How Australia Picks Its Olympic Track and Field Team

By Kyle Merber

April 10, 2024

Do NOT call the Australian National Championships the Australian Olympic Trials because it definitely is not that! Because of its open door policy to internationals, and the country’s selection protocols, the winner of their event isn’t guaranteed anything beyond a crown. That’s right. Winning the national championship and having the Olympic standard does not guarantee selection, but it can help!

American track and field has its own set of problems, but the crown jewel of our system is the Olympic Track Trials which operates rather simply: USATF sends the top three eligible athletes from the national championships.

Australia is a bit more complicated and it's not entirely the Land Down Under’s fault; it’s more a consequence of being in the southern hemisphere. You see, I’m something of a scientist, and let me tell you, their weather is flipped! Because the outdoor domestic season wraps up in April, selecting a team four months prior wouldn’t necessarily lead to the most competitive one being fielded.

The current system happens in two phases (three, if you include roads). After the national championships this week, the heavy hitters will be named to the team. Assuming they finish in the top two and have a history of success on the international stage, Athletics Australia will give the early nod to the stars, and the stars only. This is the Nina Kennedy, Eleanor Patterson, Kelsey-Lee Barber round.

For everyone else, they’ll be trying their best until July to prove themselves. In addition to competing well, there are other factors that are considered like, “did you blow it the last time you were selected?” and “how often did you compete in Australia?”

Forget all that though. The rules are clearly written so that the final say comes down to the will of the selection committee. I like to imagine during the Trials the national championships, the selectors are sitting atop thrones in the center of the track and the athletes bow to them and bring gifts as a sign of respect prior to each race.. If you are an Australian athlete hoping to qualify to the Olympics, it’s in your best interest to send its members a Christmas card.

A few cycles ago, it probably would not have been too difficult to be a selector because there wasn’t enough depth to make it all that complicated in most events. Things have changed! Now there are at least five athletes that would qualify today in the women’s 800m and six women with the marathon standard.

I have been mulling over ways to improve this selection system, but given the restraints of the event happening in April, it’s hard to think of something much better that wouldn’t still be subjective. One option would be to hold a selection race at a different meet later in the year like Ethiopia has in Hengelo, or Kenya at Pre for the 10,000m. But that isn’t necessarily good for the sport in Australia, and the more events that need to be contested the more complicated it gets.

My hope is that the value of head-to-head match-ups is weighted more highly than season’s bests. The World Athletics rankings are not the perfect system, but it would at least make for a more objective selection. The goal should be to make Olympic selection as simple as possible while the greatest number of fans are watching. That’s why they should bring back the auto-selection for the win and call it the Trials. The other two spots would still be more complicatedly selected, so the six-person committee can continue to receive all the Christmas cards!

Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.