Besides being an attorney with an undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and duel law degrees from the University of Ottawa and Michigan State, 28-year-old Lanni Marchant is a runner.
The two lifestyles should be mutually exclusive.
An ongoing improbable turn of events, though, has dovetailed the two talents.
Marchant, a Canadian marathoner with Olympic dreams and a lawyer’s wit, is in the midst of appealing a recent decision by Athletics Canada, the governing body for track and field in Canada. The mitigating circumstances are confounding. The ruling can’t come soon enough.
“It’s definitely been interesting,” said Marchant, a former UTC standout and nine-time Southern Conference champion, by phone from Michigan on Tuesday.
Try to follow.
Last month, Marchant, an Ottawa native, traveled to the Netherlands. The goal was singular: post a personal-best time in the marathon. She did exactly that, galloping through the Rotterdam Marathon in 2 hours, 31 minutes, 55 seconds.
She finished fifth. Tiki Gelana, the Ethiopian national record holder in the marathon, finished first.
In only her third marathon, Marchant not only topped her personal best by more than 12 minutes, but bested the 2012 London Olympics qualifying time by over 5 minutes. Her 2:31:55 made her Canada’s top female marathoner ahead of Krista Duchene, who happily posted a personal-best 2:32:06 to finish seventh at Rotterdam.
They were the ninth and 10th best times ever posted by Canadian female marathoners.
Now, here’s the rub.
Marchant’s time, along with Duchene’s, plainly meet the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:37:00. They both, however, fall short of Athletic Canada's standard of 2 hours, 29 minutes and 55 seconds—a time just 79 seconds slower than Silvia Ruegger’s 27-year-old Canadian record.
It’s not uncommon for countries to require times lower than the Olympic standard, but the Canadian qualifying time is considered severe. The time of 2:29:55 would be good enough for a 12th-place finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sixth-place finish in the 2004 Athens Olympics. In fact, Marchant’s 2:31.55 at Rotterdam would have been the eighth best time at the 2004 Games.
“Every country has its own way of doing it,” said Marchant, who resides in White, Ga., and still trains in Chattanooga. “I just feel that each country bases their standard on their own talent pool, whereas ours looks to other countries’ talent pools to find our time standard.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee, however, appears more interested in only sending medal contenders to the Olympic marathon, not merely competitors.
Instead of submitting to the fate of Olympic bystander, Marchant, along with Duchene, is kicking to the finish.
A well-publicized debate north of the border claims the arbitrary Canadian qualifying time hinders Olympic opportunities for qualified citizens. Additionally, because Marchant and Duchene are each relatively new to marathon running and have shown rapid improvement in their times, an exception could be made to send them.
Marchant, for instance, ran the first of her three marathons less than 12 months ago. Her times have dropped from 2:49 to 2:44 to 2:31.
Both Marchant and Duchene believe they also warrant consideration to be selected as “rising stars” by Athletics Canada—a denotation for developing athletes needing Olympic experience. Essentially, if Marchant is to grow into an elite contender for the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games, she’d be far better served by competing at the London Games first.
According to Ontario’s London Free Press, there’s been little wiggle room from the powers that be. The newspaper quoted Gordon Peterson, Canadian Olympic Committee vice president, as saying, "The reality is, it's like anything else. There's this time. Here's the time, if you make it you go. If you don't make it, you don't go."
Marchant’s rebuttal is just as simplistic.
“There are those out there that say, ‘Oh, isn’t this supposed to be the best of the best? Why couldn’t you meet that standard?’” said Marchant, before answering the rhetorical question herself. “Well, we’ve met the Olympic standard. The Olympic Committee seems to think that athletes that can run 2:37 are the world’s best.”
According to Marchant, an appeal still sits before Athletics Canada. The committee is still working toward a decision and she’s “not really allowed to comment on what’s going on.” She says she has argued several points and is now waiting. The powers-that-be didn’t give her a timeline but acknowledged it’s “a time sensitive issue.”
The Olympics begin in 79 days.
In the meantime, Marchant will continue arguing her case.
The story of her campaign has gained traction since April. A Facebook group entitled “Let Lanni Run” started by three of her law school friends from Michigan State grows daily. It encourages fans to email Canada’s chief high performance officer and “let him know you want him to let Lanni Run!”
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking to be in the spotlight a bit, but the support and the comments I’ve received from people across the board has been amazing,” Marchant said. “I just can’t believe that there’s that many people that care and are taking an interest. It’s Canadians and Americans alike. It’s just people standing up and showing that they want representation in the Olympics and don’t necessarily understand why there won’t be.”
For Marchant and her fans, a verdict is coming soon.