Masters muckup: USATF rejects Hinton mile world record
Last January, John Hinton of North Carolina shaved nearly two seconds off one of the oldest world records on the books: the M45 indoor mile mark of 4:21.90 by Albin Swenson in 1993. John was auto-timed in 4:20.18 at the tradition-rich Hartshorne Memorial Masters Miles at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. But I have some news for John: Tough luck, champ. Your mark won’t count as a record. Why? The meet wasn’t USATF-sanctioned. How could this be, especially for a meet as storied and well-run as the Hartshorne? Therein lies a mile-long tale.
I learned of this debacle last Wednesday when meet director Tom Hartshorne, son of the late Jim Hartshorne, the event’s founder, wrote me that an effort to get a “post-event” USATF sanction had been rejected. However, he said USATF has accepted his sanction application for the next Hartshorne mile — Jan. 24, 2009.
But the 2008 event remains unsanctioned, its records nonexistent. (Frank Condon bettered an M65 American record in the mile, but his mark wasn’t submitted.) (Dec. 2 addition: Tom notes in a comment below that he did submit Frank’s record, but that Frank later broke it, so he didn’t make an issue of it in his later email exchanges.)
Tom wrote me:
I am sending this to you so that others, like myself, who are attempting to direct quality masters competitions do not fall into the same snake pit I just fell into. I really did my best to insure that the masters athletes who made the effort to come to Ithaca and compete would have the opportunity to set American and/or world records in our venue and receive credit for those performances. We have received credit for at least 2 world and 1 American record over the recent years.
But somewhere along the line the USATF changed the rules (now requiring USATF sanction of one’s meet to be in line to apply for new American or World masters record) and failed to inform us of the change. USATF even failed to list the change on their “updated” record application.”
Nowhere on the USATF Application for track record form that I down loaded with (Masters T&F Records chair Sandy) Pashkin’s assistance does it state that USATF sanctioning of the meet is also required to qualify for an American or World Masters record.
To date I have not received a response from an e-mail I sent Sandy Pashkin on November 7th informing her that I would apply to sanction the Jan 2008 Hartshorne Memorial Masters Mile event in the hopes that it would help us get Hinton’s record ratified.
Again I believe that the USA Track & Field has the athlete’s best intentions in mind. However, with regards to my best efforts to ratify john Hinton’s record, I truly feel I have been given the blank end of the starter’s pistol.
Earlier Wednesday, Tom had received the following email from Gary Snyder, USATF Masters T&F chairman:
Sorry you found Ms. Pashkin’s handling of the application less than satisfactory but unfortunately in this case the facts speak for themselves. I am not aware of a process to retroactively sanction an event. None of the guidelines for ratification are flexible and the first test is event sanctioning. No sanction, no record. Otherwise how could the governing body of the sport, USATF, ratify a record in an event it does not recognize? Where would the line be drawn; should we recognize records set in the back yard? Obviously an absurd example but where?
I will review the application to determine if wording should include a statement that the event MUST be sanctioned.
I’m stunned that neither the meet nor the Finger Lakes Running Club are associated with USATF. I think you both need to shoulder some of the blame.
Of course, Tom shot back a note disputing the idea that his club was not USATF-kosher. He wrote Gary:
We are listed on the USATF Niagara site: as a member club, club registration # 04-0063. I do not know why our club is not listed on the USATF website that you visited, but I would think it would have all those clubs presently registered through their respective regional associations.
Even though the meet was held nearly 10 months earlier, Sandy didn’t get around to informing Tom of the record rejection until November 7.
Here’s the note Tom sent to Gary that day:
From: Thomas H. Hartshorne
Sent: Friday, November 07, 2008 2:51 PM
Subject: FW: Pashkin denial of John Hinton’s World/American Indoor Mile record at 2008 Hartshorne Memorial Masters Mile
From: Thomas H. Hartshorne [mailto:email@example.com}
I was stunned to learn from Sandy Pashkin today that she has denied our application for John Hinton’s M45 Indoor World/American record in the mile, set last year, Jan. 19th, here in Ithaca during the 41st running of our Hartshorne Masters Mile. His time was 4:20.18. Her reason was that the race was not sanctioned by the USATF.
What is so disturbing to me about this decision is that three times in December 2007, more than a month before our race, I established personal telephone contact with Sandy to obtain the most recent application form for World/American records as I wanted to be sure I crossed every t and dotted every i in making an application in the likelihood that we had a record in one of our masters mile elite races.
We hold four elite masters mile races every year as part of our event. I discussed at that time with Sandy every detail of the form to be sure I had the people (referee and timers, etc) and equipment (FAT Finishlynx timer) at the meet to guarantee that if a record was set it would be ratified.
Not once did Sandy mention that our meet had to be sanctioned by the USATF. I called Sandy back two more times after the original conversation to clarify various points with regard to the application and to obtain the correct mailing address for sending the forms (turns out even the updated form at that point still had an outdated address). NO WHERE ON THE FORM DID IT STATE THAT OUR MEET HAD TO BE SANCTIONED BY THE USATF to achieve approval of a record. Again Sandy mentioned nothing about the requirement that our meet be sanctioned, even though I asked several times that I wanted to know everything I needed to have in place by the date of the meet to enable us to ratify a record.
I sent the application for John Hinton’s record the very next week after our January 19, 2008 event. I called Sandy to make sure my mailing had been received by her. She confirmed to me that they had been received. She requested an email from the time keeper, Cornell’s Assistant coach Arty Smith, with the computer copy of the Finishlynx timing record.
Arty sent that copy to her ASAP. She at that point expressed to me that she was satisfied she had everything she needed for the application record. Not once in that period or over the entire course of the 2008 did she e-mail me or call to say that our races should have been sanctioned by the USATF in order to qualify for a world or American record.
I called her today, November 6th, almost a year after my initial inquiries, to ask why Hinton’s record was not listed as pending, and Sandy stated, “Oh, your meet was not sanctioned by the USATF.” Did she not have the courtesy to at least inform me at this late date of the one t I failed to cross? The one t I failed to cross not because of lack of effort on my part, but because of oversight on her part, was applying to the USATF to sanction our meet, the Hartshorne Memorial Masters Mile, the oldest and longest running masters mile competition in the country and perhaps in the world.
I would have done that in a heartbeat had I known it was required. Heh, I have been a member of the USATF myself since I turned 40 fifteen years ago. I have been a member because it is clearly stated on the application to compete in the Outdoor and Indoor National USATF Championships that it is required.
Was Sandy going to just let us go through another year, maybe or maybe not discovering that we needed to be sanctioned by the USATF in order to have a record ratified? How much effort would it have entailed for her at any point in the last year, once she rejected the application, to simply e-mail me and say, “Sorry Tom, but if you want your records to be ratified in the future, you might want to look into applying to have the USATF sanction your meet.” Not an e-mail! Not a phone call!
And the one who really suffers is the wonderfully talented John Hinton, who raced one of the best miles of his life. He will now not get credit for his world record. His record would have broken one of the longest standing masters records, the 4:21.90 mile effort of the great Albin Swenson in Feb. of ’93.
I can’t believe that obfuscation of basic information can be good for the health of USATF. It can’t be good when the athletes and the meet directors who are attempting to play ball with the organization and abide by all of the rules are ultimately punished. It can’t be good when the athletes and the meet directors who are supposed to benefit from the existence of the USATF are punished because, “guess what, we have some rules on the third floor of our office headquarters in a filing cabinet, sitting there in the back of the office, which you should have known about because after all, we as officers of the USATF knew about them.”
And no, we are not going to tell you about them. . .we are just going to let you make the same mistake over and over again. I am sorry, but I don’t get it. And I don’t appreciate the lack of “heads up” that I never received from Sandy Pashkin about the failure of my application; my USATF Form Application for World and American Indoor Mile Record that I submitted on behalf of John Hinton’s 4:20.18 phenomenal mile effort.
Gary, thanks for hearing me out on this particular issue. I am a great supporter of the USATF and have been a member, as I stated for 15 years. I have made a donation for many, many years to the Indoor National Masters Track Championships because I am a believer in the quality work the association does in putting on track and field and cross country championships around the country.
I was a roommate of the CEO, Craig Masback, way back when we competed in the NCAA National Cross Country Championships at Penn State in 1975. Because of his stewardship of the USATF for many years I have closely followed the many trials and successes of the association. I am a believer in better efforts that the organization can achieve. But, on this particular issue, I am greatly disheartened and frankly, disenfranchised.
I am more than willing to sanction our meet retroactively to cover the Jan 19th, 2008 race. I already have the paperwork in hand and filled out to sanction the meet for the Jan. 24th 2009 Hartshorne Memorial Masters Mile. I am just now waiting for the certificate of insurance naming the USATF as an insured party as our club, the Finger Lakes Runners Club, already has insurance in place from the Road Runners Club of America, and we are applying for the waiver of insurance.
I had an extended conversation the other day with the Niagara representative, Kevin Lucas, to make sure I fill out the sanction application correctly to satisfy the USATF and the USATF – Niagara Association. Again thank you for your time and consideration.
Yowza. What a mess!
I sent some Tom some questions to clarify some issues. He responded late Wednesday thusly:
Masterstrack.com: USATF sanctioning has long been required for most records. How did your earlier mile records get ratified without a USATF meet sanction? Note: Rule 262 3(a): http://www.usatf.org/about/rules/2008/2008USATFRules_Article5.pdf
Hartshorne: The previous records were sanctioned after filing the Application for Track Record form and the issue of USATF sanction never came up in all the years of running our race.
Did your entry form ask for entrants’ USATF numbers?
Is your event masters-only — run by itself — or is it embedded in a larger meet (as Carl Wallin’s masters meets in New Hampshire are)?
Our event is masters only. We do allow a few submasters (30-39) women in the elite W40’s race as at times over the years it has been difficult to put together a vibrant field. We run our races directly before a collegiate track meet put on by Cornell University.
Have you organized any other meets besides the Hartshorne Memorial Masters Miles?
I have not organized other meets. But the Finger Lakes Runners Club, which sponsors the meet, puts on many different running events over the course of the year from track events to trail races. I helped my father for 5 years or so putting on events in the running world as a junior and high school student before leaving for college in ’72.
Sandy might argue that she thought everyone knew a USATF sanction was required — even if it’s not spelled out on the record form. What is Sandy’s responsibility in a case like this?
How would a meet director know if for years they have been ratifying records without USATF meet sanction? She probably has no responsibility. However, as stated in my letter to Gary, it is a little beyond comprehension that given all of my questions regarding the correct completion of the existing form prior to our race that Sandy never raised the issue of meet sanction.
And once I submitted the completed form in late January 2008 for Hinton’s record I asked her if we were all set. She only asked for one further piece of information — the computer file of the race’s finish on Cornell’s Finishlynx system. That was forwarded to her ASAP. At that point I contacted her again to make sure she had everything she needed to ratify the record. She said that she had everything she needed to file the record.
Sandy never, ever raised the issue of meet sanction. In fact, when she already knew Hinton’s record was going to be rejected because of the lack of sanction, she did not even have the courtesy to e-mail me or call me by phone, to enlighten me that 1. Hinton’s record would not be accepted because of lack of sanction and 2. By the way you should have your meet sanctioned in the future if you want to qualify for our record application process.
Has any other meet gotten a post-event sanction?
I do not know.
Have you been in touch with John Hinton since receiving word of the rejection? If so, what was his reaction?
I have not been in contact with John as I was hoping this would turn out well. But I do plan to tell him as soon as the national meeting has happened and I know all of the issues. For all I know, Sandy may have additional reasons for rejecting the application that she has not told me. . . .
How would your dad have handled the record rejection, and everything that followed?
I think he would have been similarly upset. After all, he was a scientist by training and you can only go on the information that you are given or made aware of. I always had a USATF # as an individual to compete in the indoor and outdoor national because it was PLAINLY STATED ON THE ENTRY FORM THAT IT WAS REQUIRED.
Besides making record applications more helpful, what other steps should USATF take to educate meet directors?
Obviously, the record application should state everything that is necessary to qualify for a American and World record. When approached by a meet director for specific information regarding an issue which overlaps or involves the governing rules and activities of the USATF (which are quite broad ranging) I think the USATF should attempt to point out the advantages of having the USATF onboard and make it as straightforward as possible to comply with their regulations.
Otherwise, one feels, as one often does with certain tax or legal issues that one needs to hire a lawyer or tax specialist to simply comply with USATF policy. It should not be so difficult to serve as a meet director providing a forum for people who want to compete and enhance the quality of their lives through exercise.
The same night that I sent Tom my quickie questions, I shipped the following note to Sandy Pashkin, with copies to five others, including Gary Snyder and USATF Records Committee chair Justin Kuo:
Tom Hartshorne shared an exchange of email regarding your rejection of John Hinton’s M45 indoor mile record — for lack of a USATF meet sanction. He also answered some questions I posed to him. Tom admits that he should have had a sanction, but argues that he’s never needed one before when submitting a masters age-group record application. I’d like to have your side of the story before writing about this on my blog.
I’d like the courtesy of a response before 9 p.m. Sunday night, Nov. 30.
1. Is Tom’s description of events and depiction of your responses accurate? If not, what points is Tom wrong about?
2. Have you ever ratified a record without a USATF meet sanction for the event it was set?
3. Is a post-event sanction possible? If yes, when has this been done and with which meet? And why wouldn’t this be allowed in this case?
4. Do you plan to continue serving as USATF Masters T&F Records Committee chair in 2009?
5. Please give me the names of anyone on your committee.
Thanks for your time and attention.
Sandy’s response? None.
She didn’t get back to me. Oh well.
So what to do? Clearly, Tom should have had a meet sanction. But also clearly, he had no idea he needed one — not only from his contacts with Sandy and his reading of the records application but also his history of receiving USATF record ratification of previous masters miles contested at Hartshorne.
The idea of a post-event sanction is new to me, but it doesn’t seem impossible.
What’s really hard to fathom is how John Hinton’s interests have gotten the old heave-ho in this matter. Does USATF have no conscience? No heart? No shame?
Or is it really all about the rules bureaucracy?
Truth be told, admitted dopers are cut more slack than rules-obeying athletes like John Hinton. Do we really have zero-tolerance for honest mistakes?
In one of his last notes to me, Tom worried aloud about the fallout from his blowing the whistle on Sandy and Gary (since he gave me permission to quote him extensively).
If they want to punish me for speaking out, then it would be the perfect example of tyranny of the powerful. Yes, the USATF has considerable power, but only because athletes like me attend their events, pay their fees and take weeks of their lives every year to put on track meets so that other athletes have a forum to compete. Without athletes like myself and meet directors like myself, there would be no USATF.
Is it really game over for Hinton’s mile record?
We’ll see in Reno this week.