“FOUL!” - Making the Right Call
This is a Post Script to “Thank You, Puck”:
Only two weeks after I wrote the piece “Thank You, Puck” as a thank you to Eddy Matzger and as a tribute to his sportsmanship and humanitarianism - which garnered wonderful responses from many people on the positive impact Eddy had on their lives - I was working the Finish Line of the 21st Athens-to-Atlanta in Piedmont Park.
Links to the skaters' responses are at the bottom.
Athens-to-Atlanta 2002, 11:52:25 AM EST, Sunday, October 6, 2002
87.1 miles into the 21st Annual Athens-to-Atlanta.
Eddy Matzger is ahead of Mauro Guenci through the next to the last turn. Mauro executes a cross-over in the outside of that turn, and starts a sprint to try to catch Eddy. In the final turn - just before the finish - a fracas breaks out . . . both skaters stand up and stop stroking just twenty feet from the Finish Line. Hand gestures and words are exchanged.
“He PULLED me!”
“HE CUT HIM OFF! He was over the line!”
Fiery moments of frustration after hours of intense competition. The skaters coast over the finish line, Mauro Guenci slightly ahead of Eddy Matzger.
Spectator pandemonium. The area around the Finish Line tent erupts with cries of anguish.
After the debacle at the finish line, Mauro Guenci - who speaks only Italian - skated over to Eddy to shake his hand. Eddy, who is always gracious, shook his head and declined, saying, “No, No . . .”
Mauro Guenci wanted to celebrate his victory, but no one came to congratulate him. He tried to ask me what was happening, and I tried to communicate to him that we had a “No Decision” on the finish.
Both skaters looked completely convinced that they had been fouled. Both seemed indignant that anyone could even be considering the other skater’s position.
Eddy Matzger asked about filing a protest. I told him that while I thought the finish might well be contestable, it was premature to file a protest as no decisions had been made and no winners announced.
I shook both their hands.
Everyone takes this very seriously, this “non-race” Road Skate. Skaters from all over the world design their annual training schedules to peak at Athens-to-Atlanta. In addition to being one of the most famous inline road events, it is also renowned for being a “gentlemen’s” event (no gender-slight intended): A2A is a ‘friendly’ competition. Teams break pace lines to integrate competitors. Skaters stop on the road to help other skaters with blisters, hydration and nutrition challenges - or hardware problems.
Skaters don’t shove each other around at A2A.
They roll over the Finish Line hand-in-hand.
A few years ago, a younger local skater scrambled and shoved for position at a wet Finish Line and was roundly - if quietly - hissed by the local skate community: he had crossed that invisible boundary. He took advantage of a skater who had pulled for him through much of the event (skated in front of him to give him the advantage of drafting). We don’t play that way here.
It got a wee bit rough on Sunday, October 6th in Piedmont Park in Atlanta - and it stayed rough. It tore at the fabric of the issue that everyone waltzes around: what is fair? Where is the acceptable standard of behavior? How much scrambling can be tolerated at a finish line before it is too much? What do you do when people “don’t play fair”?
These issues rarely seem critical - until they are.
I was at the Finish Line tent when this happened, and I was the most senior staff person present. We had no trained officiator at the Finish and no official video tapes; we never have. We are not a “Race”; we are a genteel road skate event . . . with extremely competitive finishers.
I had to make a decision. Very quickly. We normally announce the winner immediately at the Finish Line - over a joyful and raucous celebration from the crowd. But this year, we made no announcement and had no celebration. And there was no joy in Mudville.
Instead of celebrating, people were upset at the Finish Line: some event volunteers were close to throwing things around. Like soccer and hockey and baseball fans, skating fans get emotionally involved. Fans and skaters were wandering around showing other people digital still images or videos of “the Finish“. Everyone wants things to be fair - and everyone’s idea of fair, and perception of what occurs in those intense seconds of a contested event, is different. I asked my wife, Kristy, to please take the names and contact information of potential witnesses.
Two things rose immediately as the most critical issues:
- We HAD to secure an impartial decision.
- It had to be manifestly clear that it was an impartial decision.
This was a particularly dicey situation:
1. Eddy Matzger is a close personal friend of the Organizer.
2. I have taken Eddy’s Workshop - and wrote an piece on
sportsmanship two weeks earlier commending him on his stand
for fair play.
3. We had no certified officials at the Finish Line, and no official
video: remember, this is not a race, not part of any series and has
4. A2A is the skating world’s equivalent of The Masters (without the
money), with participants from all over the world, and some who
have come for over fifteen years. People truly love A2A.
5. There has been much brouhaha over incompetent officiating at
inline skate events for years.
6. Henry and I are both VERY committed to fair and impartial
7. There was heated and genuine disagreement among many of the
people at the Finish Line as to exactly what had happened.
Experienced, trained skaters and certified skating instructors had
opposite opinions of what had happened.
8. The world of inline skate competitions is divided into several
camps - and like most divided worlds, there is a lot of distrust
and finger-pointing between them. Much of the distrust revolves
around what constitutes fair play. These two skaters were from
9. The integrity of the event was at stake.
All of this made it extremely important that the call be correct.
Not that it be the result demanded by any particular person or group -
but that it be correct.
Wrangling after any close-call decision is inevitable, which made it all the more important that we had our “ducks in a row”. This was going to be a close call: some thought Eddy had cut Mauro off in the last turn, leaving Mauro nowhere to go - and causing Mauro to grab and then push Eddy out of the way. Many thought that Mauro had pulled Eddy back and then shoved him out of the way in an aggressive scramble to secure a first place finish. There were two skaters with conflicting opinions of what had happened, witnesses with conflicting opinions of what had happened, and two video tapes.
I called the event Organizer, Henry Zuver, and described the situation: we happened to have two United States of America Roller Sports (USARS) Officiators at the event (one participating and one mother of a skater), and I suggested we have them review the tapes in a neutral environment, and render an opinion. Henry immediately recognized and understood the myriad conflicting issues and ramifications. He concurred.
Our course photographer graciously provided a secure, private location in an air conditioned trailer, and the tapes were reviewed by two certified USARS officials, including one Master Judge. They spent nearly ninety minutes reviewing the tapes, and interviewed one highly qualified witness who had been immediately adjacent to the turn before the Finish Line. For nearly two hours they viewed 10 second loops of tape over and over and over again.
The expert witness testified with a VERY strong opinion that one skater had been the victim of a non-incidental contact foul (touched). She stated her willingness to go to court to support her decision, if necessary.
After giving her testimony, she sat to the side to watch the officials review the tapes for another thirty minutes, listening to their process. The witness emerged from the photo trailer as the officials prepared to announce their decision. Although the decision conflicted with her version, she commented to one official that she had never seen a more careful or meticulous reviewing process. She stated that she would support the official ruling:
Balancing fouls were declared: one skater had cut off the other, and the second skater had committed a contact foul. On balancing fouls, the order of finish is maintained. Mauro Guenci had coasted over the finish line ahead of Eddy Matzger.
The conclusion was announced. Neither skater was present. This was not a personal issue, it was an event announcement.
Eddy Matzger returned and filed an official protest.
5:30 PM - The Athens-to-Atlanta Awards Ceremony
Henry Zuver is negotiating a tie between the skaters in the spirit of A2A, and for the purpose of the Ceremony. First, he stands in the parking lots talking to Eddy Matzger on his cell phone. Eddy reluctantly agrees. Later, Henry sits with Mauro Guenci and his translator in the auditorium. For ten tense minutes, Henry tries to work with Mauro over his protests. Mauro really feels he is in the right. The whole ceremony is on hold . . . After much interpreted objection from Mauro, Henry gives up.
Henry begins the Awards Ceremony with an official announcement: the overall and men’s finish is a “No Decision”, is being contested - and that no official winner will be declared until a thorough review is made.
Halfway through the ceremony, there is a change of mind - if not of heart, and both skaters agree to a tie. Sort of. I have never seen two angrier people with smiles plastered on their faces before. Extremely upset, these two fierce competitors join to hold up the First Place silver plate, but they are not really sharing it - they look ready to rip it in two.
Monday, October 8, 2002
Mid-day Monday, Henry called and asked me to come over. There are copies of both tapes being played over and over and over. One frame at a time. Slow motion. Real time. Fast motion. Some discussion is quiet and analytical, at times things get quite passionate. The opinions move back and forth like a tide. It is fascinating. I have always enjoyed this part of referee work - like a good detective story: you are searching for the clues that disclose the truth.
While passions and tempers sometimes run high, everyone is committed to discovering the truth.
Through the maelstrom, Henry Zuver sits quietly listening to a very experienced group of skate event organizers proposing, countering, pushing - and insisting their theory is correct. Many people want instant resolution, even though the perspectives continue to evolve. Damn the process, let’s get this over.
This is the reason Henry Zuver is the organizer. And a big part of the reason why A2A is what it is.
Henry can take that heat, and not blanch - and not yield.
Integrity demands it.
Making the right call - demands it.
And Henry demanded that we make the right call.
9 PM EST, Tuesday, October 8, 2002
Henry is ready for us to announce the Final and Official Ruling on the Overall Winner of the 2002 Athens-to-Atlanta 87 Mile Finish.
There have been between five and eight people reviewing two ten second loops of tape almost continuously for two days.
Tuesday evening, the Master Judge who participated in the original call and crafted the original decision arrives.
She views the tapes now on a 30” monitor, not the 2” camcorder display she had in the trailer at the event. She can clearly see the skaters approach from the first through the second turns - and the issues are clear to her. She explains what she saw in the extensive review two days earlier, and points out what she couldn’t see until the images were larger. She makes a decision. We all understand and agree.
I write the coda - The Final and Official Ruling - to our 21st Annual event, and Henry makes phone calls.
It is finally finished.
I woke up early one morning about a week before the event, and walked into the dark, chilly Atlanta pre-dawn, and a cool breeze blew over me - and I smiled as I thought, “It feels like Athens-to-Atlanta time....”
That is what is so special about A2A: it conveys an immediate sense of time and place. No other words need be spoken. When you say, “Athens-to-Atlanta” - people who have been there get that quiet little smile . . .
It means months of sacred time putting in the miles of training;
It means changing wheels, and bearings and trying new nutrition
and hydration formulas;
It means dry-runs on the course, or practicing on the nearest hills;
It means packing up the supplies needed for the trip to Athens
and for several hours on skates;
It means seeing everyone arriving for the Friday Night Skate
and for Registration in Athens;
It means Henry’s Rant;
It means anxious - or calm - skaters sprawled on the floors of hotels
as they suit up for the journey ahead;
It means watching hundreds of other skaters collecting in that familiar pre-dawn chill of an October Sunday morning in downtown Athens;
It means a phalanx of motorcyclists and police cars waiting for the signal;
And hundreds of skaters waiting for Henry to let them go . . .
And mile after mile after mile of skating, and chatting and smiling.
And crossing the Finish Line.
In this - where ever we are - we are all hand in hand.
That, is Athens-to-Atlanta.
Thank you, Henry, for who you are. And a great vote of thanks to the two Officiators who were willing to give their time to make sure the call was right, and to take the heat during the process.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who makes Athens-to-Atlanta such a special time and place in the year for us, a phenomenon that means so much to so many people - the skaters, the volunteers, all the families, and the folks that Team in Training is raising money for . . .
I love you all.
~ Scott Nilsson
Atlanta, Georgia - USA / 2nilssons.com
Copyright © 2002 by Scott Barricks Nilsson - All Rights Reserved
87 Mile Finish - Men / Overall Final and Official Ruling
9:14 PM EST, Tuesday, October 8, 2002Sunday, October 7, 2002: Athens-to-Atlanta had a disputed finish for the top two placements in the 87 Mile Finish. Results were withheld pending review. Impartial officials reviewed videotape evidence of the finish on the camcorders' LCDs, resulting in a call of single, balancing fouls on the part of both skaters, Mr. Mauro Guenci/212 (Verducci, Italy) and Mr. Eddy Matzger/87 (TwinCam / Salomon / Explore) - and - with a neutral impact on the finish order. Mr. Matzger filed a formal protest, claiming non-incidental offensive contact. Both skaters agreed to a mediated declaration of a Tie for First Place for the Award Ceremony.
Link to: Athens-to-Atlanta 2002 - Official & Final Ruling
Mr. Eddy Matzger/ #87
TwinCam / Salomon / Explore
Link: Eddy's Response
Eddy Matzger's Site: www.skatecentral.com
Mr. Mauro Guenci/ #212
Link: Team Verducci Response
* * * * *
The article that preceded this piece - on the value of
good sporting behavior in athletes, mentors and people:
“Thank You, Puck”
Please take me to: Scott's Articles & Writing
Scott's Path Road Skating Writing Home
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