Gabriele Grunewald has been reinstated to represent Team USA at the upcoming track and field world championships in Poland. She’d been disqualified late Sunday after a competitor, Jordan Hasay, filed a protest alleging that Grunewald made more than incidental contact near the end of the USA Track and Field women’s 3000 meter championship. Now, after a chat with USATF head man Max Siegel, Hasay has withdrawn her protest and Grunewald is back on the team.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Not on your life.
Here’s the full story: The women’s 3000m race at this past weekend’s USATF indoor championships determined not only who had the national crown but also the two runners who would run the world championships, a major, biennial event that brings significant visibility for sponsors. In the last lap of Sunday’s race, Grunewald caught fire and ran away with the lead, crossing the line well ahead of second place finisher Shannon Rowbury. Sara Vaughn finished third and Hasay finished fourth.
So it seemed like Grunewald and Rowbury had punched their tickets to Poland. Not quite. A little while after that, Grunewald’s coach, Dennis Barker, was alerted to the fact that Alberto Salazar, Hasay’s coach at the Nike Oregon Project, was appealing to have Grunewald disqualified on the basis of interference (i.e., that she’d made contact with Hasay so as to slow her down). Salazar’s appeal was denied and Barker was told that the judges saw no more than incidental contact when Grunewald passed Hasay. Then Salazar appealed again. Once again he was denied and Barker breathed easy.
And then Nike stepped in. And then suddenly Grunewald wasn’t on the world championship team anymore.
Reports swirled that after Salazar’s second appeal was shot down, several Nike employees were seen crowding around the USATF judges. Then USATF claimed that “new video evidence” had come to light to prove that Grunewald did interfere with Hasay and was DQ’d. But they never produced that new evidence, and Eagle Eye, the company who filmed the event for television claimed not to have provided the judges with any new video material.
“I think it was coercion from Nike,” said Barker. The apparel manufacturer is reported to provide $10M of USATF’s $23M budget. Grunewald is sponsored by Brooks Running and runs for Team USA Minnesota. “It just seemed to me that Alberto [Salazar] sticking his head in there and talking to the committee while they were meeting and the other Nike people hovering around there, I think there was intimidation.”
On any account, the appearance of impropriety was enough to call down the wrath of posters on the letsrun.com forums, the unofficial home of track and field fandom. Most of the vitriol was targeted at Salazar and Nike, with some threatening to send any Nike gear they owned to Nike headquarters in Oregon in protest. Hasay, a generally well-liked figure in the running world, also took a few jabs. And it seems now that all the bad press (including reports of Salazar telling Grunewald’s husband to “go f--- himself” when the two of them happened to share an elevator at the event), coupled with the apparent fact that the “new evidence” bit was a farce, forced Nike and USATF’s hand in the matter. The threat of hundreds of putrid running shoes showing up at HQ was too much.
Image via YouTube