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Story Last modified at 6:39 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A strange day at the races
A good day for the bad and ugly

Alaska Star


(from left) Dimond's John Corr, West's Pedro Pena, Chugiak's Tyler Rohde, South's Elliott Bauer, East's Brody DeLoria and Bartlett's Richard Predmore (falling) make their way down the track during the boys' 110 meter hurdles race at the Cook Inlet Conference track and field meet on May 14 at Bartlett. Due to an apparent mistake by race officials, the hurdles in the race were placed too close together, causing four athletes to fall.
Star photo by Matt Tunseth

A series of gaffes and glitches at the Cook Inlet Conference Championships at Bartlett over the weekend sent one competitor to the hospital, cost a Chugiak hurdler a first-place finish, and gave an Eagle River runner a second chance.

In the biggest snafu, race volunteers didn't properly shift the hurdles between the previous girls' 100-meter race and the boys 110-meter race – at least as competitors and coaches saw it. So some hurdles ended up closer together than the boys are used to running, a dangerous surprise for athletes who depend on perfect timing.

Through the first five hurdles of the boys' 110 hurdles race, everything seemed to be fine. Then bodies started hitting the ground.

In the two outside lanes, Dimond's Doug Lutton and John Corr simultaneously went down over the sixth hurdle, eventually coming to rest in each other's lanes. Over in lane two, East's Brody DeLoria also crashed, falling hard on his left shoulder. The five remaining racers managed to navigate the treacherous sixth – but there were still four hurdles to go.

On the eighth, South's Elliott Bauer – the state's top male hurdler – had to knock the barrier out of the way with his hand, an automatic disqualification. The eighth also claimed Richie Predmore of Bartlett, who slammed into the track awkwardly and bounced into the path of DeLoria, who was now limping angrily through a minefield of misplaced obstacles. Also back on their feet were the Dimond duo, but at this point Lutton was swerving off the track entirely in order to avoid another fall.

At the tenth and final hurdle, the "leaders," Bauer and Chugiak's Tyler Rohde, each nearly stumbled before recovering for an apparent photo finish. Of the eight runners in the race, they were among only four (West's Pedro Pena and Bartlett's Taj Showalter were the others) to finish without eating track.

What the heck happened? Why were some of the state's best hurdlers struggling like rank amateurs just to keep from wiping out?

"I'm pretty sure the marks were off," Rohde said seconds after finishing the race with a perplexed look on his face.

He was one of the lucky ones. DeLoria nearly got himself kicked out of the meet with an emotional tirade after crossing the finish line. Lutton gamely crossed the line before collapsing on the track holding his left shoulder. He would eventually leave for the hospital. Predmore spent most of the rest of the day icing a bum knee.

As the athletes struggled to understand what had just happened, coaches and officials called an emergency meeting to discuss the race. Had the hurdles been placed on the wrong marks? Rohde had no doubt.

"Usually you go three steps (between hurdles), and me and Elliott were going two," he said. "That's why both of us almost took a spill."

Had the race results stood, Rohde would have been the region champ, with Pena second and Showalter third. Everyone else would have likely been disqualified – and the only way to qualify for next week's state meet is to post a finals time good enough to get in. The gaffe would have cost a lot of people state spots.

But after several lengthy discussions, the meet director determined that the race would be run again at the end of the meet.

"The decision was initiated by the officials and the coaches agreed with the assessment and was confirmed they would like to have the race re-run at the end of the event," meet director Chris Lisenby said via e-mail on Monday.

Despite what seemed obvious to the racers and anyone who saw the race, Lisenby stopped short of saying definitively that the hurdles had been placed on the wrong marks.

"The officials felt there may have been an error in the placement of the hurdles but the hurdles had been removed from the track before they could verify this," he wrote. "Because of this, the officials believed it was in the best interest of the athletes to re-run the 110m hurdles."

Bauer ended up winning the race the second time around, with Pena second and Rohde third. Seven of the eight original entrants posted times good enough to qualify for state, though Lutton never got a chance to run again because of his injury.

"It's really sad they fell," Rohde said.

Chugiak coach Scott Roleff said the decision to run the race again was the right one.

"I think we came up with the least painful alternative," he said.

Roleff credited the officials for their decision, but said the situation was still an unfortunate one.

"The officiating was really good. Unfortunately, the mistake was a big mistake. The thing that bothers me the most is kids got hurt," he said.

Though not at the meet, Alaska School Activities Association associate director Rus Schreckenghost said he was in contact with several head coaches during the discussion process. He said the re-run was not unprecedented and was within the rules.

"That is legal within the rule book," he said.

The hurdles snafu was one of several odd events that made the CIC meet one to remember. The meet also saw six different relay teams disqualified for a variety of infractions and one of the state's top female hurdlers going from the starting blocks to the stands in tears after a successful protest by the Eagle River coaching staff.

That protest, filed by Wolves coach Matt Turner, came about after Bartlett's Rosie Smith narrowly missed the third call for the girls' 300m hurdles. By rule, that should have meant the first alternate – in this case, Eagle River's Heather Holmquist – moved into the finals. But Bartlett protested that decision and won, leaving Turner no choice but to file his protest.

"They appealed, then I appealed," Turner said.

Turner said he likely wouldn't have had made a big stink about the missed call, except that earlier in the day he'd had a discus thrower – Austin Thompson – disqualified for the exact same infraction.

"They were being real stringent on that," he said.

Turner's protest stood, leading to an awkward moment when Lisenby had to tell Smith – who was ranked No. 2 in the state heading into the meet – that she was out as Holmquist walked to the starting blocks. Holmquist went on to place seventh, earning the Wolves a valuable two points in the meet.

"She went from not even making it to seventh place," Turner said.

Turner admitted the unpleasant protest seemed to be par for the course on a sunny, strange day at Bartlett High.

"It's just been one of those days," he said.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, May 18, 2011.