The track and field world was up in arms this weekend over an absurd scandal. Remember our scandal at Ironman Florida where the champion was nearly disqualified over a helmet sticker issue? THIS SCANDAL IS WAY JUICIER!
One of Minnesota’s ass-kicking pro runners, Gabe Grunewald, demolished the women’s 3k. She just jetted away from the field at the finish. Race won by a healthy margin. She was a national champion and headed to the indoor world championships. Cool stuff for us Minnesotans. Another reminder of how great we are relative to Wisconsin and Iowa. You heard me.
Well as you can imagine, when running at high speed on a tight little indoor track there may be jostling. And if you’ve seen the movie Days of Thunder, you know that RUBBING IS RACING (if you’re unfamiliar, take thirty seconds to get familiar by watching this). Anyways Alberto Salazar who coaches the fourth place finisher has not seen Days of Thunder and got himself all hot and bothered over some ‘rubbing’. He wanted Gabe disqualified. He filed a protest against her and was shot down by the USATF officials. He then appealed and was thoroughly rebuffed a second time. According to USATF rules that should really have been the end of it. Alberto, apparently off his meds, was still flustered and with a posse of Nike goons he managed to bully the officials into agreeing with him. His third appeal, which should not have happened, got Gabe disqualified. It was a travesty that seemed to fly in the face of USATF’s own protocol. The issue went viral online and the public outcry was heard and it seems Gabe has now been reinstated. You can read a full account here.
Alberto Salazar does not care what you think. I respect his desire to look after his athlete but it seems his perspective was a bit clouded in this case. His athlete, who he so desperately wanted to send to worlds, got 4th at the national level. She would have been absolutely destroyed at a real international races. No benefit in sending an athlete to be slaughtered. Maybe we’re seeing his true furious intensity. That intensity fueled his short career as an elite athlete before he burned his body to the ground. He probably brings the same aggressively competitive spirit to his coaching. This weekend highlighted how that can be a double edged sword and could cost him his coaching career the way it ended his athletic career.
He sparked a huge uproar. Nike already has a reputation as a Goliath, they don’t need their sponsored elite programs making the company look worse. Sponsorship is supposed to make companies look better! If some corporate guys at Nike decide Alberto is more risk than he’s worth his career will be done in a hurry. He had a very public shouting match with another Nike elite coach, Jerry Schumacher. His antics over the weekend were a huge distraction from the achievements of his athletes. He comes off looking like a massive jerk. He embroiled his athlete, the fourth place woman, in the firestorm. Today it was this athlete who had to come out and rescind the protest and set things straight. Hats off to her for that but think of the stress she dealt with due to Salazar’s behavior. He made USATF look weak and corrupt (they’re sponsored by Nike and we all assume he used Nike’s influence to get what he wanted). He made Nike look terrible. Shocking that this is the conduct of the guy who coached the 2012 gold medalist in both 5k and 10k. He’s had great success but I wonder how this dark side of his personality will impact his career. His outbursts did a ton of PR damage at an indoor meet. What if he pulled these shenanigans when the whole world is watching at the Olympics? Will his coaching career mirror his athletic career, successful but brief?
In better news, my pal Heather Kampf got on the podium in third in the 1500 at the same meet. I had the honor of driving her and her charismatic husband Ben home from the airport today. Also, the Gopher women just won their third straight Big Ten title in swimming. Go Gophers! Equal to their great feats of athleticism, my best friend for now Steve Stenzel swam his first 500 at a Masters meet Sunday. Great job, fella! All equally great athletes.
Oh, and Steve. Another St. Paulite, Kiera Janzen, swam the first 500 of her 1650 in 4:50. But you’re amazing too!
More race news coming next week! More winter coming this week!