Sigh, egads. I wrote this piece 11 years ago.
I don't want to get caught up in this s**tstorm, but USATF needs to be looked into.
July 8, 1997
Track star says he was held back as starting gun went off
By Carl Rose
Colorado Daily Sports Writer
Boulder-based elite distance runner Shannon Butler has overcome adversity, raising himself in an unstable foster home environment in Eureka, Mont., with virtually no contact with his parents.
He persevered as a rising track star at Montana State from 1988-1991. Butler won 12 straight Big Sky conference titles, as well as the 1991 NCAA and USATF titles in the 10000-meter events. Later that summer he ran a scintillating time of 27:59 in Hengelo, Holland at the age of 23. At the time, Butler, Bob Kennedy and Todd Williams were heralded as the next wave of world-class American talent in distance running.
Butler's future seemed bright. He came within one academic quarter of graduating in health and human development, when Nike offered him a substantial professional running contract and he relocated to Eugene, Ore.
Nonetheless, Butler's somewhat volatile side was viewed cautiously at times in running circles. Since 1992, his illustrious career had been a series of ups and downs, including flashes of brilliance, a difficult divorce from Vicky Huber, a daughter he talks to as often as possible, nine surgeries, as well as personal problems.
Butler was injured for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials, but he readied himself for 1996 after he moved to Boulder to train in 1995. He was the second American at the April 1996 Carlsbad, Calif., 5K road race in 13:46. A regime of mile repeats in 4:25 at altitude honed his rapidly improving fitness. His chances to make the U.S. Olympic team were bordering on excellent. This was proven by a 28:40 effort at the Peachtree 10K road race in Atlanta on July 4 immediately following the Olympic trials.
So many now ask why didn't Butler compete at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials?
Just prior to the trials, Butler learned he was to be excluded from the field although he had clocked a 28:33.54 mark at the 1995 Mt. SAC Relays in the 10000-meter run. This provisional mark qualified Butler as the 24th athlete out of 24 allowed into the field. Still, Butler was replaced be fellow Colorodan Jon Hume, whose time at 28:38.50 was roughly five seconds slower than Butler's.
According to USATF's local representative, Boulder attorney Joe French: "One of the issues here in Shannon Butler's case is whether a 25th person should have been added to the field because he was a provisional qualifier." French offered no further comment.
However Butler was verified he was 24th on the U.S. list after he contacted other competitors, including Boulder's Mark Coogan, and contended that Hume was the 25th athlete on the list. Butler flew to Atlanta on his own dime, sure that something would be done to resolve this discrepancy.
At the trials headquarters in Atlanta, Butler sought out the Chairman of USATF's International Competition Committee, John Chaplin, who, Butler says, gave him a notebook and said, "Write your appeal in here. You have 10 minutes because I have to go."
"I'll never forget when Chaplin came out into the hotel lobby, it was clear that they had no intention of letting me run. Even the athletes who had to compete against me for a spot on the team think I got screwed," Butler said.
No further appeals were available and Butler says Chaplin told him, "Butler, you're not running, and I don't care of there are three guys on that (starting) line, you're not getting into this race. So you can just pack your bags, go home, and try again in four years."
Shortly thereafter, Butler contacted Boulder attorneys David Mastbaum, James Christoph and CU regent Jim Martin, all serious runners at one time or another. He filed a verified grievance complaint against USATF in August, 1996, and filed suit against them last November in the Boulder County District Court. A motion by USATF to dismiss Butler's complaint, claiming that Butler "had failed to exhaust the administrative remedies required by the AMateur Sports Act of 1978," was recently denied.
USATF indicated that they would have rerun the 10000-meter race for Butler "if Butler had gone through the proper channels," according to Chaplin.
In response to Butler's complaint, USATF said Butler "failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," and that Boulder County District Court "lacks subject matter jurisdiction."
In the meantime, Butler's attorneys did some research on USATF and found other irregularities in its appeals process, althugh USATF states in its Olympic Trials Handbook that it treats its athletes, "fairly and in good faith."
"There are three levels of appeals that a runner can take," said Mastbaum. "Those are before the USATF Appeals Council, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the American Arbitration Association. At all levels, no official is authorized to award monetary damages. It shields them from being responsible for athletes harmed by their actions."
"By creating a complex, unwieldy adminstrative scheme, as a consequence the selection process is not based on merit," he said. "It is not possible for an athlete to obtain a quick and fair resolution to an eligibility dispute, such as in the recent case with Mary Slaney."
In a written response to Butler's complaint, USATF denied thta a contractual relationship exists between themselves and amateur athletes.
Officially, Butler's lawsuit is an action to recover damages he sustained as a result of his wrongful exclusion from the 10000-meter race at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials. The central issue is to hold national sports-governing bodies accountable to pay damages and play by a fair set of rules. Butler believes he not only missed his chance to compete for the United States in his prime at age 28, but says he also lost his sponsorship and source of livelihood from Nike.
"Whether or not I am awarded monetary damages from this is not the most important thing here. I just want to set precedents down the road so that this can't happen to someone else in the United States," said Butler.
"The last thing I would want to do if I was USATF is to have to explain to a jury why Butler was excluded and a runner with a slower time was added to the field," said Mastbaum.
USATF's General Counsel representative Robert Hersch in New York declined to comment on pending litigation.