LAST LAP — November/December

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed in these trying times, as the C19 pandemic still continues to dominate everyday life on a worldwide basis.

CAS has ruled that the prosthetics worn by quartermiler Blake Leeper convey an unfair advantage. (KEN McLIN/IMAGE OF SPORT)

CAS Sides With WA In Leeper Case

As the 5th-placer in the ’19 USATF 400, Blake Leeper was in relay pool consideration for the World Championships, but WA objected to his participation, saying his prosthetics (he was born without legs below both knees) gave him an unfair advantage. The federation employs a Maximum Allowable Standing Height (MASH) formula, and the 31-year-old Tennessee native’s “blades” didn’t pass muster.

In late October CAS upheld the WA decision, meaning no Olympic Games for Leeper, who medaled in the ’12 Paralympics.

WA reacted by saying, in part, “World Athletics welcomes CAS’s ruling that on the facts of this case… Specifically, CAS found that Mr Leeper’s prostheses make him 15cm taller than he would be if he had biological legs (he would be 5-9 with biological legs, but his prostheses give him the legs of a 6-8 man); and that this increased leg length gives Mr. Leeper an artificial performance advantage over 400m of ‘several seconds.’”

Leeper’s lawyers will appeal, saying, “Mr. Leeper is an African American. The MASH height limits, by contrast, were exclusively derived from data on the height proportions of Caucasians and Asians. As a result, the MASH height limits do not account for the fact that Black athletes may have different height proportions and should not be required to run at heights that may not be natural to them.”

Semi-Salvation For Minnesota Men’s Track

As reported in the last issue, in early September Minnesota cut men’s track & field—indoors and out—from its roster of sports, sending shockwaves through the track world. The good news is that the Board Of Regents subsequently voted, narrowly, to save the outdoor version. The bad news is that indoor track—along with men’s gymnastics and tennis—got the axe.

Bill Smith, a track alum who has been working to save his sports programs, told the StarTribune that his sport’s supporters weren’t sure how to feel. “We are trying to figure out whether we won, or we half-won,” he said.

William & Mary Kills Men’s Track, Then Revives It

September also saw an announcement by William & Mary that it would be terminating 7 sports, with both indoor and outdoor men’s track among them. A few weeks later 3 women’s sports were kept alive out of concerns for Title IX violations.

Enter the women’s track team, 26 members of which penned an open letter which said, in part, “We will begin a campaign of passive resistance to the unfair practices and policies of the College’s administration, including the dishonest manner in which these decisions were arrived at. As such, you can expect to see us front and center voicing our concerns about these issues; you can expect us to take our argument to our student body, to our faculty, and to our alumni; what you should not expect is for us to show up in uniform, representing this institution, until this matter is resolved. A College that does not share these core values is not a College to be valued.”

In early November, the school did a 180 and said the men’s programs were safe at least through the 2021–22 school year.

According to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, “Randy Hawthorne [a former T&FN correspondent] of BackTrack Inc. said that track alumni—who’ve helped build an endowment of more than $7 million—had threatened to give back alumni medallions and diplomas, and withdraw from the school’s athletics hall of fame. He said that $16 million track alumni have pledged in their estates would be canceled if men’s track was not reinstated.”

Clemson’s Turn To Wield The Axe

Two steps forward, one step back. In short order after the good news from Minnesota and William & Mary came the depressing discovery that football powerhouse Clemson is chopping all three seasons related to men’s track.

In explaining the decision, AD Dan Radakovich said, “In our long-term planning, we looked at the changing demographics of the Clemson campus. Of Clemson’s men’s sports, only men’s track & field and cross country could provide the Department with both substantial cost savings as well as the ability for long-term Title IX compliance.

We appreciate and acknowledge the potential efforts to support or to reinstate the men’s program. However, the decision is final, and Clemson Athletics will move forward sponsoring 16 sports. The status of our women’s track and field and cross country program is not impacted by this decision.”

The school will honor the scholarships of all impacted student-athletes through their undergrad years at the level of financial aid that they are presently receiving. All coaches’ contracts will also be honored through their current terms.

Albuquerque Scores New Indoor Track

When New Mexico hosts the ’23 NCAA Indoor (see sidebar), it will be doing so on a different oval than was scheduled to have hosted this year’s edition of the meet. The city of Albuquerque has a $2.5M Mondo track on order and will partner with the school in the hosting business.

The new 6-lane oval is currently under construction in Italy and is expected to be installed in December. It replaces a 15-year-old structure that has been auctioned off. The former track also hosted multiple USATF Indoor Championships meets.

Said Mayor Tim Keller, “We are fired up to finish what we started before the pandemic led to the 2020 event being canceled, and are so excited the NCAA picked Albuquerque again to host. This event, and the many others like it, further cement the importance of investing in our city’s Sports Tourism industry.”

Naser Cleared In Whereabouts Charge

As first noted in this space in the July/August issue, world 400 champ Salwa Eid Naser was suspended by the AIU in June for whereabouts failures. The 22-year-old Bahraini had better luck with her defense than did Christian Coleman in his.

Naser didn’t have to go as far as CAS to get her clearance. In early October WA’s Disciplinary Tribunal heard her case and dismissed one of the missed tests after learning of the comedy of errors which led to the tester’s knocking on a storage-unit door rather than Naser’s residence. (The full decision can be found here.)

Naser, the third-fastest 400 runner in history, had won her WC gold while already under investigation for three whereabouts failures earlier in ’19. She then ran afoul of the rules again in January ’20, but that miss came more than a year after the first ’19 infraction, so she was left with only 2 misses and will suffer no penalties.

Naser Case Out Of WA’s Hands

One person not happy with Salwa Eid Naser’s escape from punishment was the woman she beat in Doha last year, Shaunae Miller-Uibo. The Bahamian star called for WA head Seb Coe to explain “each step of all the failures that unfolded from this case.”

Asked to comment by, WA stressed that it had “no input into case management and decisions,” and went on to explain, “In 2017, World Athletics set up an independent system to manage anti-doping matters in order to separate it completely from the administration of the sport. The Athletics Integrity Unit was established to oversee testing, investigation and cases. The Disciplinary Tribunal, which comprises independent legal professionals, decides on cases and is also a separate body.

“World Athletics has no input into case management and decisions. We understand that the time this process takes can be frustrating, but the system must be independent, robust and thorough in order to maintain integrity.”

USATF Foundation Announces 50 Travel Grants

In its final round of grants for the 2020 year, the USATF Foundation awarded travel grants to 50 U.S. athletes. The grants, provided by the foundation’s director, Pitch Johnson, are worth $1500 apiece, for a total of $75,000. The grantees, alphabetically:

Abdi Abdirahman, Nia Akins, Brooke Andersen, Olivia Baker, Chris Benard, Tynita Butts, Kelsey Card, Michelle Carter, Freddie Crittenden, Sean Donnelly, Mason Finley, Emily Grove, Kate Hall, Daniel Haugh, Chari Hawkins, Obi Igbokwe, Ariana Ince, Reggie Jagers, Trumaine Jefferson, Stanley Kebenei, David Kendziera, Woody Kincaid, Shadrack Kipchirchir, Amere Latin, Heather MacLean, Aaron Mallet, Sam Mattis, Conor McCullough,
Sherika Nelvis, Chris Nilsen, Payton Otterdahl, Jessica Ramsey, Jacob Riley, Jeron Robinson, Sha’Keela Saunders, Rachel Schneider, Donald Scott, Solomon Simmons, Jaide Stepter, Laulauga Tausaga-Collins, Josh Thompson, Jasmine Todd, Kayla White, Brian Williams, Devon Williams, Harrison Williams, Shakima Wimbley, Kara Winger, Rudy Winkler, Ashton Zamzow-Mahler.

No Pacing Lights For Obiri

Until Letesenbet Gidey broke the world 5000 record in Valencia, Hellen Obiri had the year’s fastest time. The 30-year-old Kenyan wasn’t exactly thrilled by the special event set up by Gidey’s powerful management group, NN Running Team. Obiri told Citizen Digital, “I think it is really unfair for us who did not compete. They should have made it an open competition for everyone. For us with small managements it means it is hard to get similar opportunities and we will just have to wait for races like the Diamond League.

The reigning world champ continued, “I however believe that records can be broken without technology just with good training similar to what the likes of Bekele and Dibaba did before. For me I will continue preparing for the Olympics and if I get the World Record then well and good.”

In her desire to win her first Olympic gold next year, Obiri says she will skip both the World Indoor Championships and the World XC (where she is the defending champ).

Forward-Looking Hermens Defends Pacer Lights

While some (including your editor in last month’s column) may gripe about whether pacing lights around a track are giving record-chasing runners an unfair boost, noted agent/promoter Jos Hermens rejects that notion.

“The answer is very simple; they have to still run themselves, the track is not moving, you have to do all the hard training year after year to break a record. It needs a lot of hard training, without lights. They break it because of the talent and the hard work,” says Hermens, who himself used an early version of pacing lights to break the WR for the hour run in the ’70s.

This year, the “Wavelight” LED technology played a role in records by Joshua Cheptegei and Letesenbet Gidey.
Hermens thanks the WA hierarchy for greenlighting the innovation: “Seb Coe wrote a personal letter to me saying we need innovation in the sport, so please go ahead with the Wavelight. Now there is a lot of support.”

Coe has said, “I will always embrace innovation. I think Wavelight allows people in the stadium, people on television, to understand a little bit more about the extraordinary talent.”

How far will Wavelights spread? Depends on how much money stadiums and promoters want to invest. The system devised by SPORT Technologies, a Dutch company, can cost from about $30,000 to $60,000 to install depending on the infrastructure required.

High School Coach Suspended After Staging Meet

News-wise, one of the big highlights of the ’20 prep season came in May when Leo Daschbach (Highland, Gilbert, Arizona) became the 11th high schooler ever to break 4:00 in the mile. His 3:59.54 came at the specially-staged Quarantine Clasico at Oak Ridge High in El Dorado Hills, California.

A big downside to that small gathering played out over the summer, as successful Oak Ridge coach Bob Wright was suspended in June, then dismissed for a year in August by the school board. His transgression came not for C19-related reasons, but because he allowed the school’s facility to be used without filling out the official district paperwork. Wright, who has been at the school since ’96, told that he might consider reapplying for the job next year.

Who Will Get To Run In The NCAA XC Champs?

As noted in this space last month, the ’20 NCAA XC Champs have been moved to March 15, 2021 (that’s Div. I only; Divs. II & III will not be staged). It was also noted that Regionals had been canceled for the year and that a selection process was being developed. Here’s a slightly condensed version of the protocol the NCAA will use:

•Conference championship performance holds the most weight.
•After the Conference championship, a team will be evaluated on its body of work for all competitions, regardless of the time of year they occurred. (This includes teams that do not have a Conference championship.)
•Common opponents and head-to-head competition against Division I opponents only will be used when comparing teams.

•The top individual finisher at each Conference championship who is not part of a qualifying team will advance to the NCAA Championships (maximum of 32 individuals depending on how many conferences host a Conference championship).
•The remaining individual spots will be selected at large by the committee to fill the field to 38. This includes individuals that did not have the opportunity to compete in a Conference championship.

New Law Increases Oversight On USOPC

The U.S. government has signed into law The Empowering Olympic, Paralympic & Amateur Athletes Act Of 2020. This bit of legislation was born out of the Larry Nassar case, with concerns that amateur athletes didn’t have enough protection from abuse. The act grants Congress the power to remove members of USOPC’s Board Of Directors. It would also have the ability to decertify national governing bodies in the country if they fail to adhere to requirements. The act also requires the USOPC to give the U.S. Center for SafeSport $20 million annually. A 16-member commission will be formed to oversee the program.

There is some concern that if Congress used the Act to remove USOPC Board members the IOC could consider it a violation of the Olympic Charter which strictly restricts government interference in National Olympic Committees.

“Positive” Meeting Between WADA and ONDCP

Here’s yet another alphabet soup organization you’re probably not familiar with: the U.S.’s ONDCP (Office Of National Drug Control Policy). Earlier this year it was critical of WADA and seeking reform. There was even a threat to withhold its $2.7M annual payment to WADA. But in early November WADA President Witold Bańka and ONDCP director James Carroll met and and made good progress.

A joint statement was issued, saying, “In what was a very positive meeting, the two organisations agreed that the U.S. Government was vital for the protection of clean sport around the world, and that they would pursue strong and open bilateral communication going forward.”

How Goes It On The Tokyo 2020 Front?

Japan’s torch relay has begun, again, an 8-month trek of through Japan’s major cities—just one omen that the “2020” Olympics may come off after all in the summer of ’21 as organizers and government officials continue to make preparations for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad… ◻︎

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