GREAT FALLS — The girls' Class AA 100-meter hurdle final started out smooth Saturday.
All 10 competitors went over their hurdles without fault.
But then came the fourth hurdle.
Meet officials and coaches of Missoula Sentinel, Helena High and Helena Capital all have conflicting viewpoints of what happened next.
[[Writers' Note: 406mtsports.com's Jordan Hansen took a video of the race. After slowing the video down and re-watching it more than 50 times, the following is what appears to happen. But without replay ability and video editing technology, it would be incredibly difficult to discern — if not impossible — to tell in what order the following events happened.]]
Helena's Kamden Hilborn, in lane one, made it over the fourth hurdle. But that hurdle flew up and over into lane zero, hitting Sentinel's Lauren Bingham in the head.
Bingham immediately fell to the track and athletic training staff were at her side before Sentinel's Ashley McElmurry crossed the finish line first out of lane eight.
In lane four, Sentinel's Lauren Heggen fell too — milliseconds before Bingham. Helena Capital's Elena Carter, in lane three, lost her footing a split-second later. And Billings Senior's Tavy Findon, in lane five, tripped over the next two hurdles.
"It was like a war zone out there," Sentinel's coach Craig Mettler said. "There were hurdles everywhere."
But who was at fault? No one seemed to agree.
"People have different views. 'Who pushed the hurdle down?" Mettler said. "'And who impeded or interfered with the lanes two through five to cause that issue in the middle?' It's pretty convoluted right now. There's a lot of things going on."
Helena girls' coach Sheila Williams disagreed.
"The way we saw the race transpire is that the initial fall that happened in the middle of the race, which was lane four, was a ripple effect on the rest of the field," she said. "We felt that that had the impact. The ruling was that our runner in lane one hit a hurdle, which hit a runner in lane zero. They felt that had the effect on the rest of the field. Which is ironic because she was behind the rest of the field at that point."
Hilborn was ultimately disqualified. According to the head referee, Jim Haugen, three fouls were called during the race. He did not elaborate more as to who committed those fouls.
"I think someone didn't see what happened," Capital girls' coach Dick McMahon said. "Let's just put it that way."
Mettler agreed: "The judges didn't see what happened because they all rushed to Bingham when she went down. And this all happened later. It's messy because you can't use film. It has to simply be on the eyes of the judges."
Meet referees indeed cannot use video evidence to confirm or dispute claims. According to the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), the governing body of sanctioned high school athletics in the United States, meet referees must rely on what they see. That rule is outlined in Article 3.2.7 of the NFHS Track and Field Case Book.
"The use of video replay equipment is prohibited unless the games committee has authorized the use of specific equipment and all competing schools should be notified prior to the meet with a clear explanation that this is the only equipment that will be used to make decisions related to the finish of the race."
"It's a shame we don't have (official) video and we can't use it," McMahon said. "Maybe that's a rule we gotta look at, I guess."
Many coaches said they filed appeals.
"There were several. There was an appeal by us," Williams said. "... We were appealing what they had ruled on the field in terms of disqualifying our runner."
Capital filed two appeals. McMahon said he filed appeals about what lanes were affected by the interference.
Head referee Jim Haugen said he was not informed of any appeals, despite a coach telling 406mtsports.com that the appeals had been in Haugen's hand.
"Maybe he didn't get the memo from the jury of appeals. There are three of them over there," McMahon said, referring to the appeals. "I feel bad for the young girl who they said it was on because it wasn't. How they said what happened in that affected lanes that were already past that (point)."
According to Article 3.4.3 Situation A of the NFHS Track and Field Case Book, the referee's say is final unless a meet has an established jury of appeals. The Montana High School Association (MHSA) state meets both have a jury of appeals.
But Haugen said disqualifications cannot be appealed to either the referee or the jury of appeals. The rule book backs that up.
According to Section 5, Article 4 of the NFHS Track and Field Rule Book, "any judgement pertaining to violations or alleged violations of the rules," falls under "situations that are not subject to protest." And according to Section 4, Article 4, "the referee has the sole authority for ruling on infractions."
Haugen met with the coaches and they decided to have a re-run, and what happened in the race, according to meet officials, met threshold under NFHS guidelines to do so.
To even consider a re-run, one of three things must have occurred. There must have been a disqualifying-level of interference by a competitor, nonparticipant interference or a meet administration error.
The case book also says that re-runs "should be avoided if at all possible."
It is the referee's decision alone to determine if a re-run meets the criteria threshold and to go ahead and hold the re-run. The referee's final decision whether to rerun a race cannot be appealed, according to the case book.
Re-runs at the Montana state meets are few and far between, but not unprecedented, according to Joanne Austin, the MHSA's associate director.
"A re-run in track is not all that uncommon," Austin said in a phone interview. "We haven't had a ton of them at the state level, but it's not unprecedented."
The same scenario happened in 1986, according to Kalispell Flathead's girls' coach Dan Hodge.
It happened again in 2014 in Great Falls, according to Mettler.
"When they hosted the state meet, a similar situation occurred in the girls' hurdles," Mettler said. "They had only the girls who were impeded re-run and didn't force the other girls to run. Therefore, the girls who were not impeded, their times stood."
Hilborn, since she had been disqualified, was not eligible for the re-run. Carter, Findon and Heggen were all cleared. All times and places from the original race were voided, even for the athletes who were unimpeded. Four athletes — McElmurry, Bozeman's Lucy Corbett, Capital's Melissa Moreni and Billings West's Kaia Schreder — all appeared to be unimpeded during the race.
According to the NFHS case book's Article 3.4.3, a race re-run wipes out all places, times and/or records, "unless it is obvious that the interference that caused the rerun did not affect the winning of certain places."
Heggen won the re-run with a time of 14.66. Findon took second with a time of 14.81. Carter placed third with a time of 14.96. McElmurry, who won the original race, placed fifth with a time of 15.18. Her time from the first final was 14.99 and would have placed fourth.
Bingham suffered concussion-like symptoms because of the incident and was not able to compete in the re-run, nor the 300-meter hurdles.
Several hours after the race, Bingham told 406mtsports.com that she's doing OK.
"I don't remember any of the race and my body hurts," Bingham, a senior, said. "But mainly it just stinks because it was my last shot."
Jordan Hansen reported this story from Great Falls. Amie Just reported this story from Missoula. The rules cited in this story have been taken directly from the rule and case books, which were purchased by the 406mtsports.com.