If the selection of the triathlon team heading to London 2012 has raised a few eyebrows, spare a thought for the Aussies. The reigning Olympic champion has been omitted, the goal posts were moved on numbers occasions and senior figures resigned because of the process. In a typically candid interview, Chris McCormack gives his view on the “debacle” of Olympic selection and how it is damaging the sport:
My first question after going though this debacle for Sydney in 2000 was, “How are we picking the team?” How do I go right now to an Olympic game startline?” The selection policy was ‘nothing else matters but what you do in the three races—Hamburg, London and Beijing—with a huge emphasis on London and Beijing. And then the following year, our selection race will be Sydney World Cup. That’s how the policy works.’ Now, there was a discretionary part to the policy—looking at performances in big races in your career, how you can bring a team together, how you get on with the other athletes. I thought, four of those eight things I actually fit, so I’m going to venture down this path. We went down the path, and I played the game, and thought, ‘okay, this time I’m going to be smart about—I’m just going to race Australians and be clever about it and build the speed and do what I can do the best I can be and get myself on this team. I got to meet and know the other guys through the process and understand what their issues with the policy were, but we all thought we were going. I want to say now: The team we have now is all worthy—a very worthy team. We were the best four of the 10 that started the journey together.
After Sydney, the debacle of it all came about and in typical Australian fashion, the selectors and the board decided that it wasn’t good enough and they couldn’t come to an arrangement so they moved the goalpost and added the San Diego race they now wanted to look at, and added Madrid as a race they wanted to look at, and from an athlete’s perspective, we just said, ‘come on, man, what’s going on here?’ They put the selection process way ahead of the goal itself. They moved the goal post by adding new selection races in order to get a team they were happier with—they weren’t happy with the team that came together from the policy they’d written—and tried to get a different team by adding more races. I think there and then guys and girls started to crack; ‘what am I going to do now, am I going to try to do 70.3s and build my career post-Olympics or am I now in this Olympic thing again?’ By the end of it, everyone was relieved.
When I first got the phone call that I hadn’t made the Olympic team, the first question I was asked was, “Will you be contesting this with the Court of Arbitration of Sport?” and my answer was, “No. The team you’ve picked is a worthy team. I can give you 10 reasons why I think I should be on the team, and I can give you ten reasons why I think Brendan or Courtney or Brad should be on the team. If you guys don’t think I’m worthy, I can live with that. But I will say to you, Michael Flynn, that the selection policy is ridiculous, and it wasn’t the policy I came into the last 12 months. What I thought the policy was and what it actually was were two completely different things. I’m not saying this because I didn’t make the team—that’s why I’m not contesting it—but I am saying you’ve assed it up. The objective is success at the Olympics, not to create a team!”
When they told me who made the women’s team, my jaw hit the ground. I could not believe it. I was like, “My God.” You write a discretionary policy for athletes like Emma Snowsill. Athletes like Emma, who have been injured, and they have shown results in the past in that selection period and showing improvement and your biggest chance to win a medal, discretion is exercised to put those people on the team. If you’re not going to do that, then write a simple policy with three races where people go. I think the selection criteria amongst the Australians let a lot of people down. Emma Snowsill is the only woman—and I may be proved wrong…Moffy’s the toughest woman I know—who can beat Helen Jenkins. With discretion, I would have to have taken Emma Snowsill. The greatest female ITU triathlete of all time went to the Olympics and won it. It’s mind-boggling to me that she’s not on the team. Are you kidding me? It’s just too many agendas here, and I can understand why we’re the laughing stock.
Australia’s success at long distance racing is because the Australian system is driving our athletes into long course: Craig Alexander, Mirinda Carfrae, myself, Nikki Butterfield, Pete Jacobs, David Dellow. It’s great for Ironman and long-course racing. My argument to the press in Australia is: keep it simple and support the American system of selection—it’s brutal, it keeps it clear and concise for the athletes. Manny Huerta just put himself on the U.S. Olympic team. The greatness of the American system is that every athlete feels he or she has the chance of making the Olympic team. Leave it in the athletes’ hands so that the athletes that don’t go don’t feel robbed in any way. They control their own destiny. It’s the athletes who feel they’ve been robbed by the system that struggle with not being selected. For the rest of my career, and no matter what anybody else says to me, I will always think that I got robbed by not being selected for the Sydney Olympic team. That will never change. Someone needs to come in and wipe the slate clean. Admit the mistakes of the past and move on. But no one will do that; there are too many agendas.
We have to put the process back in the athletes’ hands. Keep it simple. The problem with the Australian system is that you’re either in or you’re out—and that’s the error. Phenomenal athletes are out. They’re never getting back in. They’re going to go to America and never come back. Just let them race. They’ve been doing it since they were 12. We don’t have any team morale in the Australian system.