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Indoor 3k Controversy - A Letter to USATF

Feb 26, 2014

Lesko
Runlife

This last weekend was a crazy one for US Track and Field. If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google "women's indoor 3k controversy" or look at websites of Flotrack or RunBlogRun or USATF or really any running-related website in this country. Haven't seen the race? Time to watch the women's 3000m that causing all the stir, the contact in question is at the 10:10 mark if you want to fast forward through the 2:48 800m start. And while Gabe was reinstated as the winner, what is going on here? With the recent official USATF release, I had to speak up. I'm only echoing what hosts of others are concerned about, including @wizzo800 letter and @jongugala eyewitness and interview coverage from the meet (including very concerning Salazar allegations). I'll let you know if/when I hear back. Transparency is golden. 

Of course, the women's 3000m wasn't the only race with a questionable DQ, there was also the case of Bumbalough in the men's indoor 3000m. Read more on Spiked Up, Psyched Up.

There's no end to online coverage on this entire issue. But if you want the quick and dirty, the boys at Flotrack always have your back. Watch their hilarious spoof on enhanced footage in the women's 3000m.

And, fly fast @gg_runs and all of our other US Team representatives in Poland!


From: Sarah Lesko <        @gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 6:47 PM
Subject: Concerned member of USATF
To: Jill.Geer@usatf.org

Hi Jill, 

I noticed on twitter that you are responding to emails so I feel compelled to write. Although this may be a wasted effort since you are being put in the difficult position of mediating between the public and USATF officials. I have many concerns with what transpired over the weekend, and the resulting USATF communication.

I am a life-long track and field enthusiast, was XC captain at Yale University, was 5th runner on our 3rd place NCAA Div 1 XC team, ran as an elite post-collegiately, and currently coach middle school XC and track and field. I am the health advisor for a group of professional women distance runners, and race as a competitive masters runner. I also serve as Corporate Developer for Oiselle, a women's running apparel company that sponsors elite and amateur runners. In short, I love this sport, devote a large amount of time and money to it daily, and feel physically ill that politics (or, at a minimum, incompetence) could un-do an athlete's well-earned successes.

First, the lack of professionalism displayed at the meet must have consequences. In the NBA, the NFL, WNBA, etc when a coach or player flagrantly violates social norms (such as verbally or physically attacking another player or coach), that individual must pay a fine and/or be barred from future competitions. At the very least, the USATF needs to conduct an independent investigation regarding the claims that one of the coaches verbally attacked and physically threatened another coach and that coach's athlete. There are scores of eyewitnesses who have been reporting on these events, as I'm sure you are well aware. For Lopez Lomong to state "I came from really far. I came from a lot in my life. I want to compete as much as I can for my country" when describing being verbally attacked by another athlete's coach in front of fans...that at a minimum warrants an investigation. We all need to feel safe and protected within the confines of a track and field competitive area. 

If the USATF ignores this aspect of the weekend's events, it will only reinforce our sport's inferior position. If we want to be treated as professionals, then we all need to act as professionals. The USATF states, re involved coaches, “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." This can easily be interpreted as the USATF condoning or at a minimum excusing or overlooking extremely unprofessional behavior. The USATF needs to develop behavior standards and consequences, and apply them evenly and fairly. 

Next, regarding the appeals process, your website quotes: 

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.” 

So, am I correct in interpreting this statement to mean that USATF volunteers made a mistake, that they had insufficient oversight from the USATF, and that their disqualification was incorrect? If so, Jordan should not have needed to withdraw from the team for Gabe to be reinstated, the USATF officers should have been able to overturn it. Or is it still USATF official position that the disqualification was warranted? Do you see internal contradiction? Jordan's withdrawal let USATF off the hook from having to make a definitive statement on the DQ. Please make this position clear.

Finally, the lack of transparency of this "enlarged digital footage" you must be aware is just fueling conspiracy theories. Walk us through it if you are standing by your findings. Show us the footage. Let the video company release the footage and have an IAAF meet official talk through it. Let there be a debate on ground rules of contact in track races.That would make this weekend's events have some purpose. If there is no transparency, there will be no athlete or coach trust of the process going forward. And that will compromise our sport even more. 

The USATF has a serious if not fatal credibility problem right now, which is hurting our sport. Please take the necessary steps to at least allow this controversy to move us forward. I am hopeful that you will pass on this message to USATF officers who are able to make a positive impact. 

Sincerely, 

Sarah Lesko, MD MPH

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