I'm going to remember that moment for a very long time. Sunday at the US Championships, minutes before the 5000 final started. My heart racing and sweat dripping down my face in the Des Moines heat, waiting for the check in clerk to finish the phone call. I was ready to run: burnt orange Texas uniform on, spiked up, everything. Over the last hour I'd somehow managed to calm myself and prepare mentally to race, even after a long weekend of wondering and hoping.
She ended her call, looked at me and said, "sorry, no, you can't run" It didn't fully hit me until I'd gotten barefoot and walked over to the stands to watch the race I'd visualized myself in over the past year during almost every workout and run. When I saw nine men lined up, only one of which was a collegian, I couldn't believe it. Nine. Of the original 18 accepted into the meet, half scratched. Four days before, when the words 'Not Accepted' appeared next to my provisional qualifying time of 13:33.13 on the online entries/declarations page, I still held hope. But USATF didn't fill the field after scratches. Not even for a 23 year old hopeful, there, warmed up and ready to race.
This weekend hurt me. I saw and heard a lot of things I wish I hadn't. I feel disillusioned by what I've cherished as the purest of all sports, the one that's defined my life for almost nine years now. This episode is the tipping point in my gradual realization over the past two years that US track and field isn't what it seems on the surface. There are politics like you wouldn't believe. Better have a friend in a high place or you're not getting anywhere.
This weekend's meet shouldn't be solely about selecting three people to go to Moscow. The name of the meet says it all - The United States Track and Field Championships - so why did the 5000 final include such an alarmingly small fraction of the talent in the country? Why wasn't the second American in the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships for this event - Maverick Darling in the race? The meet should help younger guys gain experience and exposure. Instead, the race ended up being a jog fest for Nike's athletes in front of a small crowd. How hard would it have been to add Maverick, myself, and Andy Bayer, among others, all of whom were at the meet and ready to run? A little bending of the rules in place. Apparently the resistance to change is strong.
I wasn't going to blog about this in favor of forgetting about it and moving on. But over the past couple days I've thought about it more and couldn't let it go. I can only hope that USATF starts itching its scratches in future years. People need to know what's going on.
At 1:30, three hours before the race, Flotrack held an impromptu press conference with myself, Maverick Darling, and his coach Mick Byrne about the situation. As Mick says, "It should be about the athletes."