I love records and record attempts. But should a chance at a WR trump rules at worlds? That’s a question being raised after Charles Allie dropped down from M70 to M65 at Malaga, causing a domino effect of anger and disappointment that reached into the M80 age group.
On Friday, M70 sprinter Roger Pierce contacted me via Facebook to describe what he considered a debacle involving the 4×100 relays. Later I spoke with him on the phone, as well as Charlie. I also wrote George Haywood, another M65 relay member and teammate of Charlie’s.
Phil Greenwald, longtime U.S. masters team manager, responded by email, defending the team selection process. He sent me a link to the protocols. (I didn’t hear back from masters national chair Rex Harvey or selection committee member Robert Thomas.)
Roger and Charlie, both members of the USATF Masters Hall of Fame, were open with me. Charlie said he was given the option of running with his age group or dropping down to M65 to have a shot at the listed world record of 51.12 (at 2011 Sacramento worlds) or a pending mark of 50.63 (at 2018 Spokane nationals).
Roger says he was blindsided and lost a chance at a medal with Charlie gone. (Roger’s M70 team ultimately was a Did Not Start when last-minute M70 middle distancer Gordon Keller injured his quad in handoff practice. Phil didn’t allow an alternate, Roger says.)
I shared Roger’s concerns with Phil, who responded: “The relay selections are done by the Team Selection Committee. We (the committee) have reviewed these teams several times and we are comfortable with the decisions we made. I don’t have anything else to say about this.”
On the phone, Roger told me he felt betrayed and treated with disrespect.
“This stuff has been going on so long,” he said. “So many angry people. You feel helpless.” He called Phil disorganized, thin-skinned and “doesn’t want any information he’s not wanting to hear.”
Roger says Charlie would have given the M70s a medal chance. Without Charlie, not so much. But the M65 relay pool — even without Charlie — had six or seven possible legs, including Michael Kish, the M65 silver medalist at 100 and bronze medalist at 200.
Michael didn’t run on the M65 4×100, however. The team of David Ortman, Thad Wilson, George Haywood and Charlie won with 51.15 — just off the listed WR. No Michael, who hadn’t been invited to run despite an earlier show of interest.
On the phone, Charlie said George didn’t approach him until the day before the relays started.
“I had already put in the paperwork for the 70 team,” he told me. “I didn’t know who was going to be our replacements” for better-known Kenton Brown (injured) and Ty Brown (absent from Malaga).
“Two guys were going to drop down from M75,” Charlie said. “They weren’t relay people or sprinters. I didn’t know them.”
So selection team member Robert Thomas called Charlie and said he was finalizing the M65 relay. “Phil was there and I think Rex at the track when I was out practicing,” Charlie said. “They thought it would be a better fit for me. I expressed my concern for these [M70] guys that … didn’t have any relay experience.”
Charlie didn’t know Michael Kish was available. Roger says Michael was on a trip with his wife to Barcelona but would have been ready for the relay had he been given the heads up after winning two medals.
“They didn’t pressure me,” Charlie says of Robert and Rex. “They just laid it out there. … They thought it would be a better fit for me. George was the one who figured out if we had certain people on the team we have a chance for a record. I recommended Thad Wilson … for the 4×1. It worked out.”
Charlie said: “I guess it really was up to me. … I wasn’t too comfortable with two [M70] guys that I didn’t know of or [their] background.”
But nothing in the rules allows for an athlete to be given a vote on moving down. The M70 team had four eligible runners with Charlie, and the M65 team didn’t require him.
I wrote to George Haywood, who replied:
Charles Allie and I have been friends and Houston Elite teammates for close to 15 years now. We have run together on a great number of relays at regional, national and world championships. In addition to the numerous titles we have won together in those meets, we have set five world records in the 4×400 (including lowerings) and one in the 4×200, resulting in our current holding of three WRs and one AR in the 4×400 in relays where we ran together.
So in addition to the bond of friendship between us, there is a level of trust and confidence that has been established over the years between Charles and me that we will perform together at our best under pressure.
So when I asked Charles to run with us in M65 there was a lot of history that informed his thinking about what to decide. In addition, I told him that obviously whichever team he chose to run with would have an enhanced chance of placing well, but that if he ran with M65 we would have a realistic chance of setting world or American records and winning gold medals. This turned out to be the case, as we broke the AR in the 4×400 by almost four seconds and missed the AR in the 4×100 by just three hundredths of a second, narrowly beating the favored British team and getting gold for team USA, which we obviously would not have done without Charles.
In Malaga the M70 USA 4×4 team (without Charlie) ran 5:30.91 for sixth. Third place was 5:01.10. Swapping Charlie back into the M70 relay would have meant that Charlie’s time would have to have been over 30 SECONDS faster than the M70’s slowest guy for even a third place medal.
The M70 4×1 had a team entered but DNS. Third place was 58.94 or 14.73 per leg. Charlie was the ONLY USA M70 athlete to run in the 100m prelims, semis or finals (Kenton Brown was a DNF). Seems unlikely that the M70 4×100 even with Charles would have medaled, certainly not gold.
Roger is a friend for whom I have enormous respect as a person and as a terrific runner for decades. I can understand why he was disappointed – anyone would be if they were hoping to run with the greatest M70 in history and then saw that change. But it is clear that Phil and Charles made the right decision, the best one for Team USA.
A day later, George added: “To clarify what I wrote to you: The ultimate decision maker on relays is obviously Phil, but he would be remiss if he didn’t ask Charles what he thought was best. So I spoke to Charles in that spirit, and also briefly to Phil.”
I shared George’s response with Roger. And Roger wrote me:
First off, I want to say that there are rules for selecting relay members in a handout from the USA track and field rules for relays from the IAAF for WMA championships.
Rule number 2: (The Selection Committee) will consider athletes from an older age group who are not needed as a runner or an alternate to complete a team for a younger age group if necessary to complete a team for a younger age group if necessary. (Charles Allie was needed for the M70 4×100 and 4×400 Relay.)
Rule number 3: Age groups may be merged when two or more age groups do not have at least two runners, who have qualified for the finals, semifinals and prelims. Merged categories are then treated is one pool. (M70 had two runners who qualified — Allie and Pierce.)
Charles Allie and I have also been friends for more than 23 years, and have competed together on a great number of relays at national and world championship levels. There was also a level of trust and confidence between Charles and myself for those 23 years. (Or so I thought!) And I believe we both performed well — also under pressure. We have set world records and U.S. records in both venues a number of times. It appears that George felt that it was OK to take Charles away from the 70-year-old group for both relays, and leave us hanging in the wind, in order for him and Charles to set records.
Despite the fact that rule number two and rule number three clearly state that this goes against USATF Masters Protocol.
Yes, there was a chance that the 65s could set a world or U.S. record in both relay races. So does that mean you can ignore all the rules on choosing a relay team, without regard to any consequences for the rest of the U.S. relay teams involved?
Let’s not forget the fact that they were six legitimate 65-year-olds eligible to run in these relays, without Charles Allie. And that does not include Michael Kish from New Jersey who placed second in the men’s 65 100 and third in the men’s 65 200. Michael was discouraged from even showing up to run in a relay when he requested from Phil last July and during the meet whether he could be guaranteed a spot.
Phil told him we can’t guarantee a spot, which is understandable, but how hard would it have been to tell him that if he placed first, second or third in the 100 or 200 he would be guaranteed a spot. Apparently it never occurred to Phil to actually try to get a really good team but relied on people who came to him with their own teams.
What lessons can we learn from this if you want to run on a USA team and you’d like to drop down? All you have to do is go tell Phil that you can set U.S. and world records and you’re all set. Apparently the collateral damage and consequences aren’t really a concern, and you can justify it later by saying whatever you want to say, because you ignore the rules anyway.
I would like to address George’s comments about what we would’ve run had we had Charles on our team. He points out that our 4×4 team, without Charlie (and he forgot to mention that this was a team the Selection Committee put together after we complained about their decision to wipe out our entire 70s team and the violation of relay protocol and rules pointed out by my wife Diane in an email to them which they refused to even answer).
Well, technically they didn’t answer. What they did do was put Sal Talib and myself together with 75- and 80-year-olds who couldn’t even make their own teams, together with us on a 4×100 and a 4×400, guaranteeing we didn’t have a shot in hell at any relay [medal].
And I would like to address George’s comment about our thrown together 4×400 relay team that did run, and finished with a time of 5:30.91. It was anything but what we could put together with Charles, Sal, myself and possibly Howard Booth. We could possibly have run a 4:45 and would’ve been close to Japan who won gold in 4:45.85. Second place was 4:57! We could have had gold or silver in the 70s 4×400 relay if we had been allowed to compete. Keep in mind that Sal was completely destroyed and hardly in the right frame of mind to run in that relay with the team we had been given.
Let me also address his comments about the M70 4×100 relay. If a 4×100 team had been formed with Charles, myself, Sal, and Howard Booth, I believe it was possible for us to run a 58.5. Japan won with 55.22. Spain was second in 58.77, Germany’s third 58.95. If we ran well, and I believe we could’ve, we would’ve been right in the mix for either second or third place.
I don’t think George understands why I was disappointed. This is so much more than bumping people off teams so that people can possibly set a record because they have trained together and run together for so long in different age groups. What George and Charlie did was take away our opportunity to compete with a decent team, and possibly medal in a world championship.
For all of us 65 and over, every time we step on the track could be the last time we ever run; it’s a fragile existence and we try to hold it together for championships. We pay all our own expenses to travel to these meets, and for many of us [this] is a great financial sacrifice and an opportunity to show folks what we can do.
The selection committee, George and Charles took that opportunity away from us, and we will never know what would’ve happened because they were so sure that we weren’t good enough to run. Shame on them.
It also should be mentioned that when Phil and the committee decided to drop Bob Lida and Mack Stewart down to the 75-year-olds who only had two people, only one of whom was a runner, they completely wiped out any opportunity for the 80-year-olds to even compete in a 4×100 and they were left hanging in the wind. And those guys may never get another opportunity to run in a world championship and we will never know what they could’ve done with Lida and Stewart on their team.
Double Shame on the Selection Committee.
One final note: We should remember when we are selecting relay teams that it is more than just numbers and what someone has run in a recent meet. Some people have a great deal of courage and tenacity, and the ability to do much more than a single sheet of paper can tell you.
These things have to be factored in all the choices, and rather than have a couple of people lobbying for themselves to be in a relay, it would’ve been nice if there was some transparency in the process, that athletes were actually requested to come in and talk with Phil rather than chase him down usually with no possibility of getting a straight answer.
Many of us actually know what’s going on when it comes to relays, and know who is the best and who would do the best for us as a team, and we want to run within our age groups. That is why we have five-year age groups, folks! Phil never reached out to anybody, and was never proactive or actually speaking with anyone that I know of about who should be on what team if there was any question he just used “the committee,” brushed off and questions or suggestions (except from George and Charles) and relied on his sheets of numbers.
Why do we have to go through this type of mismanagement regarding the relays for some of the teams in every single world championship that Phil is involved in? Time to step down, Phil.
I would love to hear from USATF Masters folks who have had similar experiences with Phil and the Selection Committee over the years. Let’s let it all hang out and have some transparency for a change. After all, it is our USATF Masters program, not theirs. Let’s fight back!!!
Bob Lida, the M80 superstar who dropped down to M75 and took silver, was copied some of this, and he told me: “Well, I really don’t want to take sides but I think Roger is right. They didn’t go by their own rules. I dropped down to 75. So did Mack [Stewart]. Don’t know who that left behind in the 80+.”
In 2009, at Lahti worlds, I was lucky that exactly four sprinters were in the eligible relay pool for the M55 4×100. My teammates chose me to anchor, and our bronze was a highlight of my track career. But had a faster M60 (and there were many) dropped down to take my place, I would have been devastated. So I’m biased toward Roger.
Thus I’m doubtful the protocols were followed. But what do YOU think?
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