At mile 22 of Sunday’s California International Marathon, Linnabah Snyder was cursing under her breath. Missing the soft dirt of her favorite Colorado trails, she watched the pack move ahead and said goodbye to her dreams of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic trials.
She finished the race from Folsom to Sacramento in two hours, 44 minutes and 59 seconds – nearly two minutes slower than the 2:43:00 cutoff for entry into the trials to be held Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
But a last-minute change this week in national and international marathon standards delivered shockingly good news to Snyder and 10 others who are now eligible for the Olympic trials race based on their times at Sunday’s marathon.
“I made a huge scene in my office,” said Snyder, who works in corporate finance in Denver, describing her reaction upon finding out. “I’ve learned a lesson – do not give up, ever. Finish the race strong, no matter what.”
To compete in the Olympic Games, track and field athletes have to meet minimum qualifying standards even if they are the best in their country. The world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, announced relaxed standards for 17 events at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro to “have more athletes achieving the standard and therefore, to get closer to the target number of participants,” according to a statement.
In the marathon, that meant one additional minute for men to 2:19:00, and two minutes for women to 2:45:00.
Under the U.S. Amateur Sports Act, the nation’s governing body, USA Track & Field, says it cannot have stricter standards for its Olympic trials than the Olympic Games themselves impose for competitors. The international change forced USATF’s hand, and the marathon standards were loosened Friday, a mere 63 days before the trials race and 37 days before the qualifying deadline.
“USATF’s standards for the Olympic Trials are never more stringent than those required for the Olympic Games,” said USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer in an email. “The Amateur Sports Act also provides for standards not to be more difficult than Olympic standards. So when the IAAF changed the Olympic Standards, we followed suit.”
That means 11 more runners at Sunday’s CIM race are eligible for the trials, in addition to the 13 women who qualified under the old standards. According to the Sacramento Running Association, which runs CIM, nine more athletes had times in the 2013 and 2014 CIMs that fall under the new mark, though five of those already achieved the standard elsewhere.
CIM organizers pride themselves on hosting one of the nation’s fastest courses that generally has cool weather and a net downhill from Folsom to the state Capitol. While most marathons don’t offer pacers for goal times below three hours, CIM provides them for both the men’s and women’s qualifying marks.
Among the newly qualified is Tim Tollefson, a former Lincoln resident who now trains in Mammoth Lakes. Tollefson ran 2:18:29 at the 2013 race – 29 seconds short of the old standard – and took one last shot Sunday to join his wife, Lindsay, in competing at the trials in Los Angeles.
After falling short Sunday with a 2:25:54, he didn’t figure on running in Los Angeles. But he said he now plans to compete at the trials.
“Since I was two years removed from that particular race, some of that excitement had worn off,” he said. “Then it sunk in that I’m going to be going back to the trials, which is what I’ve been training for for such a long time. I should really just cherish this opportunity, because I’ve been given a second chance and get to make the most of it.”
Sabina Piras, 26, of San Diego was the first CIM runner Sunday to miss the old trials standard at 2:43:19. This week’s news came after a week of stewing, she said.
“I was definitely a little bummed, especially watching the girl right in front of me get wrapped in the American flag,” Piras said of crossing the CIM finish line. “I’m still in disbelief. I accepted the fact that I didn’t qualify all week. I was jealous of the girls who qualified, and now I’m going to be one of them.”
Snyder, who made the new cut by less than a second, will also submit an application to USATF with her time on it and begin training on Monday, she said.
With the additional runners, a total of 65 marathoners have reached the 2016 trials standard since the qualifying window began in 2013, said Ellen Moore, special events manager with the Sacramento Running Association.
The association offers $2,500 bonuses to runners who make the tougher “A” standard – 2:15:00 for men and 2:37:00 for women – and $1,000 bonuses to runners who make the “B” standard. SRA is not extending those bonuses to people who qualify under the new times, she said.
“We definitely take pride in being a fast course for everybody, but in particular the elite athletes in this country,” she said. “It’s always great to be able to boost your numbers.”