Olympic Hopefuls Angered by Threat : Track: Reynolds not allowed to run in meet. Showdown with IAAF is avoided.
It usually takes something extraordinary to compel athletes in track and field to speak with one voice. That appeared to happen here Saturday, as many of the nation’s Olympic hopefuls were prepared to call the bluff of track’s international federation and compete in the Bruce Jenner Symantec Classic.
Only a day before the International Amateur Athletic Federation had threatened that if 400-meter world record-holder Butch Reynolds was allowed to run--despite the IAAF’s ban against him--the world governing body of track and field would suspend every athlete in the meet.
It was a powerful threat, especially in an Olympic year, but fed-up athletes appeared to not pay it much heed and showed up at San Jose City College
on a hot and breezy day. So did 14,100 fans, no doubt as interested in the intrigue off the track as what happened on it.
Reynolds was not allowed to run, and thus the threat of bans was dropped. But the episode created a rare solidarity. Athletes spoke out Saturday with unusual vehemence, all complaining about the power wielded by officials who run the sport. Many talked of the need to form a union or professional organization.
World heptathlon champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee, normally one of track’s more soft-spoken athletes, talked at length about the powerlessness felt by even the world’s elite athletes.
“I really do feel it’s time for a union,” she said. Joyner-Kersee spoke after winning the long jump with a wind-aided effort of 23 feet 6 1/4 inches.
“We need to have more say-so. We should not just be puppets--they pull the string and we compete.”
Johnny Gray, who won the 800 meters in 1:44.84, best in the world this year, sympathized with Reynolds’ fight but reminded reporters that this was, after all, a job.
“I have a mortgage. I have two sons. I have a family to take care of,” he said.
“This is my job. If the IAAF wants to cut a check for me every month, I’ll listen to them. But I have to take care of myself. I wouldn’t have run if I was going to be banned.”
Reynolds, 27, was suspended for two years after testing positive for an anabolic steroid in 1990. His suspension expires in August, but Reynolds has been fighting the decision, saying his urine sample was improperly handled.
After exhausting his appeals within the IAAF, Reynolds went to court. On Thursday, a U.S. District judge in Columbus, Ohio, issued a temporary restraining order allowing Reynolds to run in the United States.
But the IAAF, which is based in London, operates under its own rules and views American law as little more than a nuisance.
The standoff between the IAAF and this meet played out across a continent and over an entire day and night. It began Friday morning when Reynolds, training in Palo Alto, reiterated his intention to run Saturday.
In Toronto, where the IAAF was meeting, IAAF General Secretary Istvan Gyulai responded angrily by sending a letter to The Athletics Congress, which governs the sport in the United States.
The letter threatened to sanction every athlete in the meet, remove the meet’s Grand Prix designation and disallow any Grand Prix points athletes might earn Saturday. Gyulai demanded that TAC prevent Reynolds from running.
TAC responded by saying it had no choice but to respect U.S. law and allow Reynolds to compete.
Still angry, Gyulai called meet director Bert Bonanno late Friday night. He made it clear that the IAAF was not bluffing, and that the meet’s entire field of 267 athletes from 22 countries would be suspended if Reynolds was allowed to run.
“I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night,” Bonanno said.
“I was put in a position where, if I let Butch run, I would be denying Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Leroy Burrell and others the right to compete in the Olympics. I didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who wrecked the Olympics.”
Bonanno said he called Reynolds early Saturday morning to let him know he was withdrawing his invitation. Reynolds said he wanted to run and would come to the meet anyway.
Reynolds did, but when he reported to the clerk of the course to get his competition number, he was told there was none for him. Reynolds’ lane, No. 3, was assigned to someone else.
As the race went off, Reynolds stood at one end of the track and watched quietly with Bonanno. Athletes came by and hugged Reynolds or shook his hand, and he resolutely smiled and shrugged.
PattiSue Plumer, who won the 3,000 in 8:50.89, is a graduate of Stanford law school. She said that at first she didn’t take the IAAF threat seriously.
“Ultimately, people are really scared,” Plumer said. “Unfortunately, it takes something like this to get us together.
“If you know the facts in the case, and I do, you know that Butch has been treated unfairly. People in track are saying, ‘What can we do to protect ourselves?’ The answer is, absolutely nothing.”
Juliet Cuthbert of Jamaica ran the 200 in a world-best 22.15. Gail Devers won the hurdles in a wind-aided 12.60.