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  • Virginian-Pilot

    Rubama: Former Norfolk State star was denied Olympic Trials spot, and MEAC explanation isn’t good enough

    By Larry Rubama, The Virginian-Pilot,

    28 days ago
    Norfolk State University Kai Cole looks to the sky to celebrate his mens 200m dash victory at the MEAC Outdoor Track and Field championships at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia, on May 8, 2024. Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS

    Like many track and field fans, I was glued to my television over the weekend watching the U.S. Olympic trials.

    But as I watched the first round of the 100-meter competition Saturday, I couldn’t help but think of former Norfolk State star sprinter Kai Cole.

    It was just last month that I saw the 5-foot-5 Cole hold off Coppin State’s Solomon Hammond to narrowly win the 100 meters in helping to lead the Spartans to their third consecutive MEAC outdoor title. He ran an eye-opening 10.05 seconds, which qualified him for the Olympic trials.

    Or so we thought.

    Cole was so excited when I spoke to him as he lowered his personal-best time and believed he had fulfilled a lifelong dream to run at the trials.

    But Cole’s excitement was snatched away through no fault of his own.

    His time of 10.05 should have ranked him in the top 50 in the world and in the top 20 in the United States.

    But if you look at the World Athletics list, his name can’t be found.

    Cole learned that his time won’t count — though he ran it and I saw him run it — because the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference failed to have the meet sanctioned. Thus, his time was rejected by USA Track & Field.

    To get further clarity, I called my friend Dwayne Miller.

    I’ve known Miller for years. Our relationship goes back nearly 20 years ago when he coached an up-and-coming standout in four-time Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt.

    Miller is now the head men’s and women’s track and field coach at Florida Memorial, an HBCU in Miami Gardens.

    He has known Cole for many years. When he heard the news about Cole not being able to run, he quickly jumped on the phone to make things right, but to no avail.

    “You name it, I called everybody in my rolodex that I was connected to in USA Track & Field,” he pleaded. “We made so many phone calls in three or four days.”

    Each time he talked to somebody, he didn’t get the answer he was hoping for.

    “The reason why they wouldn’t let him compete (is) because (the MEAC meet) was not on the World Athletics calendar or the USATF calendar,” he said. “It had to be on either or. And that meet had to be sanctioned by USATF. And USATF and World Athletics work hand in hand. If it’s good for USATF, then it’s good enough for World Athletics. So that time that he ran —10.05 — it’s there, but it’s not there.”

    Miller felt for Cole because he knew how hard this young man had worked.

    Now, Cole was being punished.

    “People spend four years for this moment. And now it’s taken away,” said Miller, who was named the 2008 Nike Coach of the Year by USA Track & Field. “And nobody came to the rescue for this kid. And that’s the thing.”

    Miller said Cole had bought his plane tickets and made hotel reservations when he thought he had qualified. Then less than two weeks ago, he received a letter saying his time was denied.

    While Miller and I spoke, he put Cole on for a three-way conversation.

    “It’s heartbreaking, especially since it was out of my control,” Cole said. “It’s nothing that I could have done on my part that could have changed it.”

    I asked Cole if he still planned to watch the trials.

    “I’ll probably still watch it because I still have people I ran with in high school who will be running in it,” Cole said, including eventual 100-meter champion Noah Lyles. “So I’ll support them.”

    Cole talked about the statement he wrote, a heartfelt plea that appeared on social media.

    “Writing it, it was like holding back tears,” he said. “I took a lot of time and I talked to the right people about it. They said it was great and that I couldn’t have worded it any better. They said I said it from the heart. And basically the people who did it have to face the backlash.”

    As I watched the 100-meter trials, I noticed that many lanes were left open. Cole gladly would have taken one of those lanes.

    Miller agreed.

    “Why couldn’t he be in one of those lanes?” he said. “Who was it going to hurt?”

    The MEAC also released a statement Friday afternoon, saying policy changes by the USATF resulted in the event not being sanctioned by the USATF. The statement did not elaborate as to what policy changes were made.

    “Although the MEAC Outdoor Track and Field Championship remains an official NCAA Division-I championship event, USATF policy changes implemented this year resulted in the event not being officially sanctioned by USATF, making all competition results ineligible for Olympic Trial qualification,” the statement said. “We understand Kai’s frustration and took all available steps to rectify the situation so he could compete in the Olympic Trials — an opportunity he clearly deserves. The MEAC fully supports our member institutions and student-athletes as they pursue their dreams and strive for excellence. We are disappointed by the decision from USATF and are working to ensure our track and field championships are sanctioned USATF events moving forward.”

    That’s not good enough.

    And who’s to say Cole will ever get this opportunity again four years from now? Anything can happen.

    Miller said he is encouraging Cole to run overseas over the next several months.

    “Just to get away and show off his gift,” he said. “I told him I can’t imagine how he feels. The reality is he’s at home when he literally should be there.”

    I asked Cole what he hoped would come from this.

    “Just make sure you’re prepared the next time,” he said with his comments directed at the MEAC. “Don’t think just because you’re Division I that a lot of things don’t apply to you. Just make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

    Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449,

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