We are less than a month away from the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta and while there will be more than 400 women on the starting line, I’m disappointed that my teammate Erin Gregoire may not be among them despite running a 2:42:55 at the Chevron Houston Marathon on Jan. 19.
My coach Steve Finley and Erin passed along the news to me on Thursday afternoon after her entry and declaration for the trials were denied by USA Track and Field. An appeal was filed to the USATF women’s long distance running chair, Kimberly Kirkpatrick, who responded:
“Erin’s differential for the gun time is too much of a gap for us to overcome. It truly pains me not to be able to give her this opportunity but we can not deviate from our selection procedures by that much. All of the appeals that have been granted were under a 10 second differential from the 2:45:00 gun time. In doing so I would like to work with you to make sure she is not denied first start access from any US championship moving forward and I will look to make sure she is accepted into any elite field of our championships and will do whatever I can to assist her. While I know this is not the answer you were hoping for, please know I recognize her potential as one of our future stars and want to do all we can do to cultivate that.”
It’s a thorough response but maybe should take a chance to reconsider her unique situation.
Erin graduated from Columbia just last year and was a standout runner. In taking a quick peek at her TFRRs profile, she won last year’s 3,000-meter title at the Ivy League Indoor Track and Field Championships. She was third in the 5,000 meters at the Ivy League Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She ran her personal best of 16:17.98 at the Stanford Invitational. Last fall, she joined the Brooklyn Track Club and trains with several of the other sub-elite women of New York City.
She later decided that she wanted to attempt to run an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier in her marathon debut and targetted the Houston Marathon in January. She registered on Nov. 11 and asked to be placed in Corral A. She entered that her goal time was 2:44:00. Because she was just out of school and has not raced on the USATF road racing circuit or NYRR races, her only proof of fitness to back up that goal time was her Strava account and personal bests from college. As a result, she was placed in Corral B on Nov. 20th and race officials stated that the proof she submitted could not be verified.
On Jan. 13, coach Finley emails Jim Estes at the Houston Marathon to try and help Erin move from Corral B to Corral A. Once again, her personal bests were listed and it was noted that she has spent the past few months training alongside sub-2:40 men and women. Finley wrote, “I believe Erin is prepared to run 2:38-2:40, or else I would not ask for assistance here. I work with six other ladies who will already be racing at the Olympic Trials Marathon next month, she trains alongside them every day.”
Later that day, Estes replied and said, “Sorry to say that we can’t move anyone up at this point. Hopefully she’s able to blow 2:45 out of the water, I would think that if her chip time is well under, she would have a good basis for an appeal with USATF.”
As part of a last-ditch attempt to try and get moved up to Corral A, Erin asked for a corral change at the Houston Marathon Expo but was again denied by the staff. They told her that too many athletes had also asked for this change.
On Jan. 19, Corral A went off at 7:01:01 a.m. Corral B went off at 7:13:00 (+11 minutes, 59 seconds later). Erin ran a brilliant race. She finished in 2:42:55, according to her chip time and 2:54:54 on her gun time. Everyone on the team was thrilled for Erin.
On Monday, Jan. 27, Finley outlined the case in detail to Kirkpatrick including the three different occasions for her to be recognized as an elite athlete by the Houston Marathon. For further context about Erin’s ability to compete on the national stage, she placed 23rd overall at the most recent USATF Club Cross Country National Championship. The response to her appeal being denied came on Wednesday night.
I’m familiar with the rules about gun times and chip times but believe Erin’s appeal should’ve been accepted. Clearly, she was capable of hitting the OTQ in Houston but was put in an extremely difficult situation where she would’ve had to run really fast (about a 2:33) to clock a sub-2:45 gun time while starting that far behind from the field. I will admit that I’m unaware of how many other women were trying to get into chip times but I wanted to provide a full outline of this unique case.
Like many things in this sport, nothing is guaranteed for the future. Erin proved she has the talent to be among these other women in the race for an Olympic team and deserves that experience on Feb. 29.