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Track and Field : New British Olympic Selection System Debated

February 17, 1988|Mal Florence

The British have adopted a new selection process, similar to the American system, to determine their Olympic track and field team.

Instead of pre-selecting athletes as it was done in the past, there will be trials in Britain with the first two finishers in each event in the national championships automatically qualifying for their Olympic team.

The third team member will be selected later.

The United States system is based solely on the trials--the first three in each event making the Olympic team.

Britain's Peter Elliott, who will run in a mile race Friday night in The Times/GTE indoor games at the Forum, says the new approach is reasonably fair.

His countryman, Sebastian Coe, calls the system archaic.

"The previous selection process was that if you had been a major medalist in the past, you'd go to the Games," Elliott said Tuesday at a track luncheon in Los Angeles. "So that's all right for the likes of Seb Coe, Steve Cram and Steve Ovett.

"However, in the past about 10 guys were fighting for one place. I believe it's not good picking somebody on what they did last year, or the last Olympics. Who is to say they're going to come out in 1988 and produce the same result? What we're doing now is probably the fairest way."

As the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters along with two silver medals in the 800, Coe, of course, has a different viewpoint.

Coe, who is hoping for another double in the Olympic Games this fall in Seoul, South Korea, says that the new selection method works against athletes in many events because the British trials will be held in a period of only two days.

"I question (British officials') willingness to let people double up," said Coe, who dropped out of The Times meet because of a heavy cold. "I'll probably run a trial at 800 and then try to run some reasonable 1,500s and say, 'Look, I'm the defending champion and I should be given a chance to defend again.' "

Elliott says that if Coe is selected as the third team member in the 1,500 meters, it shouldn't be on the basis of isolated competition. "If Coe runs in a Grand Prix meet, say in Rome, other British runners should also be in that race. That would be fair," Elliott said.

The red-haired Elliott was the silver medalist in the 800 in the World Championships last September in Rome. But he plans to concentrate on the 1,500 in the Olympic Games.

"I have to be realistic," he said. "In the World Championships the guys went out fast and that suited me and I came away with a silver medal.

"If the pace had been slow and came down to a kick finish, I don't have the kick to compete with some of these guys. You have 400-800 runners and you have 800-1,500 meter runners.

"At the end of the 1,500 I have the kick to go with them. To be able to run a fast 1,500, you have to be able to run a fast 800."

Elliott established a British indoor mile record when he was timed in 3:53.7 behind Marcus O'Sullivan's 3:50.94 last Saturday night in the U.S. Olympic invitational meet in East Rutherford. N.J.

O'Sullivan, the latest Irish indoor mile sensation, who will also compete in The Times meet, recorded the third fastest indoor mile of all time. Only Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan has ever run faster, 3:49.78 and 3:50.6.

British runners such as Elliott, Coe, Cram and Ovett don't concentrate on the indoor season. They're geared for outdoor competition.

Elliott said that runners like Coghlan and O'Sullivan have come up through the American system, went to Villanova, and place more emphasis on the indoor season with its financial rewards.

However, neither Coghlan nor O'Sullivan have been as successful in outdoor competition as they have been indoors.

What more can Jackie Joyner-Kersee do? Plenty, according to her husband and coach, Bob Kersee.

Joyner-Kersee is already the world-record holder in the heptathlon (7,158 points) an co-world outdoor record-holder in the long jump with East Germany's Heike Dreschler at 24-5 1/2.

Kersee wouldn't be surprised if his wife breaks the indoor long jump record, a mark held by Dreschler at 24-2 1/2, at the Forum Friday night.

He also believes that Joyner-Kersee is capable of scoring 7,472 points in the heptathlon and breaking the American record of 12.79 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles.

She had a rewarding last weekend in the East, where she set a U.S. indoor long jump record of 23-0 1/2 in the U.S. Olympic Invitational and then established another American record of 7.88 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles at meet in Fairfax, Va.

"I've seen from videotapes and watching Jackie that she's just moments away from jumping 7.40 meters plus (24-3 1/2)," Kersee said. "She's not attacking the board in terms of trajectory and holding her extension because she's not really used to jumping indoors with the type of speed she has now.

Kersee said he also believes that his wife is capable of running less than 12.40 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles, which would definitely establish her in a select world class in still another event. Bulgaria's Ginka Zagorchevais the world record-holder at 12.25.

Joyner-Kersee's problem is just to find time to explore all these possibilities.

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