Olympic selection battle affected all the marathoners

John Salvado |

Marathon runners Sinead Diver (left), Genevieve Gregson and Jessica Stenson will race in Paris.
Marathon runners Sinead Diver (left), Genevieve Gregson and Jessica Stenson will race in Paris.

Australian marathoners Jess Stenson, Genevieve Gregson and Sinead Diver have all been forced to endure a stressful few weeks before learning their spots on the 2024 Olympic team were finally secure.

The marathon squad of three women – all of them mothers – and two men for the Paris Games was finally officially announced on Monday, four days after four-time Olympian Lisa Weightman reluctantly ended her appeal against non-selection.

It was widely assumed that had Weightman’s appeal been successful, it would be reigning Commonwealth champion Stenson who had to make way.

But Gregson and national record holder Diver also feared their spots were in jeopardy, although both said they would probably have appealed had it been them who was overlooked.

“It was going to be heartbreaking, no matter what,” said Gregson, 34, who will be going to her fourth Olympics, the equal-most of any Australian track and field athlete.

“So when I heard that a girl had appealed I kind of thought ‘yeah, that’s what happens’.

“… I never felt safe, more just because I respect my opposition and I don’t necessarily think that anyone is a standout over the other.

“I thought the appeal would open up the floor for any of us to be switched out, so that’s why it’s been pretty stressful.”

Genevieve Gregson
Paris will be Genevieve Gregson’s fourth Olympics, but her first as a marathoner. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Having set the Australian record of two hours 21 minutes and 34 seconds in January, Diver had the strongest selection case among the record six women who had bettered the Olympic qualifying standard.

Not that the Irish-born 47-year-old took anything for granted.

“There were obviously points in there when I wasn’t sure if I would still be on the team or not, so it’s been a really, really tough few weeks,” said Diver, who was an impressive 10th in the marathon on her Olympic debut three years ago in Tokyo.

“I knew that between the six of us there were only very minor differences, so it could have been any three.

“I was so, so nervous right up until I got the call.”

Weightman’s appeal became more personal when her husband demanded that Stenson take down a social media profile photo of the two runners and their families.

The 36-year-old Stenson said she made a conscious effort not to engage, but now it was time to move forward and focus on Paris.

“With the race only 10 weeks away and you have to be firing on all cylinders, I think it’s just so important to know what we’re preparing for and to channel our energies towards that,” she said.

“Any unhelpful stress can take away from your ability to prepare as well as possible.”

Jess Stenson
Jess Stenson and Sinead Diver celebrate Stenson’s marathon gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Weightman had the third-fastest qualifying time behind Diver and Gregson, but the Australian selectors placed great stead in Stenson’s proven big-event pedigree.

Izzi Batt-Doyle and Eloise Wellings also bettered the qualifying mark.

Australian chef de mission Anna Meares described the selection process as “brutal”.

“It has been a difficult selection environment for everyone involved,” she said.

“It always is when selectors have to make difficult choices between exceptional athletes and have the brutal luxury of having so many athletes qualified.

“I feel for all of the athletes involved.”

Brett Robinson and Patrick Tiernan will represent Australia in the men’s marathon in Paris.

Countryman Liam Adams could also be added to the team in the coming weeks if any of the quota spots aren’t filled.