Three into two won’t go
September 20, 2018
Three 1500-metre runners are paying $8,000 to compete for two spots at one world championship.
Isaiah Priddey, 18, Samuel Tanner, 17, and Nick Moulai, 18, find themselves in a difficult situation as they prepare for the World Junior Track and Field Championships in Finland.
Athletics New Zealand made the unprecedented decision in April to name all three runners to compete for two spots next month.
All three runners dipped under the Athletics New Zealand’s standard of 1500m standard of 3:48.00 to qualify last track season.
Priddey led the way with the fastest PB, running an impressive 3:44.34 in February and was the only runner to run the standard twice.
Tanner’s 3:46.69 in Auckland placed him as the second fastest U20 runner in the country, with Christchurch’s Moulai in third, with his personal best of 3:47.05.
With three runners all under the standard, many believed that Priddey and Tanner – both from the Waikato – had secured the two spots to compete at the under 20 world championships.
However, it came as a surprise and caused confusion when all three of the boys were named in the team to compete in Finland.
Section 5.5 of the selection policy states that member federations can enter a maximum of three athletes per individual event, but only two athletes can be listed to compete at the “confirmation of entry” stage of the entry process.
The selection of three athletes meant that each of the boys would pay $8,000 to travel to Europe where they would race-off against each other.
Priddey said he wasn’t “too happy” when he heard the news.
“I mean you never want anyone to miss out obviously. My first thought was that whole money thing, they’re going to make us pay all this money we’re not even going to possibly compete.
“I think the only positive out of us three being able to come over is that, yeah, you do actually find out who’s the fittest and it’s like If I race those two, in two races and I’m getting beaten by them in both races it shows [that] I shouldn’t even be at world’s if I cant beat the two guys.”
Priddey said he wanted to make the most out of the trip so he decided to travel a week early and get in an extra race.
Tanner and Moulai flew out last Sunday to join Priddey and the rest of the Athletics New Zealand team in Belgium last Sunday.
Priddey first race was a 1500m at the Soundtrack Festival in Tübingen, Germany.
“It was a tough race because I heard the pacemaker was going out 2:24 for the first km (3:37 pace) and I was like woah, I sort of don’t want to be doing that so I made the decision to sit back about four seconds [off the pace] and then the pacemaker actually ended up going too fast.
“So there was a split in the field, and unfortunately I was at the front of that split. It was just a bit hard to recover.
Priddey’s time of 3:49.08 was made more impressive considering he had only gotten off the plane five days earlier.
Priddey said he would be satisfied if he came away from the trip with a personal best, regardless if he raced at the under 20 championships.
Tanner is a relative newcomer on the track and field scene. It was not until 18 months ago that the cross-country specialist turned his attention to the track.
Since then, the Tauranga athlete made exponential improvements over the summer to qualify for the world junior championships. He also won the under 20 1500m race at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in March.
Tanner admitted that he was “guttered” when he heard that he would have to face off against the other two runners.
He misunderstood an aspect of the selection policy and thought that by winning the under 20 1500m race at nationals he had secured himself a spot.
“I was like ‘sweet, I’m safe’ and then found out that I’m not actually three weeks later – that was pretty hard.”
The policy stated that an athlete had to win nationals and run the qualifying standard to gain an automatic spot to race in Finland.
However, Tanner won nationals in a slow, extremely tactical race that was 15 seconds slower than the qualification standard.
“What the selectors have done was fair as far as the policy legally said. What would have been nice was them to go, you two are selected, and you can go at your cost, but you’re a travelling reserve, and if one of them is not in shape then you can race.”
Regardless, Tanner is optimistic about his chances of gaining a spot.
“I’ve been training well, and I don’t get psyched out very easily, so I suppose it didn’t really phase me as much as it would to other boys.”
Tanner believed in making lofty goals regardless if he made them or not. He said he had his eyes set on running as close to 3:40 as possible.
He said he hoped Athletics New Zealand had measures in place to manage the potential for tension among the boys and had support measure in place for the athlete who does not qualify.
Nick Moulai was surprised when he heard the news that he qualified after he missed the last races of the summer season due to his being appendix removed.
Moulai has since recovered from surgery and spent the last eight weeks grinding through the bitter Christchurch winter to get himself into top shape.
Moulai recognised the difficulty of the situation as he and the other athletes are friends but said he was looking forward to the opportunity.
“In a way, I appreciate that Athletics NZ have noticed the talent in the middle distance running category, it’s usually kind of focused on other events. So, to give three of us a chance to have a European tour, to get the experience racing those top European athletes [in] paced races – it’s exciting.”
Athletics New Zealand convenor Graham Seatter headed the selection process.
He said the selection panel had the opportunity to select three runners and did so as a recognition of the level of depth in New Zealand middle distance running.
He said no one had a right to a spot by running the standard twice while the others ran it once.
“Ultimately, the decision is based on objective and subjective criteria. If one of the three turns up at the world champs injured, we’ve entered three so the other two would run.”
He said the athletes were consulted after the decision to select all three was made.
“The team management spoke to each of them and said are you okay embarking on this trip given that it’s costing you to do that when there’s a chance you won’t ultimately get to run at the world junior championships.”
“Ultimately all of the athletes said ‘yep’.
“I would much prefer a situation where you’ve got three qualifiers competing for two spots. I think it’s a fantastic situation that we’ve got this problem.”
Seatter said there would be a lot be gained by going to Europe and not competing in the world junior championships for the athletes.
He thought that having an elite group of runners training together and racing against strong European competition together would be more fulfilling then potentially racing one heat in Finland.
“I think there’s a strong argument that says that [this] is actually more beneficial experience then stepping on the world stage at the world championships.
“The competition is really tough, and if you don’t rise to it, you can get spat out, especially when you’re running against some African’s who put the hammer down with 400m to go and all of a sudden you’re giving them 50m.”
Seatter was aware of the potential for tension to emerge between the three runners but thought it will be an important test.
“The fact that three have gone and two are going to compete I think is fantastic for the health of middle distance running in this country and yes, there’s going to be tensions. When athletes race against each other, they all want to win, they all want to best.”
“I think healthy tensions in this situation is part of an athlete maturing.
Athletics New Zealand high-performance athlete leader Tim Driesen is joining the team in Belgium next week.
He said the selection of final entries would consider a number of aspects of the athletes’ performances across their two warm-up races in Belgium.
“Times is one of the measurables we’ve got, but it will also come down to racing tactics.
“[We will] also look into things like their fitness and injury niggles and things like that.”
He said the non-competing athlete would still get four racing opportunities, two 1500m races in Belgium and two 800m races in Finland.
“They’ll still get to go through the championship sort of process, and we’ll involve them almost as part of the management and give them a chance to make it [the] best learning experience as possible.”
Ahtletics New Zealand selected a total of 11 athletes to compete at the IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships in Tampere, Finland.
The championships will run from July 10-15.