Austin resident Lennie Waite celebrated with tears of excitement and relief last week, assuming she had done enough to make her home country’s roster for the upcoming IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The 29-year-old turned in a personal best of 9 minutes, 40 seconds on the track in Sweden – four seconds below the qualifying mark of 9:44 that Great Britain set as the standard.
If her name sounds familiar it’s because she’s been a Texan since age seven, graduating from St. Stephen’s High School in northwest Austin and going on to a very successful collegiate distance running career at Rice University.
But, as governing bodies of track and field have proven time and time again – logic, common sense and reason have no place inside the closed doors of their stuffy meeting rooms. Because Waite has only broken 9:44 once this season her fate was left in the hands of the British Athletics committee. And rather than have someone compete in the women’s steeplechase wearing a Great Britain uniform, the committee dealt a devastating blow by opting to leave her off the team.
Their reasoning for the decision stems from doubt she could finish in the top eight. In a selection letter sent to the committee, Steve Sisson – Waite’s coach under Rogue Athletics – addressed that by noting he is “certain the fitness currently possessed will place [Waite] in the final and after looking through the current world bests and the likely fields, an eighth place or better finish is a reasonable expectation.”
When looking back at the 2013 World Championships the country granted entry to Eilish McColgan who had a similar qualifying time and progression of personal bests as Waite. McColgan went on to turn in a personal record at the championships and until Waite’s performance last week, no other British athlete had run 9:40 or better since August 2013.
Waite released the following statement on her blog today:
After winning the British trials in the steeplechase, and being the only British steeplechaser to have achieved the IAAF qualifying mark of 9:44 in the steeplechase, I feel I have earned a spot on the starting line in Beijing. Last Wednesday, I ran 9:40.39 in the steeplechase in Karlstad. I crossed the line with my arms in the air and tears welling in my eyes. I had finally achieved an Olympic and World Championship qualifying time. I was ECSTATIC.
Although I have achieved qualification per IAAF rules, Britain has not selected me to represent Team GB at the World Championships in Beijing. To guarantee selection for Britain, I had to run the standard twice. I progressed consistently this season, running 9:50, 9:46, 9:45 and then 9:40. However, I only ran under 9:44 once. Because of this, my selection was up to a committee and ultimately, the committee decided to deny me the opportunity to race at the World Championships.
I am currently ranked # 1 in Britain, and I have an Olympic qualifying mark for the Rio Olympics. I have been on a roll this year and I was so looking forward to bringing my momentum to the World Champs stage with me. It would be an incredible experience, one I have worked 7 years to achieve, and a great learning opportunity before the Rio Olympics. What is their rational [sic] in denying me this opportunity?
Having been in this sport for so long, I am no stranger to failure. I understand that this is part of the process. However, I am in the midst of the best track season of my life and I feel I deserve to reap the rewards of my persistence, improvement, and dedication. Instead, I feel powerless and undervalued. I will fight to appeal this decision, and I hope to prove my case. Regardless of the outcome, I will pick myself up again and get ready for the next opportunity. I live for a challenge, and this is just one more barrier that I must hurdle.
Update: July 28 @ 11:00 AM
The BBC reports that Lennie Waite will appeal the decision by British Athletics.