Late last night, I came across a piece of information which struck me as unusual. While perusing Frank Anderson’s blog on the progress of Australian long track speed skating (c’mon who doesn’t like reading about themselves?) I came across what was claimed to be the selectors’ decisions for race allocation for the upcoming world cup in Calgary. It struck me as unusual because it gave what I perceived to be a sub-optimal allocation. Not having touched my skates since Sunday (see previous post for the reason why) I had not had a chance to speak with coach Desly Hill (or any other skaters for that matter), who is at least in theory, part of the selection process. I felt sure that this was a simple mistake or miscommunication, yet early this morning an official group-email, sent through official lines arrived in my inbox confirming this curious selection decision.
Those avid and dedicated readers of this website will recall that this is not the first time I have called into question the selection process. The previous occasion concerned the differences of racing at different elevations – mainly that the difference was not being taken into account. To their credit, the selection committee revised their criteria to include a system for “weighting” times for different skating venues according to a mathematical formula based on the track records for the various rinks. Obviously this was not ideal (the ideal scenario would be to have all the skaters vying for selection skate a selection race at the same venue, preferably a venue at the same elevation as the event for which they are being selected) but considering that Australia is not wealthy enough a skating country to fly their skaters from place to place just for selection trials, this was a good solution. I was impressed at this move – it is a difficult thing to admit that you are wrong, and I was also made aware that some people were displeased with article on skating at altitude (because science makes many people unhappy, just look at climate change). It gave me the impression that, although they did not always have a comprehensive understanding of all the factors involved, the selectors were willing to admit their mistakes, and at the heart of it, were trying to do the right thing.
Which is why their most recent selection decision has been so baffling.
The only possible explanation I could come up with is that they used the aforementioned mathematical formula to calculate everybody’s fastest time. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but I happen to have a very intimate working knowledge of this formula because I was asked to calculate everybody’s times (because everybody knows that having an honors degree in mathematics makes you an expert at using excel…). Even using the formula, the selector’s decisions are inconsistent, but that is irrelevant to my point. Of course, anyone who has ever had a serious go of predicting the weather (btw, I have a masters degree in climate science) will know that, while mathematical equations are a very useful starting point, they are limited in their usefulness. Mine was one of the strongest cautionary voices on using the formula as the primary basis for selection because I of all people knew that it was a very crude and imperfect measure and should only be used as a last resort, in the cases where all skaters concerned were not able to face-off at the same venue. In the case of the first two world cups of the season, this was the case, and so the formula was being used appropriately, but now this is clearly not the case as we have all been in calgary for at least week and have had time to race each other.
The baffling thing then, is why the formula is being adhered to. Last weekend, while I was busy not qualifying for the world cup, every Australian skater who was being considered for selection (all five of us) skated in the weekend time trials in Calgary. We all understood what was at stake, and we all believed that the selectors would use the results from those races as the primary basis for their decision. You could not construct a more perfect selection race if you tried – the venue is the same as for the world cup, the conditions were the same for everyone, and the competition took place one week prior to the world cup. I am not aware of better indicator for performance at the upcoming world cup than last weekend’s races. I have linked the results as well as the team announcement below:
(Note: I didn’t link the women’s results because, as we only have one female skater, the decision is as easy as )
As can be clearly seen, everyone was on form, with personal bests being lowered in all distances skated. There are two very obvious anomalies in the selection – the men’s 500m and 1500m.
In world cups, there are two lots of 500m whereas there is only one instance of every other distance. This is because, in long track, there are two lanes and skaters swap lanes in the back straight. In a distance as short as 500m, the race is significantly different depending on which lane you start in, so each skater is given one run in each. It is highly unusual to start a different skater in each of the 500s. In any case, Daniel Greig should get both because, as can be seen quite clearly in these results, he went faster than Ben Southee’s best time on both days, once starting on the inner, and once starting on the outer.
why is the national record holder, who set the national record one week before the world cup, on the same ice as the world cup, who skated against and soundly defeated all other Australian skaters vying for a spot in the world cup, not the first choice for the world cup?
The 1500m decision is even more baffling, and I have very little to say on this other than – why is the national record holder, who set the national record one week before the world cup, on the same ice as the world cup, who skated against and soundly defeated all other Australian skaters vying for a spot in the world cup, not the first choice for the world cup?
There have been various arguments floating around about “sharing races around” and other such nonsense. This is not weekend club racing, this is the world cup. These world cups will decide Olympic selection. It is imperative that the fastest skaters, and only the fastest skaters race them. The results matter. Another good reason for the fastest skater to race is because faster skaters are more likely to place higher in the rankings (forgive me for stating the obvious, but that seems to be the order of the day whenever I find myself disagreeing with selectors). Placing higher in the rankings gives us an increased chance of gaining another spot for Australia in the next world cup – which benefits everybody.
I can forgive selectors for missing the point about the differences of skating at different altitudes. It is a fact that is only commonly known to people familiar with long track speed skating (the selector’s backgrounds are mostly from short track) and people who have a passing acquaintance with the physics of fluid dynamics. Moreover, they have shown their integrity by revising their selection criteria to accommodate that new knowledge – for this I applaud them. What they must do now is revise their selection for the Calgary world cup team and make the decisions that everybody knows are obvious. To do otherwise would be to commit a grave injustice and endanger the future of our sport.