Jennifer Abraham feels she has been wronged, and says she has the cuts, bruises and videotape to prove it.
Abraham, a junior distance runner at UC Irvine, was involved in a scuffle with Nevada Las Vegas runner Trena Hull during the 3,000-meter race in a three-way meet between Irvine, UNLV and San Diego State last Saturday in San Diego.
Videotapes of the race show that Abraham and Hull were running side by side when Abraham used her forearm in an attempt to clear some space for herself. Then Hull knocked Abraham to the ground, grabbed her after she returned to her feet, and began to attack her with a series of punches and kicks.
Abraham said Friday that Hull's actions were violent and unwarranted and that Hull, the 1986 Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. Women's Athlete of the Year in track and field, should be suspended from competition for at least one meet.
John Caine, UC Irvine athletic director, said Friday he is inclined to agree with Abraham, and is awaiting word from UNLV officials as to whether disciplinary action will be taken.
"To me, the situation is blatantly unjust," Abraham said. "And there's a videotape to show it."
The entire race was videotaped by a parent of another UCI athlete, and copies of the tape were sent to Brad Rothermel, UNLV athletic director, and to the PCAA office, along with a letter from Irvine Coach Vince O'Boyle requesting disciplinary action be taken against Hull.
The scuffle broke out during the fifth lap of the race, just after the runners had turned and begun heading down the backstretch.
Abraham was running third, with Hull not far behind, moving up on Abraham's right shoulder at the top of the turn. The videotape doesn't give a clear picture as to how much contact there was when the runners were side by side, but as Hull began to pass Abraham, the Irvine runner clearly swung her right forearm at her. Hull then accelerated to take a lead of about five strides, then stopped abruptly and turned around, forcing Abraham to collide head-on with her.
Both runners fell to the track, but Hull was the obvious aggressor when they returned to their feet.
Hull came up with arms flailing, grabbing Abraham by the head and attempting to hit and kick her. Abraham did little to retaliate.
After several seconds, Hull was grabbed from behind by Abraham's fiance, Dan Thomas, who ran onto the track shortly after the incident began. While Thomas restrained Hull, Abraham broke free and returned to finish the race. A UNLV assistant coach escorted Hull off the track and onto the infield.
Abraham said she elbowed Hull in response to Hull's crowding her on the turn.
"In track and field, it's a common practice to give an elbow to jostle a runner when that runner is impeding your space," she said. "The elbow wasn't meant to harm or hurt her in any way.
"It was given because she violated my space. There are certain rules that a runner cannot impede your forward progress and, in my opinion, that's what she did."
Abraham said she came away from the incident with a black eye, a scratched neck, and a cut on her leg that required four stitches, the apparent result of a Hull spike. Hull, like Abraham, is scheduled to compete in the Mt. SAC Relays tonight at Mt. San Antonio College and could not be reached for comment.
Rothermel said he viewed the videotape for the first time Thursday night, and will meet Monday with Hull, UNLV Coach Al McDaniel and Tina Kunzer, the school's primary women's athletics administrator, to determine what action will be taken.
"We will determine what action is appropriate and then we'll move forward with whatever that action is," Rothermel said. "I will admit, at that at this point, we won't condone the action Trena took at the event.
"The one thing not clear from the tape is what kind of action might have provoked it. I'd be interested in the other principals involved. It's a bit difficult (to determine) from the tape.
"It's pretty clear what Trena's action was, but I'm not sure what language was exchanged at one time or another. There's no way you can justify Trena's action in this regard. But certainly what might have been verbalized--and I don't know if anything was--might have provoked it. If her actions were provoked, we might temper our postion as to how we would deal with the matter."
Caine said Abraham was not completely innocent in the matter, but called Hull's behavior "an overt act" that was "beyond reasonableness."
"Jennifer threw a forearm out there, and there's even an indication that Jennifer kind of shoved her out of the way in the back," Caine said. "Jennifer created some provocation. But the reaction was extreme. That's what concerns us. We were surprised to see (Hull) run in a relay race later in the meet."
Times staff writer Elliott Almond contributed to this story.