FALSE START #9 by David E. Ortman

[November 2000 National Masters News Reprinted by Permission]


Admit it. You have this fantasy about getting in the starting blocks in the finals at the USATF National Masters Track & Field Championships. "On your mark. Get Set." False Start-- wake up and smell the Gatorade. You didn't make the finals because all the lanes are filled with foreigners.

Last time I checked, US Masters paid fees to enter the USA National Masters Outdoor Championships. But national it isn’t.

According to the July 2000 NMN, "Foreign athletes may enter as guests with no USATF registration and receive equal awards, but will not displace U.S. athletes." Wrong!

Say you're an M40 400 runner. You run the 15th fastest time among U.S. runners in the preliminary heat where 16 advance to the semi-final. You don't advance because, two foreign runners with faster times end your event. Your buddy does make the M40 400 semis and clocks the seventh fastest time among U.S. runners. He doesn't make the finals and joins you in the stands because again, two foreign runners advance. In fact, because of a no show, only five U.S. runnes are in the finals with two foreigners.

Take pity on the poor M55 100 meter runner who clocks the seventh fastest time among U.S runners in the preliminaries, but can’t advance to the finals because of three foreign runners ahead of him. As it is, only six U.S. runners are able to compete for the US M55 100 meter Championships.

Same thing in the M55 200 meters. You’d think if you and your buddy tied for the fifth fastest time among U.S. runners in the preliminaries you could both easily make the finals. No way. You’re done, because three foreign runners run faster. Only five U.S. runners are able to compete for the U.S. M55 200 meter Championships. Or to put it another way, 16 U.S. runners completed their preliminary heats, but only two U.S. runners showed up and finished the finals for medals.

Or take a look at the M50 1,500 meters. Say you have the 12th fastest time among U.S. runners in the preliminaries where 15 advance. But not you because there were four foreign runners ahead of you. So four U.S. runners are told go directly to the stands, do not pass the final starting line.

After missing the 1999 WAVA-Gateshead meet due to injury, I checked around to see if I could still use my plane ticket to attend one of the European/National Championship Indoor meets. I was told that non-Europeans are not allowed to compete. One suggestion is that if we can't run in their national championships, then why should they come here? ON the other hand, if other national championships are open (e.g., Canada, Great Britian, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), then perhaps ours should be open to those countries' athletes as well.

Not every master participant will be a champion or return with a medal. But there is satisfaction in knowing that you made a final and ran against the best in the U.S. Is it time for USA masters track & field to run a real U.S. Masters Championship?. That would mean that no foreign athlete can take a lane away from a U.S. masters in a running event final, or keep a U.S. masters from advancing to the finals in a field event.

In my view, foreign masters should be encouraged to compete in field events and finals (so long as the required number of U.S. masters advance). For running events, foreign masters may participate in any masters finals where there are open lanes (although I also support advancing the 9th fastest US runner from the previous round whenever there is a scratch in the finals) and no U.S. runner would be displaced.

For the 100m -1500m races where there are no open lanes, I would support adding one heat of mixed age foreign runners in a special exhibition race for each event. They can receive equivalent medals whenever they better a US time in their own age group.

We’ve already seen US Masters Championship finals with three out of eight lanes filled with foreigners and no U.S. runner able to pick up the Bronze. Is it going to take an all foreign final before changes are made?

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