The USATF debacle
by on Monday, February 24, 2014  (2 comments)


For anyone who hasn't heard yet, there was an absolute mess this past weekend at the USATF Indoor Track & Field Championships. In the women's 3000 meter run, Gabriele (Gabe) Grunewald won the race by a comfortable margin after displaying a stunning finish after a tactical race.

You can see the race here. Skip to about 10 minutes into the video to get to the last lap and the incident in question. As you can see in the screen capture I grabbed above from the video, the race by the end wasn't even close.

The problems started later. As you can see in the video, there was some slight contact between Gabe and Jordan Hasay shortly after the last lap started. This is the kind of contact you see on a regular basis in indoor track. Close quarters, tight turns and high speeds lead to things like this on a regular basis. However, Hasay's coach (Alberto Salazar) protested the decision to not call the contact a foul on Gabe.

The Head Referee ruled that there was no interference. Salazar appealed the ruling to the Jury of Appeal and, in what has been reported to be a 3-0 decision, Salazar's appeal was denied. No interference. Next, according to all reports I've heard, Salazar appealed a second time. Some reports suggest he even appealed a third time. Finally, Gabe was disqualified, Shannon Rowbury was elevated to champion and Hasay given a spot on the team for the World Championships.

What's the problem here? Well, according to the USATF Competition Rules (see Rules 119 a and 119 c) the ruling of the Referee should be upheld unless it is shown to be clearly erroneous. Also, the decision of the Jury of Appeal is final. There is no further right of appeal. The Jury may reconsider only if new conclusive evidence is presented.

So, according to all reports I've seen, Salazar was allowed at least one more appeal than rules state is allowed. Further, USATF claims the Jury of Appeal was presented new video evidence of the incident in question but the video production company says they gave USATF no new video and USATF has yet to offer any evidence that this new video evidence exists.

The good news is today, two days after all this happened, Hasay dropped the protest that was made on her behalf by Salazar. Gabe gets the championship and spot on the team for the World Championships she deserves. However, this does not abdicate USATF of its responsibility in all of this.

The USATF press release makes it clear they are not admitting any wrongdoing in all of this. If Hasay did not drop the protest, I get no sense that Gabe would have been reinstated. In fact, in this press release itself, USATF is getting caught in a lie. They claim they followed the process laid out in the competition rules but all indications are that they did not.

USATF can not be let off this easily. They have to be held accountable for what happened. We need to keep the pressure on them until they prove real, substantial changes have been made.

I know it doesn't seem like much but please consider starting by signing this petition. It is asking to show this "new conclusive evidence" that USATF claims was used to overturn the appeal. This would be a first step in holding USATF accountable. Secondly, let's keep our eyes open for ways to hold Max Siegel to his word when he states "We are all looking forward and will address our processes to try to minimize the potential for controversy or misunderstanding in the future." Suggestion for Siegel: a good place to start would be a transparent process.

Don't let this go away quietly. Let's use this ugly affair to spur on some real change.

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Thanks for posting Ryan. I did watch the coverage this weekend, and also followed the aftermath on and came away with this thought: It would be nice if athletes competing in national Championships run by USATF could expect consistent application of the rules regarding qualifying standards, # of athletes allowed to compete in each event, and proper appeals, etc. Unfortunately, this has been a problem with USATF for too long of a time. When almost 1/2 of your budget is financed by a single entity (the Swoosh) you do open yourself up to criticism and scrutiny when things go awry, especially when athletes who are sponsored by that entity seem to benefit to a much larger degree. And in the USATF's case, this seems to occur more often than any other sporting organization that I can recall. It does turn off this passionate T&F fan. Oh well, at least we got to see 3 hours of coverage this weekend on NBCSN that didn't focus way too much on sprint athletes being introduced and settling into their blocks, or frequent cutaways from the 3,000 to go to commercial or to show field events - they actually showed actual races in their entirety. Now I will have to check the TV schedule for the world championships.

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It is very disheartening to the fans and has to be frustrating to athletes who are on the wrong side of the inconsistent application of the rules.

I listened this morning to a podcast (MP3) that had Gabe's coach and another coach who was there as all the drama went down as well as Robert Johnson of LetsRun. While this was the biggest drama, there was more drama, much of it still unresolved, that paints a picture of Salazar running rampant at the meet.

- Salazar berated Lopez Lomong (coached by Jerry Schumacher) for pushing Galen Rupp after Rupp stepped on Lomong's foot. This happened in the "mixed zone" where coaches aren't supposed to be allowed. Apparently Lomong was quite shaken up after this.

- Salazar went after Schumacher, with multiple people physically restraining Salazar.

- Andrew Bumbalough was disqualified for impeding a runner even though he did no such thing. It appears to be a case of mistaken identity. This DQ has not been overturned.

As for the women's 3000 drama, some interesting behind the scenes information. It paints a picture of Salazar bullying officials until he got the DQ. It also gives some insight into Salazar going after Schumacher from someone who was essentially caught up in the scrum.

Really, the more I hear of this whole situation, the more I get the impression, as already mentioned, that Salazar was running rampant over this meet, blatantly ignoring rules, and bullying anyone and everyone in sight. Then there's the Bumbalough disqualification. Why they won't look at conclusive video evidence to get that situation right, I have no idea.

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