The current system will always have one thing going for it… it’s the fairest system possible. I really dislike the idea of having a committee or some other group decide who makes the team, even if it’s just for one member. The selection process could become very political, much like it can get in Kenya. After reading “Train Hard, Win Easy”, one gets the impression that few of the runners really have a good idea of why they do or don’t make the team. The results have sometimes been disastrous, and have had unpleasant effects on team morale.
Part of the beauty of the Olympics is that virtual unknowns can make the team and break through to win a medal. These heroes who come out of nowhere have always sparked a greater interest in the sport, especially in their home countries. Many of these athletes make the team by outperforming other athletes who have had much better years. With any other system in place, perhaps we never would have heard of Bill Mills or Bob Schul (my running history is way rusty, so there are probably better examples).
Also, in the end, the Olympics is just one race. It’s unfortunate if an athlete gets injured and can’t make the trials, but these things happen. That’s why there are various World Championships, Euro track circuits, prestigous road races, etc. Oh, ya… and another chance at the Olympics. Most athletes get at least 2 legitimate, injury-free shots to make the Olympic team in their careers. Few people think any less of Bill Rodgers for not having an Olympic gold… he proved himself elsewhere.
Other ideas tend to remind me of the college football BCS system… I fear that if we go by best times in the last year, best performance in a series of races, some sort of vote, or any combination of these plans, people will be begging for the good old days when the top athletes got together one day and went at it fair and square.