Grunewaldgate: The USATF Is Broken (Also Bumbaloughgate)


If you’re reading this, odds are you have some affinity for running in some form or another.  Still, if your interest in the sport falls more along the lines of just getting out on the road and running, and less on the professional side, you might not have heard about the latest controversy plaguing USA Track & Field (USATF).  If you are a fan of track, then no doubt you’ve been reading every salacious detail you can find regarding both the women’s and men’s 3000m final at the recent USATF Indoor Track & Field Championships, which determined who would represent the United States at the World Championships in Poland.  In short, here’s a rundown on what happened, based on an article published on LetsRun.com:

In the women’s final, during the last lap of the race (each lap on that track is 200m), Gabrielle Grunewald, a Brooks Beast athlete, was in 3rd place when she appeared to run up on Nike Oregon Project’s (NOP) Jordan Hasay, clipping her heels.  At that point, an on-track official raised his yellow flag to indicate a potential infraction, but the race went on.  Grunewald passed Hasay, who quickly began to fade, and next came up on the leader, Shannon Rowbury, who she also appeared to make contact with, before passing and kicking on to a dominant win, securing her place atop the podium and a spot on the Worlds team…or so it seemed.  After the race, Paul Doyle, Grunewald’s agent, says the head referee for the meet went to speak to the referee who raised his flag and they determined no foul had occurred.  Alberto Salazar, Hasay’s coach, then protested the decision, claiming Hasay had been fouled.

Justin Grunewald, Gabrielle’s husband, claims that he learned of Salazar’s protest through another Nike group coach, Jerry Schumacher, who does not have a good relationship with Salazar.  J. Grunewald says he went to the judge’s tent to inquire about the protest and was told by an official: ““The protest was easily denied. You have nothing to worry about. There was nothing to protest even.”  Salazar appealed the initial decision to the Jury of Appeals.  According to USATF Rule 119(4)(a): “The decision of the Jury of Appeal shall be final. There shall be no further right to appeal. The Jury of Appeal may, however, reconsider decisions if new conclusive evidence is presented. In Youth Athletics, only video designated as official by the Games Committee before the competition may be used.”   It seems the Jury of Appeal then reviewed footage of the race and denied Salazar’s second appeal.  Here’s where the story goes from fairly typical championship track fare to soap opera, and in a hurry.

After the Jury of Appeal’s decision, Grunewald’s camp thought everything was over, probably because the only way to overturn a Jury of Appeals decision is if there is “new conclusive evidence” presented.  According to the company Eagle Eye, there was no new video evidence presented to the Jury.  According to RunBlogRun though, Salazar was not going to be denied by this fact.  RBR reports that Lee Troop, a coach of one of the women in the 3000m race, said he saw Salazar raising his voice to USATF officials and then nearly got into a physical confrontation with Schumacher.  According to RBR: “Salazar was ushered off by his group, and Troop says Schumacher remained, but was not visibly shaken by the incident.”

RBR then broke the news that USATF had overruled itself and had indeed decided to DQ Grunewald after all.  RBR reported that Grunewald and Team USA Minnesota’s coach, Dennis Barker had observed “”intense pressure” around the officials’ table, describing Nike employees as ‘hovering,’ and according to Doyle, 20 minutes later, after the final ruling was made, the ruling was opened again.”  USATF did not issue a statement immediately, but eventually came out with one reading:

“During the women’s 3,000-meter final contested Saturday evening, a meet official raised a yellow flag, indicating a possible field-of-play infraction by a runner. A review of the official’s report by the Women’s Running Head Referee and subsequently by the Jury of Appeal led to a ruling of no infraction. The Jury of Appeal then reviewed additional video evidence and reversed their initial ruling, disqualifying Gabriele Grunewald for a field-of-play infraction impeding Jordan Hasay. Protests and appeals were filed by representatives of athletes during the process. In accordance with USATF Competition Rules 111 and 119, the Jury of Appeal is a three-person panel appointed by the USATF Games Committee.  Protests and appeals are governed by USATF Competition Rule 146. The decisions of the Jury of Appeal are final.”

So, it’s over right?  Nike and AlSal have used their $$$ powers of persuasion to see that justice is done for their runners, everyone accepts the decision and goes home.  Well…not quite.  After the DQ, pretty much all social media hell broke loose, at least by track standards.  Sites such as Level Renner, RunBlogRun.com, spikeduppsychedup.com, and of course LetsRun.com led the way in terms of reporting, and pros at all distances took to the internet to express their anger with USATF, with Will Leer even calling the situation  a disgrace on national TV when interviewed.  The USATF took, and is still taking, a ton of heat on their Facebook page, and there was even a petition demanding that USATF CEO Max Siegel release whatever “new conclusive evidence” was used to DQ Grunewald after the first two appeals were denied.  In essence, the rampant speculation was that Alberto Salazar/Nike used the fact that it underwrites USATF to pressure it to DQ Grunewald and that the lack of transparency in the process only confirmed the conspiracy.

Though there were some who supported USATF’s actions, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of track fans had taken extreme issue with what happened and lost all faith in the USATF, or at least whatever faith they had left after previous debacles.  All this pressure cannot have gone unnoticed by both USATF and Nike.  The situation had spun out of control for both parties and it was therefore not too surprising when, all of a sudden, USATF issued a statement announcing that Jordan Hasay had withdrawn her protest and Grunewald was “reinstated” in the results.  The full statement in the release from Siegel is below:

“I had productive discussions with both Paul and Alberto,” Siegel said. “Both are passionate people who passionately advocate for their athletes. And both want what is best for the sport and as well and its athletes.

“Our women’s track & field meet officials, who volunteer their time to serve the sport, made a field-of-play decision based on the video evidence they saw,” Siegel said. “They followed the process laid out in our competition rules, with no USATF employee or officer part of the appeal or the decision. We are all looking forward and will address our processes to try to minimize the potential for controversy or misunderstanding in the future.”

Hasay also issued a statement:

“As with all of the competitors who lined up on Saturday, I desperately wanted to make the team to represent the United States at the upcoming World Indoor Track and Field Championships.  Since Saturday evening my emotions have ranged from despair to determination to go to Poland and represent my country as best I can.  After much thought and consideration, however, I have decided to withdraw my protest as I do not want to make a national team under these circumstances.  I wish all members of the USA team going to Poland my best and look forward to continuing to train hard and competing to represent the USA in future World Championship and Olympic Games.”

And so Grunewald was in, Hasay was out, and everyone stopped talking about it, right?  Not exactly.  First of all, there still remains the issue of Andrew Bumbalough’s DQ from the men’s 3000M, as written about here.  Though some might wonder why Bumbalough would care about a DQ when he would have been 8th, anyone who has ever competed knows there is a world of difference between the two results, and he deserves to have placed in the race.  Bumbalough was ostensibly DQ’ed for “interference” for clipping Galen Rupp, who happens to be an NOP runner.  Here’s the problem…it never happened, as confirmed by video evidence.

Second of all, and now 1380 words into this piece I’m getting to the point I started it in the first place, we, as fans, and the pros…as pros…got nothing from USATF by way of an explanation as to what actually happened leading to Grunewald’s initial DQ.  While many want to continue the debate over whether or not Grunewald should have been DQ’ed for her race tactics, that issue is completely secondary to the larger one of USATF governance and potential for undue influence from corporate sponsors.  Whether or not Grunewald broke the nebulous rules of interference does not matter so much as the fact that USATF did not follow its own procedures and was only bailed out because Jordan Hasay did the right thing in withdrawing her protest.

Here is the main point, as raised by others before me: If Grunewald was eventually DQ’ed because of “new conclusive evidence” that would have been enough to overrule the Jury of Appeals, what was that evidence and why have we not seen it?  Conversely, if there was, in fact, no new evidence, why was the Jury of Appeals overruled in the first place?  We have no answers from USATF, only the acts of 22-year old Hasay who was put in a simply untenable position throughout all this.  Does she stay silent and take a spot on the team she may feel, rightly or wrongly she doesn’t deserve?  Does she “defy” her coach and give up her spot?  There have been quibbles about whether Hasay did the “classy” thing or the “right ” thing and whether or not there is a difference, or whether or not that difference matters.  Really, it doesn’t matter, Hasay did what was needed, which makes it the right thing, period.

We, the dues-paying members of USATF, the ones who devote our time to following what is essentially a niche sport, who watch track meets on TV, and who may even go to them, deserve better.  The pros who dedicate their lives to excellence and are forced to live under the thumb of USATF’s draconian rules, certainly deserve better.  Bumbalough deserves his official finish and Hasay deserves to be able to concentrate on running, not on being caught in the middle of a USATF-caused kerfuffle.  Clearly there is blame to be placed at the feet of the almighty Swoosh, but USATF is the gate-keeper here.  USATF has the final say on appeals and on enforcing its own rules, whatever pressure may come from the likes of Salazar, or any other entity for that matter.  We must continue to demand transparency from USATF, continue to demand pros are treated equally, regardless of their uniform, and continue to make our voices heard.  You can help by signing the Change.org petition and also one by the Track and Field Athletes Association to Allow TFAA-Appointed Athlete Reps to Monitor Protest and Appeals, which can be found here.

Keep fighting for changes to the USATF to benefit its athletes and fans.  If we stay silent, we risk allowing our sport to drift into oblivion.  Heck, the biggest story in track in some time didn’t even merit a blip on ESPN.com or even Deadspin.  We all care too much for our sport to let its governing body destroy it.

Run happy, protest happy!

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