ASAA dips to new low: Timing Fiasco at Alaksa State XC Meet
I can't believe that this has happened, and the fix is so simple. However, rather than doing the right thing, the officials at the State Meet at Bartlett let common sense (and technically, the rules) take a back seat to technology and officiousness.
First, however, what an exciting meet! Although the team races were not particularly close for any of the four divisions (big and small schools for boys and girls), there was plenty of intrigue in the races and some scintillating finishes. Here, the Anchorage Daily News does a good job of coverage.
But I want to focus on the leaders of the 4A girls race, and the timing fiasco. For the first time ever in Alaska (and for the first time that I have heard of anywhere for high school cross country competition), they used computer chips (only) for the timing, and this had huge implications for the top three finishers in girls 4A, with ripple effects in the team and individual rankings.
Jenette Northey, a sophomore from Service High School in Anchorage, had been unstoppable all year and she looked to ready blow away the field by holding a 15 second lead through most of the race. With a kilometer to go, Northey still had a 12 second lead over Molly Callahan who was a few strides ahead of Jaymi Bethea of Kodiak. Bethea overtook Callahan with about 250 or 300 m to go, and closed a large gap to catch Northey.
But did she? From my vantage point, about 2 or 3 meters in front of the finsh mat, I thought Bethea had both the lean and the momentum. Others reported that it was Northey who had her torso across first. Nevertheless, the chip timer caught Bethea first.
I don't know (my guess was Bethea) but what they should have done is gone by official USATF rules and used a finish line camera (Yes! We have the technology!) to see whose torso cross first. Not toe.
Then came Callahan, a late bloomer who has just come into her own this year. Molly came in a clear third, a good 10 or 12 seconds ahead of Megan Edic.
Third at State, and leading her team to a top three or four finish, what a way to cap off the in state season! She crossed the line at 1:49 PM and all was good.
But a full two hours later, at the awards ceremony, it was obvious that something was awry. They announced the top 10 girls and no Callahan, and then the top 5 teams and no West Valley. And that was that.
West Valley coach, and Molly's father Dan Callhan, made an appeal to the officials but rather than consider this in the light of common sense they tried to save their own face by denying the appeal. The awards were given, therefore no going back.
What's really irritating about this is that there are no official rules that said that chips were required for a finish. These are a technological tool that should help but there always should be backup systems. Unless you're an ASAA official nothing beats using your head, eyes, and the good old tag and spindle as a fail safe.
So how many ways did the officials screw up? Let's see. One, using chips for cross country (almost unprecedented at the high school level. Two, letting technology, not reality, be the decider (Callahan was 3rd, it's that simple). Three, not informing the coaches in a timely manner. Four, lacking either the brains or humility to rectify the situation in the appeals process.
The results of the girls race are tainted, which is too bad for everyone involved. Nevertheless, considering what I've seen from many of the adminstrators and officals in this state over the past several years, this is sadly not surprising.
Molly, is still a champion in my book. And she will put this behind her and far exceed anything that those who made that decision on Saturday afternoon at Bartlett.
Nevertheless, they should do the right thing and reconsider and redribute the awards so that Molly Callahan gets the third place that she deserves.