M80 world record has miles to go before ratification
Last May, John Keston, an 80-year-old Oregon man, ran a mile in 6:48.3. It smashed the listed M80 world outdoor best by 63 seconds. A slam dunk for an American record? Not by a long shot. John averaged 1:42 a lap at the Oregon Relays on May 14, 2005. How fast is that? Only six American men in his age group last year ran a faster 400-meter dash! His mark — beating the world record 7:51.9 by American Henry Sypniewski in June 2000 — was a milestone in masters track. But Sandy Pashkin, records chairwoman for USATF Masters Track and Field, opposed the record application and led the USATF Records Committee to reject it.
Her reasoning? Keston’s mark came in a “handicap” race, forbidden under her reading of USATF Rule 262.3(a). In Keston’s case, the race had a time-handicap — in which runners start at different times, with the oldest (including Keston and W70 Suzy McLeod) starting with the gun and others starting later. The youngest of 12 competitors in that Fountain of Youth Masters Mile started last. But all contestants started from the same line and ran the same mile distance.
Among other correspondence, Sandy wrote Dave Clingan, the race organizer: “Just to give you a little history, and maybe save you some time. There used to be many handicapped races back East (a long time ago). It was very difficult to keep track of who ran from scratch or not and there were many arguments if a record was set. Therefore the need for the rule against setting records in handicap races. Eventually, handicap races were not offered. Naturally, you can do as your heart tells you, but it will be an uphill battle. The basis of the record rules is to protect the integrity of the current record and make sure that a person has really broken the old record before you give it to someone else.”
In this case, Dave (who was second to Keston in that mile) relied on USATF officials on hand to make sure that all the necessary paperwork for the record application was accurate and complete. The USATF officials did their job. The ball went to Sandy’s court.
When Dave learned that Sandy was rejecting the mark, a blizzard of email correspondence began that only now is beginning to abate. Between late November and last week, a debate raged in USATF’s inner circles. Participants included USATF President Bill Roe; Justin Kuo, chair of the USATF Records Committee; and John Blackburn, chair of the USATF Rules Committee.
The discussion has hatched multiple intepretations of rule 262.3(a) — with some higher-ups favoring acceptance of Keston’s performance. The upshot is that Keston’s mark will get another hearing — at the December 2006 annual meeting in Indianapolis. At the same time, USATF will consider a rule change that allows for time-handicap races.
Dave tells me: “The debate has quieted down for the moment. But it will resume at the convention in December when this matter comes to a floor vote. That is why I am starting a grass-roots petition campaign, so athletes can weigh in and express their own opinions.” Clingan is referring to his online petition in which he seeks support for USATF recognition of Keston’s mark as an American outdoor M80 record — and ultimately submission for WMA world record status.
But the petition doesn’t have room to discuss all the issues involved — especially an unfair and dysfunctional records process that invests almost complete “yea-or-nay” power in one individual. This case also cries out for a little humanity and common sense. Keston didn’t cheat. Keston didn’t get an unfair advantage. (In fact, he couldn’t even tuck in behind someone as a wind break.)
But a rigid adherence to an unclear USATF rule meant Keston didn’t get immediate credit for his amazing performance.
I also got involved. I sent Sandy a series of questions, and she replied:
The Masters Committee didn’t object to the ruling from the Records Committee nor ask for the record to be recognized, just Dave Clingan, who didn’t attend the convention. The athlete, John Keston, has not questioned it either. There weren’t even three athletes who started from “scratch” so even that part of the rule that requires 3 competitors wasn’t fullfilled (See USATF rule 262.3(a) that states that “No record shall be acceptable unless it is made in a bona fide scratch running competition”. There isn’t anyway to misinterpet the rule. I sorry that Dave Clingan has caused all this unnecessary dialogue. He doesn’t represent the Master’s T & F Committee in this matter.”
I replied, in part:
“If ‘scratch competition’ is defined as ‘everyone running the same distance,’ then the Oregon mile was a scratch competition. If ‘scratch competition’ means everyone starts from the same starting line, then Keston’s mark was set in a scratch competition. And the race had well over the obligatory three competitors. The only handicap element was a ‘time handicap.’ But I can think of records that are ratified amid a time handicap — marathons, for example. Not everyone leaves the starting line at the same time. But since everyone runs the same distance, and the race has a set starting line, it’s considered a scratch competition. I think the intention of 262.3(a) is to prevent folks from claiming records in which distances are different. The typical ‘handicap race’ involves runners starting at varying distances from the finish line…. So I guess my question is: Where does USATF define ‘scratch competition’ I looked here and couldn’t find such a definition. Thanks for your continued cooperation in this matter.”
Sandy didn’t answer. But on Jan. 2, USATF President Bill Roe wrote USATF Masters T&F Chairman George Mathews: “I agree with Dave in that the rules are unclear as to whether 12 starters in a handicap race situation is a scratch event. If it is there, I don’t see it as clearly as Sandy does. I believe the current handicapped rule may be so old that it was written in AAU or early TAC days. It might not have been examined for some years.”
Roe wasn’t alone in questioning Sandy’s original ruling.
Bob Weiner, USATF Media Subcommittee chairman, wrote:
“Because he started first and with the gun (as the oldest group), the parallel is EXACTLY the same as if you start as the FIRST leg of a RELAY, where a world record for the first leg counts at the highest and all levels whether in open or masters competition. If he had started later under the handicap it would have been the same as starting as second leg in a relay and of course shouldnвЂ™t count. But his WAS a вЂњscratchвЂќ race. There is zero reason for the denial of the record — I agree with you. The decision should be reconsidered and the process must allow a change so the record can stand, if the factors are all what has been cited. Hey they allowed BeamonвЂ™s long jump record in zero gravity and KestonвЂ™s mile was even down on earth.”
But Sandy had her supporters. One was Bob Fine, a longtime USATF masters official:
On Dec. 28, Fine wrote: “If I remember correctly, the position of the committee was to support Sandy as the Records Chair. Failing to support her could result in future objections to the basic rules. A handicap race does violate the rules. I don’ think that Sandy or any individual can change the rules. That would have to be done by the Committee and USATF.”
Finally, on Jan. 2, Justin Kuo, chairman of the USATF Record Committee, wrote:
“Dear George, The records committee is responsible for examining every performance submitted and making a recommendation to the appropriate sport committee. While most of the performances are non-controversial, occasionally a performance requires discussion with the members of the Records Committee before making a recommendation to their sport committee. As the records chair for the Masters T/F Committee, Sandy Pashkin did just that. She presented her recommendations to the records committee and discussed the John Keston mile performance with the group. The committee discussed the handicap issue and agreed with Sandy’s recommendation. The Records Committee agreed the rules regarding handicapped events need to be clarified with a possible future rules change. Sandy presented her recommendations to the Masters T/F Committee and discussed the John Keston mile performance with that group. They also agreed with Sandy’s recommendation. Although Keston’s M80 performance was not accepted at the 2005 Annual Meeting, it is not “irrevocable” and it may be brought up again to for discussion and possible ratification Annual Meeting. Hope this helps. — Justin”
Later that day, George Mathews replied to Kuo:
“Thank You Justin, That was my understanding as well. Sandy also presented all denied records to the Masters Track & Field Executive Committee. It is interesting that there was no objection to this denial by anyone in either one of these groups, including people who received copies of Dave Clingan’s position paper, the active athlete’s representative, anything directly from the athlete affected and the delegate from the Oregon Association. I believe we followed proper protocol on this matter. We have done more than ever in exposing denied records so everyone knows the reasons and can learn from the causes of denial. Sandy Pashkin has done a fantastic job in dealing with our records and I too am not happy about any negative character statements about this hard working, dedicated volunteer. I recommend that we revisit this particular application and study some of the problems presented. Maybe you could have a subcommittee within your committee review the problems brought out in this case.”
So on Jan. 3, Dave Clingan wrote Sandy:
“Hi Sandy- Based on George’s recommendation, I would like to resubmit the Keston application for consideration at the next convention. Also, I would like to request that the Keston record be listed as “pending” until a vote is held to determine its final disposition.”
Sandy said fine, writing: “Unless you have something to add. I will add the application to this year’s submissions and post as pending until it is discussed at the 2006 Convention.”
The next day, Jan. 5, USATF Masters T&F Committee Secretary Lester Mount weighed in with this note, sent to many people:
“It seemed to me at the time we as a committee were not offered, nor told that we could disagree with Sandy’s ‘report’ of the denial. I did not understand that the entire sports committee votes on these records. The word handicap was the only reason to disallow the record. Now Bob Roe says the record can not be certified because there was no curb, just cones. I have never seen so many involved in looking for reasons not to allow a record. What is the real reason behind this? Have we become different camps fighting each other instead of trying to better masters track?”
Meanwhile, Bob Weiner wondered why the fuss? On Jan, 5, he wrote:
“This sounds a bit bureaucratic to approve a scratch-completed record for an 80-year-old guy with three timers. Can’t we all just get this done by resubmitting or reconsidering the paperwork as a scratch race which in the first runners’ case (ie the 80+) it WAS? I can’t believe the email frenzy over the obvious. He’ll be dead before we approve this. If this were the first leg of a relay with the finish of the first leg at the normal finish line it would count–a similar situation– or if it were the first 1500 with three timers during a mile, the record would count. Enough already. We look foolish.”
And from the New England Association of USATF came this response to Weiner’s note from Steve Vaitones:
“Bob, At this point, it’s either pending or will be resubmitted for 2006. In either case, nothing more can be done until the Records Committee meets at the 2006 Annual Meeting. You may see it as bureaucratic, but record applications are pretty carefully scrutinized so the integrity of the process is maintained at all levels of record setting and approval. There’s more to a record than three timers with stopped watches; having it remain pending is not foolish at all… With 2006 being a rule change year, a submission is planned to clarify what a scratch competition is, and how records may be approved when achieved in a handicap event.
Now it’s your turn.
Thumbs up or down on the mile mark?