While the letter says Watt will be "nominated" for the pursuit, the ACF seeks to impose three conditions on her nomination. These are that she could be precluded from the race in the event of either injury, illness or if another woman rider rode a world-record or near world-record time in the three months leading up to the Games.
It is the last condition with which Watt has taken umbrage and sought to have deleted in confidential talks with ACF president Ray Godkin during the final two days. However, the ACF will not budge in its stance, and the Barcelona gold medallist has now again sought the intervention of the Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates and Australian Institute of Sport director John Boultbee.
Last night Watt, who is scheduled to leave for overseas tomorrow, refused to get involved in a slanging match but said simply the ACF letter was "not satisfactory". Her manager-partner Carey Hall said Watt was still hopeful the issue could be resolved in further talks between Coates, Boultbee and Godkin once Godkin arrived back in Australia from Fiji.
"Kathy has been assured by John Boultbee and John Coates that their understanding is she will be riding the pursuit and they will purse it with Ray Godkin when he arrives back in Australia," Hall said. "The wording of the letter is not right and it's going to have to be fixed up in our opinion and John Boultbee agrees with that."
Hall said no other rider in the Australian cycling team, male or female, had similar conditions imposed on them. Hall said the wording of the letters was ambiguous at best.
The suggestion has been that expatriate American Lucy Tyler-Sharman might be capable of riding a faster time than Watt's 3min.38.24sec with which she won the national title. However, Hall disputes that contention. "Even if Lucy beats the time Kathy did at the nationals, that's going to be three months after Kathy did the time so we believe Kathy Watt's going to be three months further down the track, too," he said.
ACF media director Darren Elder said Watt has "as much as a guarantee as we can possibly give and more than we have given to any other rider at this time".
Kathy knows best wares to peddle
This is where mind and muscle meet science and technology, as they inevitably must in elite sport these days. The test was designed to simulate the oppressive weather and the gut-busting exertion levels with which she will have to cope with when she contests the time trial, and to provide vital information on hydration, weight loss and other physiological factors.
She was surprised to learn, for example, that her fluid intake might be as much as four times what she considers normal. If that was the extent of her worries at this stage, she and her partner and manager Carey Hall would fly out tomorrow for Europe, where they will start fine-tuning her campaign, with their minds at peace.
Unfortunately, that's far from the case.
Despite some reassuring noises earlier this week, the Australian Cycling Federation still has not meet her request for a guarantee that, barring illness or injury, she will be permitted to contest the individual pursuit on the track as well as her two road events, the 104.4km race and the time trial. It doesn't seem an unreasonable ask.
Watt has the score on the board in a big way, having combined the two disciplines extremely successfully - and in difficult circumstances - in Barcelona four years ago, winning the road race and taking silver in the pursuit. She is certainly a more mature athlete now and according to scientific tests conducted as recently as this week, a more powerful one.
Sadly, this looks suspiciously like another chapter in an old, old Australian Olympic tradition, which decrees you can always be sure that one sport or another will find a way of shooting itself in the foot for reasons more to do with politics and personalities than talent and potential. Cycling has been guilty of it before, as recently as Seoul in 1988, when a messy selection dispute between Dean Woods and Tony Davis made sure that neither of them would win a medal they were probably both capable of delivering.
It is no wonder that alarm bells have been ringing in high places this week, with Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates and Australian Institute of Sport director John Boultbee taking an interest. Watt said yesterday they were both on her side, and that would come as no surprise given her status as one of the nation's most decorated athletes and main medal hopes.
She is reluctant to discuss her relationship with the highly successful national coach Charlie Walsh, but it is no secret the pair have been feuding since well before the Barcelona Games. There, she was not allowed to ride her track bike for four months before the Games. Then a dispute over who should and should not be on hand to advise her resulted in her being in tears half an hour before the qualifying events, making her eventual silver medal a remarkable feat of mental as well as physical strength.
Walsh was in Germany this week, but the manager of the cycling team for Atlanta, former Olympic gold medallist Michael Turtur, said that the official view was that Watt was trying to do too much this time. He claims that no other cyclist in the world will attempt to cross between the two disciplines at Olympic level and points to Watt's performances at the world championships in Colombia last October, where she finished eighth in the pursuit, 10th in the road race and third in the time trial. However, Watt was injured for seven moths during the lead-up to those titles.
She has no doubt she can handle the massive workload she has set herself, saying: "The preparation goes hand in hand. I just laugh when people say you can't do three events. The program for the first two is the same as it was in Barcelona."
She is careful not to nominate which event she believes is her best hope of another gold medal, or to predict anything. This is the Olympics, after all, where everyone wants to win and many burst through from nowhere - and she ought to know about that.
What is indisputable is that the row is unhelpful to her or to the extremely high hopes of Australian cycling in general - one top rider said this week that it was distracting everybody - and ought to be settled immediately.
Nobody will know for sure exactly what the rights and wrongs are until the Olympics are run and won and lost. That may prove that Watt is indeed, taking on too much - but it is difficult to accept that she hasn't earned the right to try.