Sports Outside the Beltway

Tyson Gay Out of Olympic 200

America’s best sprinter will not run the 200 meters in the Beijing Olympics, another casualty of our stupid selection policy.

Tyson Gay falls during the first quarterfinal heat of the men\'s 200 meter race at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, July 5, 2008. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)Tyson Gay accelerated through the first curve. Then, he started flying. Not in the figurative sense, but in an all-too-real way — a shocking sprawl to the ground that cost America’s best sprinter an Olympic spot in the 200 meters and made him look like less than a sure thing, health-wise at least, with the Beijing Games five weeks away.

Had this been gymnastics, or a number of other sports, an injury at trials wouldn’t have ended Gay’s chance to make the Olympics in that specific event. But USA Track and Field plays it straight — top three finishers at trials make the Olympics, no exceptions.

It’s a black-and-white policy that most athletes accept, though it could end up costing the American team as much as Gay in Beijing. Gay is the defending world champion in the 100 and 200 meters.

“I don’t know any other way to do it, but it’s tough,” said Wallace Spearmon, now the favorite in Sunday’s finals. “Either you’re ready on this day or not. You can be the best athlete coming into it, and you could be sitting at home watching it from the house.”

How about a system that combines multiple events? Say, the Olympic Trials, the World Championships, and one or two other major competitions? That way, a poorly timed fall, injury, or illness would be less likely to cost an individual an opportunity for which they’ve spent a lifetime training. And Team USA would be represented by the best athletes.

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