Athletics: Seatter defends tougher qualifying times

By Anendra Singh

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TOO EMOTIONAL? Coach Mick Cull on Shannon Gearey's qualifying time. PHOTO/DUNCAN BROWN
TOO EMOTIONAL? Coach Mick Cull on Shannon Gearey's qualifying time. PHOTO/DUNCAN BROWN

The new New Zealand qualifying times for the Junior World Athletics Championship are tough but Athletics New Zealand will not have it any other way.

"People say we're too tough ... we make no apologies for that," says Athletics NZ convenor of selectors Graham Seatter.

His response comes on the heels of an outburst from Hawke's Bay coach Mick Cull this week that the standard B qualifying times are "beyond achievable".

Cull and teenage protege Shannon Gearey, a 400m track specialist, are in Sydney for the Australia National Juniors Championship beginning today.

Napier Girls' High School pupil Gearey, who has a personal best (PB) time of 55.30s, is attempting to make the new B standard qualifying time of 53.90s for the Junior World Championship in Oregon in July.

The B standard time for the 400m race used to be 54.70s, which Cull considers realistic.

The A standard time for the juniors is 52.70s.

Australia are sticking with the status quo of 54.70s B standard qualifying time.

Gearey, 16, will compete in the heats today and, if she makes the cut, will race in the semifinals and finals tomorrow.

Cull says his discussions with Seatter left him thinking the administrator doesn't understand the repercussions of his research-based standards.

He believes teenagers aren't strong enough and Athletics NZ's new standards will destroy the base for youngsters who will start seeking full scholarships to the American universities rather than staying in New Zealand.

Gearey is eligible for the World Juniors this year and in 2016.

If she doesn't make the B standard qualifying time this weekend then she'll have another chance at the New Zealand Junior Championship in Wellington in the last weekend of this month.

She is the No1 400m runner in her age group in the country and is No4 in the senior ranks.

However, Seatter says he had exchanged 3 to 4 emails with Cull "making very emotional responses".

He emphasises the standards "haven't changed".

"Every two years we have a list of standards.

"Standards expire after any championship, whether it's Commonwealth Games or the Worlds or whatever. They don't carry on."

Seatter says the Athletics NZ board has had a "Top 16 Philosophy" for all of the IAAF world championships (that is, youth, junior & Open-age) and Olympic Games since 2008.

It focuses on selecting a team that will achieve a high percentage of top-16 placings but a top-20 in the world, he says, is an acceptable yardstick.

"My job as one of three people who are on the selecting panel is to make nominations to the board to look at athletes' performances and assess who has a good chance of making it to the worlds.

"Are the standards too tough?

"Of course, they are. This is not a development programme for young athletes," he says, revealing 59 of youngsters are in Sydney this weekend which was the best place when they are not the top performers in the world.

Seatter says sending athletes to an event often has the effect of them returning demoralised.

"It's no place to send promising 15 and 16-year-olds," says the man who lived and worked in the Bay for years.

Steve Hollings' PhD/Research shows they are at "high risk" of dropping out of the code all together after disillusionment with the gulf with the rest of the world.

He respects the passion of coaches such as Cull but feel they lack "logic and reason to make decisions".

"Others can make emotional responses but I can't," says the former national Olympics coach (1996) and Commonwealth Games race walker, adding he isn't in the business of pre-determining, for argument's sake, 20 athletes will make the cut at any given time and following it through.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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