Raleigh hurdler challenges a bitter finish short of London

ablythe@newsobserver.comAugust 2, 2012 

— Competitors in the men’s 400-meter hurdles will take their marks in London on Friday, but one of the event’s strongest contenders – Bershawn Jackson of Raleigh – won’t be there.

Jackson, 29, is still battling his way down the stretch of an Olympic trial race that ended in Eugene, Ore., on July 1 with a contested finish.

Jackson finished fourth in the 400-meter hurdles, one spot shy of a place on the 2012 Olympics team. But he contends he was denied a trip to London by another hurdler’s violation of the rules.

Now he’s hired a lawyer and seeking another kind of gold – compensation for an opportunity lost.

James “Butch” Williams, a Durham lawyer who represents many athletes in his practice, sent a letter on July 25 to John Ruger, the U.S. Olympic Committee athlete ombudsman.

Williams contends that Angelo Taylor, a two-time Olympic champion, clipped the ninth hurdle in Jackson’s lane, as the top contenders battled their way to the finish line.

Jackson, a 5-foot-8-inch hurdler who trains with coach George Williams at St. Augustine’s University, was running a step or two behind Taylor when that happened.

Jackson hit the ninth hurdle in his lane then struggled to compose himself as he leapt over one more hurdle and pushed toward the finish line.

Jackson won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics and had been doing well all track season. In the final second, he propelled himself into flight (his nickname is “Batman”), trying to get his torso across the line before a much taller Kerron Clement by his side. But Clement, 6 feet 2, edged Jackson out by five hundredths of a second, posting 48.89 to Jackson’s 48.94.

Jackson immediately lodged a protest, but the appeals committee informed Jackson, his coach and agent that from their angle of viewing the race, they did not see a violation.

But Williams contends that a review of NBC footage of the race, when slowed down, shows Taylor’s foot clipping the ninth hurdle in Jackson’s lane.

In his letter to Ruger, Williams contends that not only was that a violation of the rules, but it also hit Jackson in the pocketbook.

“The entire situation has caused Mr. Jackson an extreme amount of emotional distress, financial ramifications and loss of potential endorsing opportunities,” the July 25 letter states. “This was not just a race, this was and is the highlight of his career, to once again have the opportunity to represent his country in the Olympic Games, which is every young athlete’s dream. We feel this dream has been unjustly taken from him and we request this situation be dealt with immediately and forthrightly.”

‘Dream gone’

Ruger is in London. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Jackson, who could not be reached for comment, tweeted about the experience on his Twitter page.

“A tough day my 9th hurdle got crashed by someone else and it throw my rhythm off bad and what hurts the most nothing was done about it,” his Twitter account states July 1.

“Olympic dream gone just like that,” states a second tweet, also on July 1.

On July 4, he sums up his feelings in three tweets with the last one stating: “I’m my entire career I never been so hurt about a race like this one. But a true champion fight back.”

Williams, the longtime St. Augustine’s coach, said earlier this week that Jackson was devastated, and not as focused on his training as he should be for meets coming up after the Olympics.

“He’s really disgusted,” Williams said.

Paul Haagen, a Duke University law professor who is co-director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy, said trying to overturn a decision made on the field is very difficult unless there is strong evidence of corruption.

“Basically when you’ve got a claim of a field-to-play, that is the narrowest grounds for appeal,” Haagen said.

Butch Williams said Jackson was looking for an acknowledgement that his hurdle was clipped. He also is looking for compensation for potential income lost.

“All we’re looking for is them to acknowledge the situation and even though he can’t run now for them to make the situation right,” Williams said Thursday.

John Davis, an instructor at the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business and the author of “The Olympic Games Effect-How Sports Marketing Builds Strong Brands” (2008 John Wiley & Sons), said it can be difficult to place a dollar figure on what might have happened at the Olympics.

Endorsement deals vary depending on the athlete’s story and on an athlete’s success on the field.

Davis, who knew none of the facts of Jackson’s case, said it can be tough to win an appeal of race results that were challenged on the field.

“I think he’s got another hurdle to get over, no pun intended: to make sure his claim is legit,” Davis said.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service