Just Make A Decision Please!!!!
by Robert Johnson
Will he (run) or won't he?
Should he (run) or shouldn't he?
If he does (run), will he qualify?
So many questions have been buzzing about the distance running community recently in regards to the Khalid Khannouchi case that it became very annoying. At last, it's finally over!!!!! A decision has been made by Khalid himself, he won't be competing in the Trials.
Did we really need to drag it out this long? I don't think so.
I really thought it was unfair for the other competitors not to know who they were competing against. I mean they have a cut-off date for qualifying (April 2nd this year) for a reason - to set the field so everyone can prepare their strategies.
This personally really upset me because if there hadn't been a cut-off date for qualifying, I would have never run February's Las Vegas Marathon as a last ditch attempt to qualify. All along I wanted to train longer (as my last marathon was in October) and do the most prestigious of them all, Boston, but that would have been pointless if I wanted to qualify for the Trials as it took place on April 17th.
It also made my all important job of every day analyzing the trials in my head doubly hard as I had to go through two scenarios (one with Khalid and one without). It didn't seem to effect the athletes all that much - if my brother is any indication. I mean Weldon didn't really seem to care. "If he runs, I'm not going to pay him any attention," he said to me one day. He even thought it might help him as it might cause some guys to go out too hard.
I think I may have been annoyed more than one would expect because all along I was sort of opposed to Khalid participating in the Trials as I thought the rules should be followed and it appeared to me that he was trying to get into the Trials somewhat deceitfully.
I mean when I looked into his initial claims that the INS had bungled his case, I found that this was just being used as a red-herring. They did bungle his case but the screw-up was irrelevant - under normal circumstanced he wouldn't have been a citizen in time for the Trials anyway.
However, I've got to give the Khannouchi camp a lot of credit. They must have gotten their strategy from some brilliant politician - I mean who could be opposed to the their major campaign strategy of blame the big, bureaucratic and faceless INS (even if they aren't apparently to blame). The media jumped onto Khalid's bandwagon just as quickly as they jumped on John McCain's.
All of the media attention given to the case annoyed me even more for two reasons. 1) Because I thought it was quite sad that it took a human interest story like this for running to get any press and 2) I couldn't believe that the press wasn't doing a better job researching the facts behind the story. I guess I didn't really get annoyed until I started getting calls from my non-running friends who wanted to tell me how sad they thought it was the Khalid was gettting screwed by the INS. I guess I never realized how many people watch the Today show.
Once the facts came out and it was clear that Khalid wouldn't get his citizenship in time, the Khannouchi camp turned to plan B - overseas job. I didn't know what to think of this. I mean if you honestly thought that this really was a legitimate job - you've got to get your head checked. I'm sure Sandra (Khalid's wife) did do some work overseas, but I don't think she really needed to be overseas to do her job. I mean Elite Racing doesn't even have an overseas office. Thus in my mind, it was more like a business trip overseas. She wasn't living over there (except for a few weeks - I mean I know a ton of kids who have spent entire summers in Europe on vacation).
However, despite the fact that I believed the job was a joke, I was torn as all along I just wanted the rules to be followed and evidently they were being followed as Mr. Khannouchi quickly got on track to get his citizenship before May 4th. While I may have learned that the INS statutes should be rewritten (as I can't think of a single good reason why someone whose wife gets a sham job overseas should get his citizenship quicker than someone else), I guess I thought Khalid deserved to get his citizenship immediately. He didn't write the rules, he was just following them.
That still didn't mean I thought he should compete in the Trials. I mean my brother has had his Olympic Trials official entry form on the kitchen table for like three months and it specifically says that to be able to compete in the Trials, you have to be both 1) A US citizen and 2) Eligible to compete for the US in the Olympic games (meaning released by Morocco).
I became a bit irate when I read a variety of statements saying that both of these rules might not apply to Khalid. The one thing I didn't want him to get was special treatment and I read about a ton of people who apparently were willing to consider doing just this. First it was USATF. Prior to Khalid getting his citizenship, I read in the Washington Post that they said he might be allowed to compete if his citizenship was imminent but not yet finalized. I couldn't believe they said this but when I tried to call them for verification they refused to comment which made me even madder. Then it was the IAAF who said that Khalid didn't need to be released by Morocco as although he had run for them in the past, he had only done so in minor competitions which didn't count - although it was never clear if this was true.
These two waverings were the the only things that really made me mad throughout the process. I mean I was totally opposed to him competing if it wasn't 100% certain that he was both 1) a US citizen and 2) eligible to compete for the US at the Olympics. Why? Suppose Khalid competed in the Trials and came in the top 3 but it ultimately was determined that he isn't eligible to compete in the Olympics for the US. Then they go to and take the 4th place finisher and put him on the Olympic team.
Sounds fair at first glance, but it's not fair at all. Very likely there was a runner who was in like 4th place at mile 20 (with Khalid in the top 3) who killed himself to move up into the top 3 and as a result faded to like 6th or 7th. As a result of Khalid competing, he doesn't get to go to the Olympics.
Thankfully, we don't have to worry about such a situation as Khalid himself decided he isn't physically able to compete. So what have we learned from the whole affair?
I guess the one thing that I learned from this whole episode is that politics and sport really should be separate. That and one more thing. In the future, USATF should require that all trials entrants be eligible to compete for the US in the Olympics at the time of the cut-off date for qualifying so that we can be spared this last-minute suspense which kills the whole notion behind having a cut-off date in the first place.
I'm just glad that it's finally over although it's unfortunate that the whole affair left me with bitter feelings towards Khalid through no real fault of his own. I met him a few years ago in an elevator and he seemed like one of the nicest guys on the circuit.