Outrage at USATF Indoor Nationals over questionable disqualification

Politics or Legitimate Application of Rules? Why the Women’s 3k Is The Hot Topic

This morning, we start with some heated news about the Women’s 3k at USA Track and Field Indoor Championships. Yesterday, Gabriele Grunewald surged ahead of Shannon Rowbury and Jordan Hasay in the final lap to claim the win and the honor of competing at the World Championships in Poland. In a stunning manner, Grunewald was ultimately disqualified from the competition for having some physical contact with Jordan Hasay. Absent going to arbitration or within a court of law, Coach Alberto Salazar’s protest led to her successful disqualification, which allows Hasay and Rowbury (Hasay is Salazar’s athlete) to compete at Worlds. The story behind her disqualification is sickening, and illustrates how the USATF Rules are long overdue for a change, as well as not letting politics influence decisions.

Here are the basics of how the disqualification went down. During the race, an official raised a yellow flag with about 180 meters left in the race. The official raised the flag because the official thought there may have been some physical contact between the two athletes (Hasay and Grunewald). After the race, the head referee went to speak with the official in question. After conversing, they decided that no foul had occurred, meaning that Grunewald was the winner. Salazar felt otherwise, so he protested the result by arguing that Hasay was fouled. Grunewald received a heads up from Nike Coach Jerry Schumacher (there is a frosty relationship between Schumacher and Salazar) and warned her to “do something about it” because Salazar “will get his way.” Grunewald tried to go over to figure out what was going on with the officials, but she learned nothing for about 30 minutes. When the officials came out, one of them informed Grunewald that the protest was “easily denied,” and that she had “nothing to worry about.”

Salazar was not easily thwarted. After initiating a protest, a coach can appeal the decision to the Jury of Appeals. Rule 119, 4(a) outlines the basics of how the Jury of Appeal is to proceed. The rule says,

“The Jury of Appeal shall, as its sole function in matters resulting from a Referee
decision, determine if the decision of the Referee or the Chief Race Walking Judge is
based upon adequate evidence and within the scope of the authority given to such
person. If such determination is in doubt, the Jury of Appeal shall consult with all
relevant persons and may consider other available evidence, including any available
video evidence. The decision of the Referee or the Chief Race Walking Judge shall be
upheld unless shown to be clearly erroneous.”

In practice, unless there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary (or new evidence), substantial discretion is given to the initial ruling. Salazar’s appeal was denied; Grunewald was the winner, and everyone could go home. One would think that would end the story, considering that the Jury of Appeals has the final say. However, somehow Salazar (whether by his persistence, negotiation skills, or the fact that he’s a respected and revered coach) convinced the Jury of Appeals to reopen the discussion.

Here is where the story becomes absolutely mind-boggling. Eagle Eye, the company in charge of the instant replay video features at the meet, admitted that no new video evidence was presented – without that, the decision to deny an appeal is an absolute no-brainer. However, the third appeal appeared to be made without any brains in the decision-making process. The appeal was accepted, and it overturned the original “a-okay” ruling, which disqualified Grunewald from the race.

Post-decision actions make USATF looks incredibly guilty. It refuses to let anyone see the video in question, it refuses to talk to anyone and it refuses to provide any additional information on the matter. USATF, however, is violating its own rule in its refrain from releasing the”additional video evidence.” If this is an attempt to try and fabricate video evidence to make it seem that the added video evidence was there all along, USATF is in serious trouble. There is no evidence to suggest that at all, but it is suspicious. Most likely, USATF knows it is wrong and is trying to figure out a way to cover its contradictions. The United States Olympic Committee attempted to resolve the matter in an informal manner, but it failed. Now, an official arbitration request is in order, which will result in a hearing to be held later this week.

There is some evidence that Nike bullies its employees, and that Salazar’s enthusiastic and repeated attempts to push for his athletes (who are Nike athletes) was the result of the substantial pressure put on Salazar. The article suggests watching the video for yourself – it starts at 10:00, and the infraction occurs at 10:07. I watched – it just looks like Hasay stumbled on her own. It will be interesting to see whether politics will win this out, or whether Grunewald will be reinstated. The fact that the United States Olympic Committee has taken such an interest in the matter will likely reveal the idiocy of bending to one’s will simply based on reputation alone. High reputation does not mean truth; while a respected person does carry substantial justification, it is not absolute, and anyone can make a mistake (or be utterly wrong and furious about it).

The first article ran so long today because I found it interesting, so I’ll leave you with some mentions of other articles. World Champion and Olympic gold medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown, one of Jamaica’s best sprinters (and one of the best sprinters in the world) is finally cleared for competition. The IAAF suspended her from competition for two years, but was reinstated by the Court of Arbitration in Sports.

While Campbell-Brown is just getting back into the sport, the Swedish are livid about their top player, Nicklas Bäckström, testing positive for a banned substance. The IOC refused to let him play, infuriating fans. The Swede found out two hours before the gold medal match took place, and the Swedes didn’t even get in a score as Canada shut them out 3-0. It’s a fishy situation; apparently, everyone knew that he was taking the pill which caused the positive test. The team doctors knew he was taking the pill, and Bäckström had been tested three times before the Olympics with no issues. He had been taking the pill for years to combat allergies – even taking the pill through Vancouver 2010.

Finally, the Eugene Marathon is offering more prize money during its marathon this summer in celebration of a “week long celebration of running in TrackTown USA.” 



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