Athletics: Marathoner tipped to appeal exclusion

By Paul Lewis

Discarded marathon athlete Liza Hunter-Galvan may yet appeal her omission from New Zealand's track and field team to the Beijing Olympics.

Eight athletes were named for Beijing this week but US-based Michael Aish and Hunter-Galvan were not included, in spite of both beating the marathon qualifying time.

Head of the athletics selection panel and coach for Beijing, John Bowden, said at the announcement that Athletics New Zealand's selection policy was clear that qualifying times did not mean automatic selection.

Other criteria were involved - like consistency of past performances, record in major championships and ability to make the world's top 16.

It is also recognition of the fact that, although track and field remains New Zealand's biggest medal-winning Olympic sport, there has been no medal since Lorraine Moller's marathon bronze at Barcelona in 1992.

Such omissions, though, are always fraught with emotion. Athletes tend to be single-minded in their pursuit of qualifying times and find it difficult to understand breaking a qualifying time but not breaking into an Olympic team.

Athletics NZ has a defined appeals procedure and it is thought likely Hunter-Galvan will appeal, although Aish - who beat the qualifying time twice - has already said he will not.

Hunter-Galvan could not be reached for comment but she has a particular emotional impetus in her quest for the Olympics, as she told the Herald on Sunday last year that she was trying to qualify for the Beijing Olympics because of her 12-year-old daughter Amber.

The family was involved in a horrific car crash involving a truck that tried to do a u-turn in front of them and the accident wiped Amber's memory of her mother competing at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

"The last 5km of the Amsterdam marathon, I was running with Amber at the forefront of my mind. I knew she has no memory of me competing [at Athens] and I wanted to make new memories for her."

However, it is understood that New Zealand athletics authorities felt the Amsterdam marathon - where the 38-year-old Hunter-Galvan beat her personal best time by three minutes - was run in cooler and very non-Beijing conditions and was a much faster course. The same criticism is understood to be attached to Aish's qualifying times and neither have a strong record in major events.

Aish, a professional athlete in the US, also tends to tailor his training and racing towards meeting the needs of his livelihood rather than, as many other athletes do, focusing on the Olympics.

But how then does veteran discus thrower Beatrice Faumuina - who has performed poorly, by her own high standards, for the past two years - make the team?

The ability to make the top 16 was most likely paramount, as was her past record in major championships - although not since her fourth in the world championships at Helsinki in 2005, as most would regard her fourth in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games as below par.

In these days of professionalism and as New Zealand sport clears away the last vestiges of the amateur ethos of making the team being a triumph, ability to perform is a must and no-one has ever doubted Faumuina has that.

The marathon ranks might also swell if Jonathan Wyatt and Scott Winton can qualify at the Zurich and Hamburg marathons.

Athletics NZ are also waiting until June 30 to see if six unnamed athletes, recovering from injury, can make it to Beijing. One is decathlete Brent Newdick, profiled in these pages last week, and another is 3000m steeplechaser Kate McIlroy.

Team for Beijing - Men: Adrian Blincoe (5000m), James Dolphin (200m), Stuart Farquhar (javelin), Nick Willis (1500m). Women: Beatrice Faumuina (discus), Nina Rillstone (marathon), Kimberley Smith (10,000m), Valerie Vili (shot put).

- Herald on Sunday

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