By now you’ve probably heard about Gabriele (Gabe) Grunewald’s disqualification in the 3,000 meters at the U.S. indoor track national championships and the subsequent reinstatement of her decisive victory.
LetsRun is going nuts about it.
The non-Nike affiliated women who ran the 1500 at the same meet the next day walked off hand-in-hand in protest and are probably now high-fiving each other.
Lauren Fleshman, a pretty good barometer of decency in the land of running, took to Twitter to air her disgust with the call.
My friends on Facebook circulated petitions to change it and then exploded in applause when USA Track & Field announced its reversal.
No matter where you stand in this controversy, it’s been great for women’s running.
Here’s the quick and dirty version of what happened:
Gabe Grunewald runs for Brooks and is a member of Team USA Minnesota. On the final lap of the 3,000, when she went to kick, Jordan Hasay, a member of the Nike Oregon Project and an athlete coached by Alberto Salazar, was on the outside of lane 1. Gabe went to pass on the inside, but then Hasay moved over and into Gabe’s path. Gabe clipped Hasay’s heel (it looked completely accidental) and then took off. As she passed another Nike athlete, Shannon Rowbury, she brushed Rowbury’s shoulder. Gabe flew to the finish with a commanding victory. You can see video of the incident here.
After the finish, Salazar complained. The initial ruling was that Gabe’s victory stood. Salazar appealed and again was denied. Under USATF rules, that should have been the end of the story unless there was “new conclusive evidence” showing Gabe should have been DQ’d. Salazar appealed again citing he had new evidence and the USATF board this time sided with him and DQ’d Gabe. However, despite repeated requests, neither Salazar nor USATF have said what the new evidence is, other than to say it was “enhanced video.” You can read more about what happened here.
The thing that’s really upsetting people about what happened is that it appears that USATF was bullied by Salazar and Nike. Alberto Salazar coaches for the Oregon Distance Project which is sponsored by Nike. Salazar is as close to a household name as a running coach could be. He has a reputation for being … um … opinionated and for taking on prodigies like Hasay, Galen Rupp, Mary Cain and Cait Chock before them. He is a talented coach and a passionate advocate for his athletes, but did he take it too far here? For many, it seems that way.
And (this may not be much of a surprise, but) Nike is a major contributor to USATF. According the USATF’s 2009 annual report, “[the USATF] signed a new contract with Nike that increases Nike’s contribution to USATF and its athletes by nearly 50 percent, ensuring that the financial state of USATF will thrive through the 2016 Olympic Games.” Is the USATF in a position to say no to Nike, if Nike wants a Nike-sponsored athlete at Worlds? At a minimum, this is a good question.
Yesterday afternoon, USATF reversed the disqualification because Hasay withdrew her complaint. To be completely clear, USATF did not admit any error in its ways; it was Hasay’s action of withdrawal that caused USATF to reverse its decision. That means USATF still has a lot of questions to answer about the appearance of impropriety and, based on the uproar, any decisions like this in the future will be under heavy scrutiny.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that Jordan Hasay took the high road in issuing her statement and withdrawing her complaint (which was probably pushed by Salazar and not her, based on the reports from the meet). Here’s what she said:
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.
Obviously, this is a demonstration of good sportsmanship, but even better, it was a display of “anti-cattiness.” So often women athletes (and indeed, in many different professions) are painted as cut-throat catty bitches who would stomp on each other to win. But as we runners know, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. In the two-paragraph statement above, Jordan showed the world and young runners everywhere that integrity is more important than winning – that winning at any cost cheapens real winning. Jordan is a talented, hard working athlete; she doesn’t need a technical maneuver to make it, she just needs patience. The 3k in Albuquerque was Gabe’s race hands down. Jordan’s race is yet to come.
What’s more – if this hadn’t happened we might not be talking about the inspiring runner Gabe Grunewald. This was Gabe’s first major win as a pro, so maybe we would, but probably not to this extent. And wow, is she quite an inspiring person! Grunewald has shown incredible determination, beating both a rare form of salivary gland cancer and thyroid cancer only to come back from surgery and radiation treatments faster than ever. She’s used her experience with cancer to live passionately and go for her goals. It’s worth noting, however, this is not her first DQ controversy. During the 2012 Olympic trials, she was initially DQ’d from the 1500 meter semis for bumping a competitor with her elbow. Her DQ was overturned on appeal and she brushed off the stress, defying all expectations coming in fourth in the final. Whatever conclusions anyone draws from these incidents, though, it’s undeniable that Grunewald is a fantastic runner with serious Rio potential, and that her story is an encouragement to anyone trying to overcome physical barriers to athletic achievement.
Gabe, who got married last October, now competes for Team USA Minnesota and is sponsored by Brooks. She certainly has a bright future ahead of her and we can’t wait to see what she does next! To read more about this inspiring woman, click here.
Did you follow along with the Gabe Grunewald DQ saga? What do you think about the whole thing?