USA Track & Field didn’t exactly cover itself in PR glory with Monday’s decision to reinstate Gabriele Grunewald as 3000-meter indoor champion and Team USA representative at the world championships in Poland next month. It had no choice.
The move was the attempt by the Indianapolis-based ruling body of the sport to show it doesn’t kowtow to all-powerful Nike, its No. 1 sponsor, and mighty track legend Alberto Salazar.
Grunewald, a 27-year-old cancer survivor, won the Feb. 22 race in Albuquerque, but Salazar protested the victory, claiming his runner, Jordan Hasay, was clipped as she jostled with Grunewald during the gun lap.
Officials saw the contact and immediately flagged it. A review found no penalty, upholding Grunewald’s win.
Salazar protested and lost the appeal. He protested again, and lo and behold the USAT&F three hours later overturned its own appeal. That switcher triggered a torrent of criticism in the track community. Grunewald’s coach Dennis Barker tweeted that the jury’s decision was a “farce and untrue.”
On Monday, USAF issued a press release to reinstate Grunewald as winner of the race. CEO Max Siegel claimed the reinstatement was made following heart-to-heart talks with Salazar and Paul Doyle, Grunewald’s rep. Salazar, three-time New York City Marathon winner and Nike’s top coach, said he was withdrawing the protest of the appeals because it “was the right thing to do.” For her part, Hasay said she didn’t want a cloud of suspicion over her head at the world championship contest.
Brooks Running, which spends a fraction of Nike’s sponsorship dollars, sponsors Grunewald. Nike denies applying any pressure on either the disqualification or reinstatement.
USAT&F, of course, says there’s no connection between Hasay’s protest withdrawal and Grunewald’s reinstatement. Perish the thought! The whole matter smells of pandering and dancing to Nike’s beat.
To her credit, Hasay is a champ for foregoing the chance to represent her country in track's No. 1 annual event.
Barker had the best take on the sordid affair, saying Salazar’s statement distributed by USAT&F sounds like it was “written by Nike’s PR department.”
Best of luck to Grunewald and Shannon Rowbury, who finished second in Albuquerque, in next month’s big race.