Every coach has had their share of official decisions that went against their team, like the time our women's DMR was egregiously disqualified at the conference championships after we had won, or when the red flag was raised by the long jump official at the Kansas Relays on a leap that was clearly legal - and clearly very far.
But as a coach you learn to take the good with the bad, hoping that at the end of your career the split is at least 50-50. And if you are lucky, 60-40.
This incident was one that balanced those disappointments out.
In the 1982 indoor championships at Cobo Hall in Detroit, my Drake athlete qualified in both the 800 and 1000 meter races - the longer race one she had only run once. But she couldn't do both. I sat down with Marie before declarations were due, the option to do double impossible because the preliminary races were back to back.
She was leaning towards the 800 meters, while I was leaning towards the 1000, my logic that most who had qualified for both races would choose the former (everyone opts for less distance) decreasing her odds for success in the shorter race. Marie wasn't as receptive to the argument as I had hoped.
I used the defense that an average 3K runner would have greater success trying the steeple, or a middling 400 sprinter better luck in the 400 hurdles. That it's human nature to avoid anything uncomfortable or unfamiliar, but that shouldn't be the reason not to do it. I felt certain the 1000 meters was the one which made the most sense and get her a higher finish.
Eventually she relented...but this better work!
Friday morning in the 1000 there were three heats - the top two from each section and the two fastest non-qualifying times for the final field of eight. Marie was in the first heat. There were two athletes with times almost two seconds faster than her 2:48 so getting to the final on Saturday seemed iffy.
Six lined up on the banked wooden track for the first section, all of them leaning forward as the starter said "SET" from inside the track. He waited until they were motionless, some runners held so long they lost balance and stepped across their starting line before the gun went off.
Three more shots were fired in rapid succession. Oh s**t!
The starters huddled together, everyone staring at the trio deep in discussion, waiting for their call. Certainly they would just restart the race. They finally nodded in agreement and turned towards the staggered lines pointing at the disqualified athletes one by one. Lane 2...out. Lane 3...out. Lane 4...out. They skipped lane 5. Lane 6...out.
Marie was in lane five!
Like a game of musical chairs, the six were reduced to the two automatic qualifiers, allowing the pair to run easy and qualify for the final simply by finishing. It turned out that my suggestion an hour before the race saved Marie from a false start.
I expected most would get out too fast, starting like a typical 800 meter run instead of a 1000 meter runner, so I instructed Marie to drop to the rear of the field at the start and work her way up after the fourth lap, knowing her strength from mile training would pay off in the end.
It doesn't take much lean to start slowly.
In the end Marie finished the race as an All-American, the only time in her collegiate career she was selected for that esteemed group, but I never would have guessed my two simple suggestions would have made the difference. Yet that weekend they did!