After a six-hour meeting Monday night, Triathlon Australia’s Olympic Appeals Tribunal rejected Beijing gold medalist’s Emma Snowsill’s appeal of her omission from Australia’s three-woman 2012 Olympic squad.
The ruling upheld the decision of Australian selectors to choose 20-year-old Emma Jackson, who was 4th in the world last year but has been off form in 2012, for the third Australian women’s spot after two-time World Champion Emma Moffatt and Erin Densham, who has been the world-best performer so far in 2012.
Snowsill’s career record has been impeccable and includes three ITU world championship golds, an ITU Grand Final gold, a Commonwealth Games gold, two Hy-Vee big money championships, three Life Time Fitness big money crowns – and the only gold medal in Australian Olympic triathlon history. Despite her record, Snowsill has now been left off in 2004 and in 2012 by Australian Olympic selectors.
So far, Emma Jackson has a one runner-up finish in a 2011 ITU World Championship Series event, a 4th place at the London World Championship Series event, and an ITU junior World Championship gold.
Both the 30-year-old Snowsill and her young rival have been fighting slumps in critical Olympic selection events this year. Jackson was 3rd at the regional Oceania Championship, 33rd at the Sydney World Triathlon Series event, 14th at San Diego WTS, and DNF’d at the Madrid WTS. Snowsill was 14th at the Sydney WTS and 17th at San Diego WTS. While Jackson has no big wins so far, Snowsill has come back from periods of illness and injury many times to score dominating wins at the biggest races in the world. Jackson’s accomplishments as a 20 year old in 2011 are undeniably impressive and, if she returns to last year’s form in the next two months, she has an outside chance at a medal. But some observers note she has yet to show in her brief career that she can come back from a slump.
In the past two years, Snowsill has been fighting a hip injury and an energy-depleting glandular fever – but still managing two world dominating performances in big races in 2010. In 2011 she had a credible 3rd at WCS Hamburg and a 5th at the London round of the WCS on the olympic course -- a few seconds back of Jackson.
This year, Snowsill has also been fighting a stomach ailment which made her more vulnerable to missing the first pack on the swim – and has led her to push so hard on the bike she has lost the punch of her usual world-beating run.
Jackson has also been fighting similar performance issues.
Australian Olympic selectors have been facing a Hobson’s choice based upon guesses which of the two have the best chance of turning their performances around.
Because Triathlon Australia has chosen to reserve one or more spots for selectors’ discretion rather than opting for a win-or-go-home format favored by Australian swimming, Snowsill’s appeal was based on the nine criteria that TA set up for their decision.
On those criteria, it is hard to see why Snowsill did not prevail. But during the first four Australian Olympic Triathlon team selections, all previous appeals have been denied.
Criteria 1 was a demonstrated ability to win WCS races from January 1 2009 up to May 2012. Although she has not won in 20 months, Snowsill has three WCS wins in the period, with her last coming at the 2010 Grand Final in Budapest.
Jackson has no WCS or WTS wins.
Criteria 2 was podium results in ITU WCS/WTS races from 2009 through 2012. Snowsill has 5, Jackson has 1.
Criteria 3 was history of results in ITU WCS/WTS races and major championship races.
Snowsill has two – the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 Grand Final. In the Grand Final race, Snowsill’s 33:08 closing 10k run was two minutes faster than all rivals.
Jackson has run under 33:30 and won a silver at the 2011 ITU Sprint World Championship.
On this criteria, Snowsill is best of all four top Aussie women contenders.
Criteria 4 was current form in ITU races. Only Erin Densham shone brightly this year while Emmas Moffatt, Jackson and Snowsill have all been mediocre according to their usual high standards.
Criteria 5 through 9 are subjective and measure intangible traits including ability to take directions from the TA head coach (advantage Jackson) but also experience, chance to win gold, and big race record (tremendous advantage Snowsill).
In the past, Triathlon Australia has used various criteria to choose athletes whose big race history outweighed lackluster performances affected by illness or injury during Olympic selection period – including Loretta Harrop and Miles Stewart in 2000 and Peter Robertson in 2004.
Reserving the option of selectors’ discretion has come at a cost to Triathlon Australia. In 2000, Olympic selection lawsuits cost Triathlon Australia $200,000.
At the end, Snowsill did not appeal Monday’s decision and wrote this comment on her website:
“Whilst I am upset with the outcome, I have to respect the decision of the Tribunal and will not be pursuing the matter further. I would like to stress that my appeal never involved a merits review of any of the athletes involved, nor the selection committee’s decision. It instead went to matters concerning the selection process. However the Tribunal was satisfied that there was no legal error to be found in the evidence before it.
“It has been a difficult time and one I am glad to have resolved. To that end, I would like to again apologise to those affected by my appeal and to thank the other athletes for their discretion in the matter. My appeal was never a criticism of their abilities and I sincerely wish them all the best for their preparations and performances in London.”
Chris McCormack, who fell short in his attempt to make the 2012 Australian Olympic triathlon team, called the Australian selection process a “debacle” and said that Snowsill is likely the only Australian women’s contender capable of beating current world champion Helen Jenkins.
''Discretion is built into a policy for an athlete exactly like Emma Snowsill,” McCormack told The Sydney Morning Herald. “She's our greatest ever triathlete. I [had] national coaches in other countries asking me who they should thank.”
Three time Ironman champion Craig Alexander wrote on Twitter:
“If Aus was picking a team for WTS series standings, they got it right. For Oly medals? @emmasnowsill has to be there.”