Controversy has always followed the Western Athletic Conference track and field championships, and so no one should have been surprised when the tradition continued on the WAC's opening day Friday. One moment BYU's Frank Fredericks was raising his arms to celebrate his victory in the long jump; the next moment, meet referee Guy Gibbs was taking the victory away from Fredericks and giving it to UTEP's Roger Giles, who was outjumped by nine inches.
"They took it away from us," said BYU coach Willard Hirschi. "I'm so mad I can't stand it."The controversy began when UTEP coaches filed a protest immediately following Fredericks' final jump. They correctly pointed to a rule that forbids long jumpers from jumping out of order in the finals. Fredericks clearly had - but only with the blessing of event judge Fred Polich.
After taking four jumps, Fredericks, a novice long jumper, asked Polich if he could begin preparing for the 100-meter dash heats and take his final two jumps afterward. Polich agreed. After winning his 100 heat, Fredericks, the lone jumper remaining in the competition, took his fifth jump and moved from second place to first with a leap of 24-10 1/2 (Giles' best was 24-1 1/2).
The subsequent protest moved Fredericks back into second place and made Giles the winner.
"Frank jumped out of order based on what the judge told him he could do," said Hirschi. "Otherwise, he would have taken his jumps before the 100. He had plenty of time."
"That's the rule," Gibbs told Hirschi.
"What happened to practical sense?" said Hirschi.
"There's nothing I can do," said Fredericks.
The matter didn't go without a fight. Hirschi protested to Gibbs and to UNM coach Dell Hessel. Even Polich sided with Fredericks in presenting the case to Gibbs - "He (Gibbs) overturned the judge," said Hirschi, incredulously. Hirschi finally appealed to WAC commissioner Joe Kearney, who was watching the meet from the stands. He discussed the matter at length with Gibbs, but, like everyone else, he failed to sway Gibbs.
"We have a committee of one here (Gibbs)," said Hirshi. "Frank legitimately won the event."
Protests are nothing new at the WAC meet. As Kearney said, "There's always something it seems." And BYU is usually involved. The biggest stink occurred in the '83 meet, when BYU's John Bestor was robbed of his points in the javelin and pole vault by WAC coaches, who erroneously cited a remote "honest effort" rule regarding his sluggish finish of the decathlon a day earlier. That ruling was eventually overturned - and even ridiculed by one national track official - but instead of awarding the team championship to BYU, as it should have, the WAC called the meet a tie between BYU and UTEP.
Said Hirschi, "Six years ago they chose not to follow the rules against us, and now they've decided to follow the rules and who does it hurt, again?" Friday's incident comes in the wake of discussions between BYU and Kearney regarding what the school considers an anti-BYU sentiment around the league.
The incident also spoiled a remarkable performance by Fredericks, and, what's more, the four-point swing put a dent in BYU's bid for a fifth consecutive team championship. BYU finished the day with 66 points, followed by New Mexico (61), UTEP (40), San Diego State (26), Wyoming (8), Utah (7), Air Force (5) and Colorado State (4).
"It will be a tight race with UTEP," said Hirschi.
And so he has pulled out all the stops for this meet, which is why he put Fredericks in the long jump. Fredericks, an All-American sprinter, has competed in the long jump only twice in the last three years and has never practiced. Yet he leaped nearly 25 feet.
Meanwhile, the Cougars, who finished 1-2-5 in the decathlon Thursday, had another strong day Friday. Per Karlsson won the hammer by some 14 feet with a throw of 215-2; Ted Mecham won the steeplechase for the second consecutive year, with a time of 9:16.47, but the meet schedule didn't allow him enough recovery time afterward to run in the 1,500-meter heats. He won that race a year ago.
The Cougars had no surprises in the qualifying rounds. Fredericks cruised to easy wins in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, with times of 10.43 and 20.80, and set the stage for an important showdown with UTEP's Olapade Adeniken, who won his heats with equal ease in 10.38 and 21.03.
BYU's Russ Muir won his 800-meter heat with the day's fastest time - 1:51.97. Teammate Shaun McAlmont advanced in both hurdle events, with times of 14.22 (the day's fastest time) and 52.64. His chief rivals today will be Utah's Jeff Brown and defending champion Eric Chesley, who won their intermediate hurdle heats with season-best times of 52.37 and 51.02, respectively.
The team race is a little more decisive in the women's High Country Athletic Conference meet, which is being held simultaneously with the WAC meet. BYU, the six-time defending champion, has 73 points heading into today's final day of competition. New Mexico is a distant second (40), followed by CSU (25), Wyoming (18), UTEP (16), Utah State (10), Utah (2) and New Mexico State (2).
The Cougars collected four victories Friday: Christy Opara in the long jump (19-9 3/4), Leanne Warren in the 10,000 (37:45.03), Hui-Chen Lee (177-11) and Lisa White in the shot put (44-9 3/4).
One coach was ready to concede: "You want your trophy now or do you want to wait until tomorrow?" he asked BYU coach Craig Poole.