Balls Out: Rampant Corruption in USATF

Under the shadow of the 2014 Olympics, track fans everywhere (when I say this I mean the truly nerdy runners) congregated around their computers and televisions to watch the USA Track and Field (USATF) national indoor track and field championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The men’s 3000 meter run was a highly contested event for distance runners everywhere to pay close attention to. Five of the very best 3000 runners in the country made up the start list—amongst 20 some other guys on a 200 meter track. Needless to say, it was a completion to watch both for the sheer speed and talent, but for how the athletes would tactically tackle the event. An American favorite, Galen Rupp under the guidance of the infamous Alberto Salazar, was in the line-up. Rupp is best known for taking second in the 10,000 meter run in the 2012 Olympics—notoriously dropping a 52 second last 400 in the race to win silver. Salazar coaches his athletes with the specific goal of getting American distance runners not only just to compete in the Olympics, but to medal there (subtly implying to beat the dominant East African competitors).

Also in the race was Bernard Lagat—from Kenya but currently competing for the US. Lagat holds innumerable records, is pushing 40 years old, and is known for having a deadly finishing kick. Experts are always excited to see the two race, as Rupp’s key training is to best anyone’s finish. In Albuquerque however, Lagat put the gas on early, leaving all competitors far behind. Including Rupp. This most likely was a source of vexation for poor Salazar, as just minutes prior, the real drama was occurring.

The women’s 3k also shared a propensity for greatness—containing many exceptional athletes including Salazar’s Jordan Hasay. All runners had their sights on top three in order to qualify for World’s in Poland. One of these in particular was Gabe (pronounced Gab-bee) Grunewald competing for Team USA Minnesota. Grunewald took the slowly paced race into her own hands in the final laps and kicked past Hasay and the two other women who had previously held the lead. Grunewald surged past Hasay who was already losing gas, slightly nicking her shoe in the process. Grunewald continued to demolish her competitors finishing with her first USA title and four full seconds ahead of Hasay (who finished fourth).

Here in lies the drama. Salazar is a very prominent figure within track and field, especially Nike. Salazar, after losing his chance for worlds for Hasay and losing a title for Rupp to Kenyan Lagat, filed a formal complaint against Grunewald in hopes of having her disqualified. After several hours of appeals getting filed and then shot down, Grunewald was in fact DQed. Hasay and Salazar got their way and will be headed to Poland for worlds, despite her utter lack of kick in the final segment of the race.
Grunewald displayed immense strength and earned her position. Paul Doyle, Grunewald’s agent commented, “This is a girl that beat cancer twice and has just made her first team, won her first national title, and it’s being taken away from her. We won’t stand for it.”

Meanwhile well-known athletes are furious all over social media with complaints against the corruption of USATF and the influence certain members can have on such important decisions. The decision was outrageous. However, it was comforting to see the injustice made public by fellow track geeks and stars alike. Hopefully this upset will lead to a more just USATF.

Grunewald’s coach and agent are in the process of filing a Section IX arbitration petition on Monday and, by the looks of it, she is backed up by a large community.

Beloved Stanford graduate and Oiselle athlete Lauren Fleshman summed up the incident well in her tweet, “Will the real @JordanHasay please woman up?”