John Steffensen has a point
I want to declare upfront that I am a personal friend and supporter of John Steffensen, but that does not change the facts of this story.
Steffensen, along with his fellow 400 metre runners, Ben Offereins, Joel Milburn and Steven Solomon had not run A qualifying times, so Australia was not going to have a runner in the individual race at the London Olympics.
However, yesterday, on the back of a good time at the World Junior Championships, Solomon may be given the one discretionary individual berth.
As you can appreciate, Steffensen is outraged and has spoken out that is not only unfair to him but also team mates Offereins and Milburn. Steffenson is so outraged he has threatened to pull out of the relay team.
He has a point. A big point. The whole qualification and selection process for these Olympics has been inconsistent at best if not downright confusing. How can a discretionary selection be made fairly without it smacking of favouritism or bias?
If Australia did its selection like the USA, then Steffensen would be the individual runner going to London as he won the “selection trials” earlier in March beating Solomon.
I know some of Steffensen’s detractors will voice that he is not selected because of his outspokenness and flamboyance, but I don’t believe the Olympics are a popularity contest. Should you be punished for speaking out against bias?
Remember how “tut tut” the 1968 “black power” salute on the dais by the two American sprinters was viewed at the time? Yet today, we admire those people who spoke out against injustice.
Only three days ago I wrote a stinging article about Tamsyn Manou’s reaction to not being selected after being the national champion and only running B qualifiers. But now, after this back flip from the Athletics Australia, she too, has a point. As does the equestrian Sonja Johnson and all others who have narrowly missed selection.
John knew that his chances of securing an individual start in the London games was slim at best after tearing his left hamstring 20 metres from the finish of the Stawell Gift in April. Some lengthy and intense rehabilitation tested his own self belief at one stage of being ready for London.
“I am fighter and I will get through it,” he told me back in April.
Against the odds Steffensen returned to competition in late May in The Netherlands but again missed the A qualifier. The great irony of that race was that he was beaten by another controversial athlete, South African Oscar Pistorius.
He too, did not satisfy the 45.30 set by his national selectors, however, has been given an individual berth in London in what could be accused of being nothing more than a public relations exercise by his national federation.
Accepting that he would not compete as an individual this time around, Steffensen, along with his team mates, continued training hard while nervously waiting until the IAAF announced the relay rankings two weeks ago to find out if they would get to compete for their county. The teamed scraped in in 13th place out of the 16 permitted a start.
Now all of that has been thrown in to disarray. I just hope John listens to my advice as a friend and lets his running spikes do the talking and competes, as the really team could buck the odds, as they have done in the past, and snatch a medal.
I just hope the AOC over rides Athetics Australia, and comes to their senses on this one and not give Solomon the individual berth.
Otherwise, they may not only lose their credibility, but set a dangerous precedent from which they may never recover.