the total number of events and entrants was required. After all, the Olympics is still big business and making money with controlled expenses being a primary objective (see my previous post: The Olympic Movement - Stripped Down, Bare Bones Sport?). So with caps on the number of events and athletes, the UCI needed to come up with a way to keep the competition open to all nations of the world thus keeping the spirit of the Olympic movement alive. Now the continental quotas, as seen in the table below, are the maximum number of entrants from the continental groupings that will be allowed in the quota places allocated per event groupings.
If we focus on team sprint first (as it is the first event for sprinters in the hierarchy of events), then of the 9 nations allowed to enter teams for team sprint, no more than the listed number of nations can come from the given continental groupings. Thus, should 7 of the top 9 nations ranked in team sprint be from Europe, only the top 5 of those nations will be admitted to the games for team sprint, and the additional 2 countries will be removed and the remaining countries from the other remaining continental groupings will slide up the ranking. Now, this does not mean that all the positions per continent will be filled. As you can see a total of 12 potential nations are listed across all the continental groupings for the team sprint event. This just means that no more than the given number of countries will be allowed in per continent. Meaning not every continent will necessarily be represented to it's fullest allotment or even at all. To show how this system would work I have taken the immediate UCI world cup eligibility rankings for team sprint and provided an example of the teams that would be removed to show the 9 that would be eligible to race if the Olympics were tomorrow.
I'd say that's a pretty random assortment of countries that you probably wouldn't expect. So it is pretty obvious that over the next 2 years a lot more attention will be paid to attending the necessary races for Olympic points. Now, one must also consider that the ranking system that I used is based off UCI CL1-3 events and not the world cups/world champs/etc that the Olympic qualifying would be based off of.
Now, after those 9 countries are established, the athletes from those countries are removed from the individual rankings for the sprint and keirin and the remaining 9 athletes, respecting the continent quotas, are given entry to the Olympics. This second level of criteria is put in place to allow the countries without as strong of team sprint athlete pools to gain entry for their individuals into the Olympics. Again based off the current UCI world cup eligibility ranking for sprints, I have pulled out the countries from team sprint and the exceeded continental quotas to give an example of who would be the additional 9 athletes admitted to the Olympics for the individual sprint positions only.
As you can see from this breakdown, we have to go very very far down the individual ranking, all the way to 46th in order to find out 9th male sprint athlete. Again, this is off the UCI eligibility ranking and not the Olympic style raking so the outcome will be very different come Rio 2016. But this does provide some clarification on how those spots will be determined. Before moving on though from the topic of points I do want to just make a note that I will be very interested to see how the UCI keeps track of the Olympic points and how readily accessible they make this for the athletes and the NGB's. If it's anything like the current world cup eligibility ranking cluster f*** that I described in my previous post (Rio 2016 Olympic Qualifying Explained - Part 1 - The World Cups), it will not be pretty to say the least. From there the rest of the document goes on to explain the rest of the dates for announcing and confirming intention to compete. As well as the specifications for reserve athletes and how they need to be registered. Nothing out of the ordinary or more confusing than to be expected.
In conclusion of this two part report on the 2016 Olympic qualifying procedure, I want to make it clear that I am overall very pleased the with direction of the Olympic qualifying and I very much look forward to seeing an Olympics that is as difficult to race as it is to qualify for. The restriction to 1 athlete per nation in the individual events was by far one of the most foolish plots ever thought up by the UCI. I am all for keeping as level a playing field as possible and discouraging excessive dominance within the sport, but removing many of the top 10 sprinters in the world from the sprint competition at the Olympic games gave a semi jaded result list that we might not (and should not) ever see again. My purpose behind writing this was to clarify peoples misunderstanding of the procedure and to expose some loopholes that otherwise might have been over looked. I only wish that the UCI would give more time and consideration to better explaining the finite details of their rules and processes for track cycling and not leave so much up to spur of the moment interpretation. Athletes, coaches and many others involved in this sport dedicate their entire lives and purpose to competing for gold at the Olympic games. To be treated with such seeming disregard is a slap in the face to people who a minor detail could mean the difference between Olympic glory and watching the Olympics on TV.