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Haywood loses final Olympic appeal

After six months of chasing UCI points, a weeklong delay in the initial announcement, an arbitration hearing and an appeal of that decision, the battle for the lone women’s start spot on the U.S. Olympic cross-country team is finally over. On Friday afternoon in a federal courthouse in downtown Denver, Judge Phillip Figa denied a motion filed by Sue Haywood’s attorney asking the court to vacate the original arbitration decision that awarded that lone start spot to Mary McConneloug, and allow for another arbitration hearing. Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen), who was at the courthouse in Denver,

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor

After six months of chasing UCI points, a weeklong delay in the initial announcement, an arbitration hearing and an appeal of that decision, the battle for the lone women’s start spot on the U.S. Olympic cross-country team is finally over.

On Friday afternoon in a federal courthouse in downtown Denver, Judge Phillip Figa denied a motion filed by Sue Haywood’s attorney asking the court to vacate the original arbitration decision that awarded that lone start spot to Mary McConneloug, and allow for another arbitration hearing.

Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen), who was at the courthouse in Denver, was initially named to the U.S. Olympic team by USA Cycling on July 16, but an American Arbitration Association arbitrator reversed that decision on July 19, ruling that USA Cycling had not adhered to its selection criteria when it added 15 points from the 2003 Sandpoint, Idaho, NORBA short-track to Haywood’s official UCI point total. That gave the spot to McConneloug (Seven), who would have lost it by one point if the initial ruling had not been overturned.

Haywood’s final shot at making the Olympic team had been based on, among other things, the contention that she had not been given adequate time to prepare for the arbitration hearing, which was conducted three days after USA Cycling named her to the team. After listening to arguments from both Haywood’s and McConneloug’s attorneys during the hour and a half proceeding in the sixth-floor courtroom, Judge Figa took a 13-minute recess, then delivered his ruling at 3:18 p.m.

“Even if this court were to have reached a different decision [than the arbitrator] it is not within my right to overturn that original decision,” the judge said, citing several previous court cases as precedent. “I do believe Ms. Haywood had 48 hours’ notice and I do not believe there is sufficient evidence to justify the claim that the arbitrator exceeded his powers … I consider the arbitrator’s opinion thoughtful and considerate whether or not I agree with it.”

Afterwards Haywood said she wasn’t surprised that the decision had gone against her, but that she had no regrets for taking one final shot at getting to Athens.

“My expectations were very low,” she said. “But I had to try everything. I still believe I won the points chase and to have it come down to courts and lawyers is the worst thing that could have happened. I know I’m the one who should be there.”

As for McConneloug, she listened to the majority of the proceedings via telephone from Italy, a set-up that proved to be a distraction at times. At one point she was disconnected and had to call back. Another time her attorney asked McConneloug to hang up because of background noise from motor vehicles and young children playing in the streets near where she was on the phone. “Mike is trying to shush them,” McConneloug said, referring to her boyfriend/teammate Mike Broderick.

After the final decision was announced, McConneloug was not available for comment, but the tears streaming down the face of her lead attorney, Lynn Kappelman, likely spoke for her. This was a long, arduous journey for everyone involved. Now McConneloug would finally be able to begin final preparations for the Olympic cross-country race on August 27 knowing for sure that she will be there.

As for Haywood, she left the courthouse with her boyfriend Matt Marcus and Trek-VW team manager Tyler Pilger, and headed up I-70 to compete at the NORBA National Series event in Aspen this weekend. The West Virginian said she wasn’t sure about the rest of the season after that, but she’d definitely be back next year. Haywood also had a message for USA Cycling, which she blamed for putting both her and McConneloug through this whole ordeal.

“Just get your act together,” she said, “and make sure this never happens again.”