Three-time Olympian Jana Pittman has branded the decision to not select a women's bobsleigh team for next month's Winter Olympics in PyeongChang as "complete and utter madness".
The young Australian team of Breanna Walker (pilot), Ashleigh Werner (No.1 brakeman) and Mikayla Dunn (No.2 brakeman) has been left heartbroken after its own federation, Sliding Sports Australia, refused to nominate it to compete at the games.
Bizarrely, the AOC wants the trio there while Walker claims SSA had given them every indication in the last year they were on track to be nominated.
The team meet international standards to compete in South Korea but fail to meet the selection criteria set down by their own federation, which refuses to use any discretion to select them.
While SSA director Ted Polglaze said he feared for the inexperienced team's safety on a track it wasn't familiar with, Pittman is adamant it should go.
Pittman is the former world champion 400m hurdler who switched to bobsleigh and competed alongside Astrid Radjenovic in Sochi four years ago. After she retired in 2015, she convinced the three women to leave athletics and rugby to take up bobsleigh.
"It's tragic," Pittman said. "For some reason, Sliding Sports Australia are not changing their mind: it's just complete and utter madness. It would be different if there wasn't a spot, and we were fighting against the AOC. That would be ridiculous. But when you have the full support of our Olympic committee and the international federation, the team not getting a start is really sad. We're not saying they should be given a huge grant. They just want to go."
Speaking from St Moritz in Switzerland, where the team has been training, Walker said they had been left dumbfounded by the decision.
"We've had heated conversation about it for the past week," Walker said. "It's been an emotional rollercoaster: one minute we've been told we're not going, the next there's a chance, then not, yes and no. It's been a ride.
"It's really disheartening. We've worked really hard, and we have a quota spot there waiting for us to accept and I think our team deserves our spot. We've competed in North America, in Europe, and we're just about to compete in world junior championships. We've done the hard yards to make that quota position, and it's tough when our own federation won't select us."
The trio has spent upwards of $80,000 of their own money, and raised more than $30,000 with the aid of their families, to ensure they could compete in PyeongChang.
"We were under the impression that they [SSA] were asking for leniency from the AOC because we're a development team," Walker said. "But that's not the case. Our sleds are all ready to send. The impression was we were going. Allowing us to compete at an Olympics would be a great stepping stone towards the next Olympics in 2022. They [SSA] aren't saying much to us. We haven't had contact with them for a week."
Polglaze, who is a former bobsledder and chairman of the nominations committee, said the women's team was not selected because it had not reached criteria agreed to and accepted by the athletes and the AOC on January 30 last year.
Those standards were focused on speed and strength, as well as the all-important start times which make or break a team's run. He insisted the committee had no discretionary powers to change its mind.
"And we have a duty of care to these athletes," Polglaze said. "Sending them onto a track they have never seen, under the spotlight of Olympic competition, that's something we have to be really mindful of. Bobsled is not like most sports ??? it is a dangerous sport.
"It's not that we don't want them there. We'd love to fill the spots in all disciplines but we also have standards in place that have been approved by the AOC and the athletes and we have to abide by these."
The Australian Olympic Committee released a statement saying that "under the Olympic Charter, the AOC has no power to select athletes for the Olympic Games if a sporting federation determines the athletes have not achieved the necessary qualification criteria."
"However, the AOC believes a sensible balance can be achieved between upholding the appropriate standard of achievement for Olympic competition and the benefits of developing Australian athletes through Olympic experience for greater achievement in the years ahead.
"In this instance, the AOC believed there was a strong case for the inclusion of a Women's Bobsleigh team on developmental grounds, indicating to Sliding Sports Australia (SAA) that a team, if nominated, would be selected by the AOC for the PyeongChang games.
"In the past, similar discretion in other winter disciplines has turned Australian Olympic rookies into established world class performers. "
During talks with Sliding Sports Australia in the past week, the AOC re-affirmed its view that the athletes deserved nomination based on their long-term commitment to the sport, two years of self-funded training and competition, the potential for athletic development and the exposure the sport would receive via Olympic participation.
While the trio said they would still continue in the sport, an angry Pittman said the decision would have far-reaching consequences.
"This sport relies on coverage to get new athletes," she said. "We need track-and field athletes on the brink of Olympic level but don't quite make it to transfer sports. They do that when they see the Australian bobsled team competing at the Olympics.
"These girls committed, they left their sports to come into this sport full-time. They paid out of their own pocket to go overseas for five months, then another five months this year to live overseas. They have self-funded.
"SSA is saying we have to uphold elite standards, and I get that. It would be different if this was an Olympic team that hasn't performed and were in their 30s and had no potential. But this is a young, brand new development team that has raised upwards of $80,000 of their own money, not a cent from their own organisation, and put their names up for Olympic selection."