Sara Vaughn Speaks on Indoor Championships Athlete Atmosphere, 3000m Controversy
by Jon Gugala
Just after her third-place finish in the women’s 3,000-meters final at the 2014 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, Sara Vaughn was preparing to leave the track for her warm-down when USATF officials instructed her not to leave because she “might be affected” by the petition going on. It was at this time, Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker says, that Alberto Salazar had filed a petition for the disqualification of Gabe Grunewald, the winner of the race, for interference.
So Vaughn stayed. Ten to 15 minutes later, she says, USATF officials told her the Salazar petition wasn’t going to go through and that it was OK for her to leave the track because nothing was going to change.
“That’s the last I heard of it,” she says, “until, of course, Twitter blew up last night.”
In events that they have not yet commented on, USATF overturned its previous ruling, disqualifying Grunewald, and then judging against her favor in two subsequent appeals. Barker and Grunewald’s agent have vowed to file a section nine arbitration petition to USATF on Monday if she is not reinstated.
Vaughn says since the news broke of Grunewald’s disqualification, she has texted with Grunewald to say that her thoughts are with her, and asking Grunewald to let her know what she could do to help. “[Grunewald’s] obviously very upset [and] kind of feels like there’s not much she or anyone can do,” she says.
As far as the national team selection, Vaughn says that when USATF officials came up to her and told her to stay in the area pending the initial appeal by Salazar, Vaughn told them she didn’t have the IAAF World Indoor Championships standard. USATF officials then looked at the results list, and said, “Oh, well then it would be Jordan [Hasay, fourth in initial results]. Let’s go find her and get her through team processing.”
Vaughn says she doesn’t know if Hasay actually went through team processing or not.
At the time of this writing (8:45 a.m. MST on Sunday), Vaughn has still not been contacted by USATF officials since their initial request she stay at the track before her warm-down, and she remains in possession of her third-place medal, which would be upgraded to runner-up if the disqualification of winner Gabe Grunewald stands.
USATF has not released the official results, but the official timing company lists Grunewald as a “DQ” in the unofficial results, with Rowbury, initially runner-up, credited with the win (http://branchsportstech.com/2014_Meets/indoor/02-21-USATF/Result-Track.php?EN=6&RN=1&ST=Pending&D=2). Grunewald’s coach Dennis Barker and agent Paul Doyle both confirmed on Saturday evening that Grunewald had been disqualified.
USATF has not returned multiple requests for a statement.
“If everything is confirmed, I’ll have a medal swap,” Vaughn says. “But I’m not going to make an effort to go clear that up. [USATF] can come find me if they need to.”
Vaughn says the atmosphere among the athletes in Albuquerque is hushed. “Beyond the people who are brave enough to tweet something, I don’t know,” she says, but assumes that many will voice their opinions later today at the track.
“A lot of people are in a position of wanting to just focus on their races today,” she says. “It’s kind of a tough spot to be in when even if you might feel one way about Gabe’s race and her result, you came here to race.”
When asked if some of the hushed tones are because of the threat of USATF retaliation, she says, “I don’t know if I would call it intimidation, but there’s definitely hesitation. You have to think how stirring things up might you affect you getting into a future race or a future sponsorship deal.”
I spoke with one prominent athlete on Saturday evening off the record, and he said the same, saying he can’t be as vocal as he’d like until after his final today for fear of retaliation by USATF.