EUGENE, Ore. — How is it determined that an Olympic trials competition should be postponed because of weather? Sometimes, apparently, the process resembles a student council election.
At least that is what happened with the women’s pole vault on Friday afternoon. As downpours doused Hayward Field all day, most of the events simply went on as planned. The sprinters pounded through puddles; the long jumpers landed in soaking sand. When the finals in the 10,000 meters were held, the runners were nearly washed away during the early laps.
With the pole vault, however, the safety concerns that go along with a group of athletes flying several stories in the air made the issue more delicate. In most instances, postponements of an event are handled by the meet’s competition committee and a unilateral decision is handed down. On Friday, however, a more democratic approach was used.
With the athletes and their coaches gathered in the check-in tent, organizers initially said preliminary rounds of competition would be moved to Saturday with the finals going on as scheduled Sunday. This prompted an uproar from most of the coaches present who thought it was unreasonable to have the athletes vault twice in such a short time span.
After a few moments of chaos, one of the meet officials shouted out that all coaches should the leave the tent and the athletes should come in and form a tight circle. The competitors were then presented with three choices, according to one of the vaulters, Mary Saxer: Stick to the original schedule and hold the preliminary rounds in the rain Friday with the finals scheduled for Sunday; move the preliminary rounds to Saturday and have the finals on Sunday; or cancel the preliminary rounds altogether and simply hold a single competition on Sunday in which the top three finishers in the field earn a berth in the London Games.
The athletes were then told to vote for one of the choices. To avoid any awkwardness, organizers did not utilize a “show of hands” approach nor did they take any chances with the inevitable peeking that occurs anytime the “put your head down” approach to voting. Instead, each athlete received paper and a pencil, according to Saxer, and then cast their votes in a grade-school style secret ballot.
“We were shocked to be asked like that,” Saxer said in a telephone interview. “But I think everyone was happy because it was really the most fair way. If everyone kept shouting, people who might be quieter wouldn’t have had their opinions heard.”
Saxer voted for a one-day final on Sunday and was pleased to see that option earned a plurality. The field of 29 athletes — including the favorite, Jenn Suhr, who is a five-time United States outdoor champion — will begin its competition at 1 p.m.
The vaulters’ surprise over the process was not unexpected, as player voting on logistics of a competition is rare in major sports. One instance in which it is used with some regularity is in Major League Baseball though that only occurs after a game has been postponed.
In instances where several dates for a make up games are available, players on each team are often polled on whether they would prefer to play a doubleheader within the current series or reschedule the game for later in the season.
Of course, even in these situations there are no guarantees that the players will be happy. Last July, with Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter chasing his 3,000th career hit, a game between the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays was postponed because of rain in the Bronx. The Yankees, wanting Jeter to have every opportunity to get his historic hit in front of the team’s fans, voted to make it up as a doubleheader the next night. The Rays, however, voted to reschedule it for later in the season.
Much to the Yankees’ chagrin, the game ended up being made up in September.
By Sam Borden