When Krista DuChene and Lanni Marchant told organizers of the Rotterdam Marathon last month that they planned to run close to two hours and 30 minutes, there were more than a few snickers.
After all, the two Canadians hadn't come within 10 minutes of that time and they were hardly household names in the marathon world. "We were scoffed at," Ms. Marchant recalled.
In the end, both Ms. Marchant and Ms. DuChene did far better than expected, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively, in the race, and within a couple of minutes of their goal. But their times – while among the top 10 fastest marathons ever run by Canadian women – were not good enough to get either of them selected to the Canadian team for the 2012 Olympics.
The two women are now appealing to Athletics Canada for an exception.
They argue they exceeded the Olympic standard set by the International Association of Athletics Federations, and that Athletics Canada uses the IAAF requirement as a basis for Olympic selection in other events. For the women's marathon, however, Athletics Canada's standard was 2:29.55, which had to be run by April 22, something no Canadian woman has done.
In the Rotterdam race on April 15, Ms. Marchant's time was 2:31.50, while Ms. DuChene's was 2:32.06. As a result – unless the women win their appeal – Canada will again go unrepresented in the Olympic women's marathon, as it has since 1996. Three Canadian men have been selected to run in the marathon at the London Games.
Ms. Marchant and Ms. DuChene point to other countries that have made similar exceptions. In Britain, for example, Lee Merrien missed the nation's standard for the men's marathon by nearly two minutes, but he was recently added to the Olympic team after successfully appealing.
The women also argue that Athletics Canada should consider selecting them as "rising stars," a category the organization uses to pick athletes in other events who have not met the top standards but show promise. Both women are fairly new to the marathon and have lowered their times sharply in the past year.
"The purpose of the 'rising star' [category]was to get athletes experience for the next Olympics," said Ms. Marchant, a lawyer who is from London, Ont., but lives in Chattanooga, Tenn.. "It's just unfortunate they made the criteria and didn't consider the need for a rising star in the marathon."
Rob Guy, the chief executive of Athletics Canada, has yet to see the appeal but he said all appeals are handled by an independent adjudicator. In general, he added, "where appeals have been successful was if we didn't follow the selection criteria that we posted."
Athletics Canada has three different standards in every track event except the marathon and the 50-kilometre walk. The times – A plus, A and B – are used as a basis for selection to the Olympics and are derived from the IAAF standards. However, the marathon and the 50-km walk have just one standard time, which has to be met by a certain date.
Mr. Guy said the organization doesn't have a "rising star" category in the marathon because most marathoners started out in other events, such as the 10,000 metres, and they are not typically young and upcoming runners. "It didn't make a lot of sense to have a rising star category for the marathon because that's not typically how they develop."
As for the Olympic marathon standard set by the IAAF, Mr. Guy said few countries use it as a selection criteria because it is considered relatively easy. The IAAF made it that way to encourage a larger field at the Olympics, Mr. Guy said, but "the vast majority of countries don't use the IAAF [standard]for the marathon." Canada's marathon standard, 2:29.55 for women, is tougher than in some countries. Britain's qualification time is 2:31.00, while Australia's is 2:32.00. The United States holds a selection race with the first three finishers qualifying, so long as each has met the Olympic standard of 2:37.00.
Ms. Marchant and Ms. DuChene know their appeal is a long shot, but they say they have nothing to lose. And both plan to keep training hard, if not for London then for Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
"I'm 35 but I don't feel anywhere like being done with this marathon thing," said Ms. DuChene, a mother of three who works as a dietician in Brantford, Ont. "I will be going for Rio in 2016, knowing that there are only two more minutes to take off my time for the standard."
Mr. Marchant, 28, said not including any Canadian women in the Olympic marathon will send a bad signal, especially for young girls. "It will obviously be a letdown and a blow," she said. "Not just to me and Krista personally, but I think to marathon running and Canadian running in general."