It is now over 40 years since Australia won its last medal in an Olympic Games (OG) mens running event; that being Rick Mitchell who won a silver medal in the 400m at Moscow in 1980.
With female athletes making up a record 53.5 per cent (254 of 472) of the Australian Olympic team for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, I was interested to see how fair the selection criteria was for Australia’s athletics squad given that the 63-strong athletics team also comprises 35 women and 28 men.
While World Athletics has introduced a new world ranking system for qualification to the Tokyo, with rankings based on the average of the best five results for the athlete over the qualifying period – roughly from early 2019 to 29 June 2021 – I assess selection fairness by comparing the qualifying times for men and women against the best world performers of previous years.
The following table, which focuses on the individual track and field events, compares the qualifying standard times set for both sexes against the tenth and 25th best world performances from the proceeding three-year period from 2016 to 2018.
A percentage above 100 per cent means that the qualifying performance is outside the tenth and 25th ranking, while a percentage below 100 per cent means that the qualifying standard is better.
The table excludes the marathon (six competitors) and walking events (seven competitors) and the four additional female athletes selected for Australia’s only relay team (4x400m),
|Qualifying standard||QS as percentage of tenth world best||QS as percentage of 25th world best|
|Rohan Browning||10.05 sec||9.90, 101.5||9.94, 101.6|
|Hana Basic||11.15||10.85, 102.7||10.98, 101.5|
|No male qualifier||20.24||19.81, 102.2||19.97, 101.3|
|Riley Day||22.80||22.08, 103.2||22.42, 101.7|
|Steven Solomon, Alex Beck||44.90||44.02, 102||44.55, 100.8|
|Bendere Oboya||51.35||49.90, 102.9||50.43, 101.8|
|Peter Bol, Charlie Hunter, Jeffrey Riseley||1:45.20||1:43.25, 101.9||1:44.42, 100.7|
|Catriona Bisset and Morgan Mitchell||1:59.5||1:57.38, 101.8||1:58.43, 100.9|
|Jye Edwards, Stewart McSweyn, Ollie Hoare||3:35.0||3:31.62, 101.6||3:33.05, 100.9|
|Linden Hall, Jessica Hull, Georgia Griffith||4:04.2||3:58.88, 102.2||4:01.78, 101|
|Patrick Tiernan, Dave McNeill, Morgan McDonald||13:13.50||12:59.83, 101.7||13:04.82, 101|
|Izzi Batt-Doyle, Rose Davies, Jenny Blundell||15:10.0||14:29.50, 104.6||14:43.42, 103|
|Patrick Tiernan||27:28.0||26:57.88, 102.5||27:14.43, 100.8|
|No female qualifier||31:25.0||30:37.38, 102.6||31:15.38, 100.5|
|Nick Hough||13.32||13.11, 101.6||13.25, 100.5|
|Liz Clay||12.84||12.52, 102.5||12.69, 101.2|
|No male qualifier||48.90||48.07, 101.7||48.49, 100.8|
|Sarah Carli||55.40||53.92, 102.7||54.94, 100.8|
|Ed Trippas, Ben Buckingham||8:22.0||8:08.37, 102.8||8:14.62, 101.5|
|Genevieve Gregson, Amy Cashin, Georgia Winkcup||9:30.0||9:08.23, 104||9:20.07, 101.8|
|Henry Frayne||8.22 metres||8.42, 102.4||8.28, 100.7|
|Brooke Stratton||6.82||6.93, 101.6||6.81, 99.8|
|No male qualifier||17.14||17.37, 101.3||17.16, 100.1|
|No female qualifier||14.32||14.65, 102.3||14.33, 100.1|
|Brandon Starc||2.33||2.35, 100.8||2.31, 99.1|
|Nicola McDermott and Eleanor Patterson||1.96||1.98, 101||1.95, 99.5|
|Kurtis Marschall||5.80||5.85, 100.8||5.75, 99.1|
|Nina Kennedy and Elizaveta Parnova||4.70||4.81, 102.3||4.67, 99.4|
|No male qualifier||21.10||21.76, 103.1||21.11, 100|
|No female qualifier||18.50||19.38, 104.7||18.78, 101.5|
|Matty Denny||66||68.03, 103||66.03, 100|
|Dani Stevens||63.50||65.59, 103.3||61.89, 97.5|
|No male qualifier||77.50||78.59, 101.4||77.40, 99.9|
|No female qualifier||72.50||75.29, 103.8||72.41, 99.9|
|No male qualifier||85||88.27, 103.8||85.11, 100.1|
|Kelsey Barber, K.Mitchell, Mackenzie Little||64||67.11, 104.8||63.65, 99.4|
|Ash Moloney and Cedric Dubler||8350||8521, 102||8281, 99.2|
|No qualifier||6420||6580, 102.5||6337, 98.7|
If we compare qualification standards against the 25th best world performance from 2016 to 2018, there is little difference between the men and women in 16 of the 19 individual events, with less than one per cent separating them. In 12 of the events there was only a maximum 0.5 per cent difference.
Six of the 19 events had a tougher standard for the women and nine had a slightly tougher standard for men.
The 5000m is the only event where there appears to be a significant difference that favours the females, yet that event did not prevent the maximum three qualifiers for both genders.
The same is true when comparing qualification standards against the tenth-ranked global athlete from 2016 to 2018, although the difference between the genders is slightly above one per cent in more events.
While not all selected Australians met the qualifying standard listed in the table since 2019 – five males and eight females – most of Australia’s selected athletes did indeed qualify or were very close to the listed qualifying standard.
The overall tough criteria also mean that Australia has no male competitor in six of the individual events, while there are no females in five events.
In accordance with the information presented in the above table, Australia’s track and field team is indeed selected on a fair basis.
While this article cannot speak for the other Olympic sports, it does show that the criteria for selecting men and women for Australia’s athletics team are quite fair, with similar qualifying standards for both men and women.
It simply does not matter if any Australian team has a higher proportion of females if they are the ones that most often meet the qualifying standard.
After all, there is nothing like a bit of competition.