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A federal jury has awarded more than $300,000 to mountain bike racer Susan Haywood for USA Cycling’s failure to report race results to the UCI, an act of negligence, the court concluded, that cost her a spot on the 2004 Olympic team.
In the summer of 2004 Haywood was embroiled in a global race for UCI points with Mary McConneloug to secure a nomination to the country’s only slot for women in the upcoming Olympic Games in Athens. By mid-July, Haywood was initially given the nomination, leading McConneloug by a single point, 1489 to 1488.
However, in an August 2004 hearing an arbitrator ruled that USA Cycling had not properly notified the UCI of results from a 2003 short-track event in Sandpoint, Idaho, in which Haywood had earned 15 points. The arbitrator subtracted the points, resulting in Haywood losing the nomination by 14 points.
While USA Cycling had initially attempted to include the 15 points from the Idaho race in its final calculation, the arbitrator found that they could not be added because they were not part of the UCI’s official tally, since the world governing body had never received those results. McConneloug was then awarded the nomination and ultimately competed in Athens.
“Despite the clear mandate of the UCI rule requiring the timely transmission of race results, officials at USA Cycling failed to transmit results from the July 2003 Sandpoint Cross Country Short Track competition to the UCI,” Haywood’s attorney James Wright noted in a press release.
Haywood filed a negligence suit in West Virginia in 2005, claiming that USA Cycling had failed in its duty to report results and that such failure directly resulted in her loss of an opportunity to compete in the Olympics. Indeed, similar reporting errors and a failure by USA Cycling staff to recognize the importance of national rankings in Olympic selection were at least partially responsible for the U.S. receiving only a single spot in the women’s mountain bike event in 2004, but that latter question was not at issue in the Haywood case.
While originally filed in state court, the matter ultimately ended up in federal court because the defendant, USA Cycling, is based in Colorado. Such “diversity” cases are heard by federal courts if the involved parties are from different states and the amount at issue is expected to exceed $75,000.
While the ensuing legal process moved slowly, once it reached court, Federal District Judge John Bailey quickly issued an order of summary judgment in Haywood’s favor, concluding the question of USA Cycling’s negligence was not in dispute.
“There really was no question that they were negligent,” Wright told VeloNews. “They had clearly dropped the ball on that one. So the only issue for the jury was one of damages. How much is an Olympic dream worth? That’s the difficult question.”
After a two-day damages trial, the jury awarded Haywood $300,000 in compensatory damages representing her losses “for annoyance, mental anguish and loss of personal dignity.”
The jury also awarded Haywood an additional $18,647.14 for expenses related to her effort to secure the Olympic nomination and legal costs associated with the August 2004 arbitration case. Haywood did not seek punitive damages, an award designed to “punish” a negligent party.
“They had a duty,” Wright said. “That duty simply required that they do their job and to get results to the UCI. They didn’t do that. That was a direct cause of Sue’s missed opportunity to compete in Athens, something she had worked very hard for and something that she was denied. I don’t think it can be much clearer than that.”
USA Cycling executive director Steve Johnson declined to comment on the award when contacted by VeloNews.
“We won’t have anything to say about that until we fully consider our post-trial options,” said Johnson, suggesting that the governing body is prepared to file an appeal over the amount of the award.