The buzz in Eugene since yesterday evening has been about Nicole Bush. The runner-up at the NCAA women’s steeplechase, from Michigan State, Bush finished third in her heat on Friday evening and was visibly limping afterward. This wasn’t odd–several of the women were limping, and several including co-favorite Jenny Barringer told officials and reporters that the water barrier was at 36 inches (the men’s height), not 30 inches (the women’s height.)
Bush, when asked, told David Monti of Race Results Weekly that it “might be” an ankle injury. Turns out she broke her foot, which makes her both more impressive (she finished a steeplechase on a broken foot? And finished third?) and all the more tragic (a healthy Bush might have contended for the third spot on the World Championships team, and now she may not even be running again by Berlin).
It’s hard not to get a little frustrated about this. Earlier this season, there was an incident in the men’s 400m hurdles at Carson where the last women’s hurdle flight was left on the track, so the men found their last flight both lower and earlier than they expected it. Now we can’t get all the women’s steeple barriers the right height.
What’s more, it was obvious after the first round of the race, when the women came off the track, that there was a problem. Jenny Barringer hits those barriers every day; she could probably tell the difference between 35 inches and 36. So what is USATF to do? They could set the barrier correctly for the second heat, giving them a safer race but a clear advantage in qualifying and an utter mess for selecting the final. Or they could leave it as is, risking more injuries but giving both heats the same disadvantage. They apparently chose the latter (to be fair, they didn’t know Bush was injured at the time) but who knows if it was the right decision.
Doug Logan made some statements to the TAFWA breakfast on Friday about accountability, transparency, and ownership of issues. I’m not sure if this is a USATF issue or an Oregon issue, but I’m curious to see if, today, someone takes ownership of the issue and creates some transparency around those steeplechase rounds. It’s an unfortunate situation with lots of losers and no clear villians.
Update: The Register Guard is all over the story, of course. They say it’s a USATF issue, and Logan is in accept-and-apologize mode. And they quote Kara June on the same safety-or-fairness question. Well done, R-G.