Carmen Small to fight USA Cycling Olympic Games selection in arbitration hearing

Excluded national time trial champion believes she meets the criteria to race in Rio de Janeiro

Carmen Small and her lawyer Howard Jacobs intend to fight the USA Cycling’s Selection Committee's decision to exclude her from the four-woman team which will compete at the Rio Olympic Games in an arbitration hearing, according to an ESPN report.

The US time trial champion believes that she meets the criteria for being selected. According to ESPN’s report, the hearing procedure is "defined by Section 9 of the US Olympic Committee's bylaws." A ruling must be made by July 18 ahead of the Olympics, which start August 5.

Jacobs told ESPN that Small is not looking to replace a specific rider, only to show that she meets the criteria to be selected. Small wrote to ESPN, "This showing of my ability in my mind was not just worthy of my Olympic selection, but also the potential to be a gold-medal favourite. This time around, I feel that I am the best athlete for the selection.''

The UCI announced the nations and their quotas for the Rio Olympics last month and the US secured four spots for the road race and two for the time trial. However, the two riders racing in the time trial must also compete in the road race.

USA Cycling announced last week that the Selection Committee had chosen Megan Guarnier, who was automatically selected after placing third at the World Championships last year, and Mara Abbott for the road race. Evelyn Stevens and Kristin Armstrong where chosen to compete in both the road race and the time trial.

Two days after the announcement, Small, who was a member of the US team long list for the Olympic Games, took to Twitter to express her heartbreak over not being selected.

Some expressed outrage over the decision to exclude Small from the team, as she displayed a winning performance in the time trial at the US Nationals in May in Winston-Salem. She established herself as a prime contender for Olympic selection by winning the national event by 23 seconds over Amber Neben (BePink). Armstrong, was third at 1:08 behind Small, and Stevens finished in sixth, two minutes back.

There is no question that Small has had a strong Classics season with Cervelo Bigla, with tenth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (UCI 1.1) and 18th at Omloop van het Hegeland (UCI 1.2). In Women’s WorldTour events, she was 22nd at Strade Bianche, 17th at Ronde van Drenthe, 5th at Gent-Wevelgem and 12th at La Fleche Wallonne, after being in a breakaway during that race, but she did not finish Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Cittiglio. She went on to win the mountain competition at Elsy Jacobs (UCI 2.1) before returning to the US for Nationals to win the time trial and place seventh in the road race.

Small is also a two-time US time trial champion, and was third at the World Championships in the time trial in 2013 and won the team time trial world title that same year. She was also a member of the winning team time trial team at Worlds in 2014.

The road course in Rio is expected to suit strong climbers like Abbott, a two-time Giro Rosa winner, and Guarnier, too, because it has a nine-kilometre climb near the end. The time trial course is also challenging.

This year Abbott won the Tour of the Gila (UCI 2.2), she won the mountain stage at Pro Road Tour's Redlands Bicycle Classic and was second overall. She also won the mountains classification at Tour of California and Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, both events are of international ranks placed on the Women’s WorldTour.

Stevens set the UCI Hour Record this year, and was eighth at Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria (UCI 1.2). She proved her rank with a second place at La Fleche Wallonne, third overall at the Tour of California and fourth at the Philadelphia Cycling Classic, all three are events on the Women’s WorldTour.

There is no denying Armstrong’s ability to contest the time trial on the international stage. She has represented the US in three Olympic Games and won gold medals in the time trial in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London, and the world titles in the same discipline in 2006 in Austria and 2009 in Italy. But she retired from professional bike racing, returning last year with her sights set almost solely on winning a third gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rio.

Though she has not raced outside of the US since 2012, she was second overall at the Tour of the Gila (UCI 2.2), won the Pro Road Tour’s Redlands Bicycle Classic and was second overall at the Tour of California, a Women’s WorldTour stage race.

Following her third place in the US time trial championships, she said she was affected by the hot weather conditions that day and that she was fatigued from travelling from the Tour of California directly to Winston-Salem. But she expressed optimism about her chances of making the Olympic team.

In an interview with Cyclingnews, USA Cycling's vice president of athletics Jim Miller said he recused himself from the women's selection process because he coaches Armstrong and that the selection committee removed any subjectivity from the process and based its decision 'bullet point for bullet point' from the printed selection criteria.

USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall personally commented on the nine-member Selection Committee’s decision (in general), pointing out clear aspects that were considered including the importance of success in international competition. Although the national championships were part of the selection criteria - considered as part of the review of results for each athlete – they are not considered an automatic qualifier and are weighed less heavily than high-level international results.

The 2016 Olympic Selection Procedures was approved by the Selection Committee and the United States Olympic Committee, and published in March 2015.

Bouchard-Hall reiterated in an email to Cyclingnews that "[USA Cycling] respects Carmen [Small], and any athlete who chooses to contest the selections and their right to make their case as to why the process was not followed properly. The ability to arbitrate is an important aspect of the selection process."

Bouchard-Hall’s public statement read:

Since last Thursday’s Olympic Team announcement, USA Cycling has heard questions and concerns about some of the selections made. The most vocal views understandably come from the fans of athletes who were not selected. It’s wonderful our sport has such passionate and involved fans and I respect our community’s right to voice its views, but I’ve seen misinformation and baseless accusations about bias which deserve comment. In particular, I thought we should provide more information about the decision making process to explain how the decisions were made and on what basis.

Key points about the Olympic selection process:

  • Selection decisions are made by a Selection Committee appointed by USA Cycling comprised of nine former elite athletes from multiple disciplines. Members of the Selection Committee must not be coaching any Olympic eligible athletes and must disclose any potential conflict of interest prior to any selection. Any individual with a potential conflict of interest, be it a USA Cycling coach or a member of the Selection Committee, recuses him or herself from the selection process and does not participate. The Selection Committee does not include any USA Cycling staff.
  • The Olympic Team is selected according to the 2016 Olympic Selection Procedures approved by the Selection Committee and the United States Olympic Committee. The selection procedures were published in March 2015. The selection procedures are designed to be objective and are in fact required by the USOC to be objective. To the extent the Selection Committee is required to use discretion, its discretion must be exercised on the basis of objective data. Objective criteria provide our athletes with guidance on what they must do to be selected to a team.
  • The selection procedures provide the means for athletes to automatically qualify for the Olympics. They also provide the means for athletes to be selected on a discretionary basis placing an overall emphasis on performance in top-level international competition over domestic competition.
  • Among all Olympic selections, only men’s BMX had a "win-and-you’re-in" Olympic Trials. All other selections were made according to various selection procedures. This year’s National Championships were not used as automatic qualifiers for any discipline. The reasoning behind this approach is that consideration of a broad range of results, particularly from high-level international competition, results in the selection of athletes with the highest Olympic medal capability.
  • Any athlete who believes they have been wrongly denied the opportunity to participate in the Olympics by USA Cycling may file a complaint with the USOC under Section 9 of the USOC Bylaws. If the complaint cannot be settled to the athlete’s satisfaction, the athlete may file a claim with the AAA to arbitrate the dispute. Aware of this fact, the Selection Committee makes its selections with the knowledge an arbitrator might later carefully review their decisions.

I believe the key takeaway from the selection process is that a selection committee, not USA Cycling management or coaches, makes selection decisions based on well-defined selection procedures approved by the USOC and published well in advance – and that athletes do have recourse if the selection procedures are not followed. Olympic selections are incredibly difficult, particularly for events where there are more athletes capable of winning medals than spots on the Olympic Team. But that does not mean the process is necessarily biased, unfair or arbitrary. It just means American cycling has more deserving athletes than Olympic spots, and very difficult decisions must be made.

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