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Ben Flanagan Explains How The Canadian Olympic Selection Works & Why You Can’t Count Him Out

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Ben Flanagan returns to the podcast! He first came on in 2018 after winning his NCAA title in the 10,000m. Now he’s a professional runner for the Reebok Boston Track Club and he’s currently quarantined in Canada before he competes at their respective Olympic Trials in Montreal later this month. We’re all fairly familiar with what it takes to make the U.S. Olympic team with a top three finish at each event but it’s a little more complex with Canada. He explains why. His personal best in the 5,000m is 13:20, which was run at the Platinum PT Qualifier put on by Tracksmith at the end of May. I was behind the mic for that race and while I saw it was a four-second personal best, he tells us why it was a much bigger deal in his hopes for Tokyo. We also catch up on life since his last podcast appearance, he’s got some nice things to say about Mason Ferlic and much more.

You can watch Ben compete in the men’s 5,000m on Saturday, June 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Athletics Canda said the event will be streamed for free on athleticscanada.tv.| Full schedule here.

Pick up a copy of Don’t Count Me Out by Ben Weingart here.

You can catch the latest episode of the podcast on iTunes so subscribe and leave a five-star review. We are also on Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify!

Photos by Benjamin Weingart

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SHOW NOTES AND QUOTES

How Athletics Canada Picks Its Olympic Team

“To give you the timeline, there was a point where it was not that complicated. It was for all events the same as the marathon (top finisher auto qualifies with the next two spots being selected by Athletics Canada) as long as an athlete has the standard or was the event quota. The 5K for example is taking 42 athletes and if you’re in position with your World Ranking in those top 42, Canada can select you for the Olympics. You’re qualified for the Olympics. That was the main focus and step number one because if you don’t check the Olympic box, no matter how good you are in Canada then you’re not making the team. Originally, it was if you win the Trials, you get an auto bid. The plan for me was ‘OK. Get a ranking that puts me in the quota and win the Trials and I’ll go.’ 

The next step, which was quite advantageous for me at the time, was due to COVID. Athletics Canada announced there was no obligation to run the Trials anymore. You don’t have to go anymore but if you do then there’s still the auto bid. If you win, you still go. For a guy like me, that basically means the people who are a lock probably aren’t going to come. You have to sacrifice a lot to come to the Trials. Now, I have to be in the event quota and win the Trials likely without Moh (Ahmed) and Justyn (Knight) there and that makes a pretty big difference.

Until recently…I don’t really know all the answers but from what I gather this was a lot to ask athletes to go through this process to go to the Trials so they actually removed the auto bid. Instead of going auto bid and two discretionary spots, it’s now just three discretionary spots based on a number of variables. That leads things pretty open to interpretation. As an athlete, you just need to know who you’re competing against, where you stand relative to them and what you can do to separate yourself from them. Again, in the 5K because that’s the event I’m trying to make it in, with Moh and Justyn it’s kind of an unspoken assumption those guys are a lock because of just how much those guys have accomplished in their careers already. We have a few people fighting for that third spot. The challenge now is that without the Trials being mandatory and the auto bid not being there, we don’t know who is going to show up and what the value of winning that national title is. As an athlete, you need to decide: Is it better to go run a really fast race in Portland or Europe or go to the Trials and win that? Due to all the protocols you need to go through to get to the Trials, it makes it almost impossible to do both. You kind of have to choose one or the other and stick to it. That’s the situation we’re in right now.

The goal is to go to the Trials, compete really well, fight for the win – if we run fast that’s a bonus – and really just impress the selection committee. I think that combined with my 13:20 earlier this year, some of my past experience, big wins and past national titles I’ve collected, I’m hoping that’s enough to impress the selection committee. At the end of the day, it’s up to them and the criteria is pretty broad.”

Why his 13:20 in Massachusetts mattered so much more than just a personal best:

That race was a really big deal and I went in knowing it was going to be one of my last really good shots to run fast before going to Canada when virtually there are 2+ weeks of no racing because of the quarantine protocol I have to go through. Having Ben True there helped a lot. The race was set up well with pacers. It was a pretty miserable day so I’m really happy we were able to overcome the conditions and run pretty well. Going into the race, what was on my mind most notably was trying to run faster than Kieran Lumb because he was the fastest Canadian behind Moh and Justyn so far this year. Among the criteria for comparing these athletes is World Ranking, head-to-head performances, Canadian ranking and fastest times. So there are two things I probably won’t be able to pass Kieran on from now until the Trials and that’s a World Ranking. He’s probably going to be above me no matter what because he capitalized on some big opportunities and he’s beaten me at Drake Relays. What I can do is run faster than him. I was staring at that clock with three laps to go. 13:24 was on my mind. As we were narrowing in on it, I was like, ‘Oh dang…We’ve got a really good shot.’ With a lap to go, usually, I would probably try to wait a little longer than that to solidify a winning position, but it was about running as fast as possible. To close that well and increase that gap by four seconds, that now asserts me as the next-fastest Canadian. I know Kieran and Luc Bruchet, who ran 13:22 that same night, are going to have more opportunities and now they’re targeting my time. We’ll see if it stands. At that time, it was a pretty clutch performance that not only put me in the lead for the fastest time but solidified my event ranking quota so now I’m eligible for the Olympics.”


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