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Originally published May 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 30, 2008 at 12:18 AM

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High-school Track | Video shows disqualified runner didn't break rules

The state's governing body for high-school sports again finds itself stuck between its rules and what many consider common sense. This time, the Washington...

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The state's governing body for high-school sports again finds itself stuck between its rules and what many consider common sense.

This time, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association faces a protest from Nicole Cochran, a senior at Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma. Cochran finished more than three seconds faster than her competition in the girls 3,200-meter run at the Class 4A state track and field meet in Pasco, but she was disqualified after an official flagged her for running on the inside lane line.

One problem: a video shows she didn't do it.

"I'm still in a little bit of shock," Cochran said Thursday afternoon. "That's pretty much all everyone can talk about."

The video — which shows that a Bellarmine Prep teammate, not Cochran, stepped on the inside lane line — was shot by flotrack.com, a track Web site. Since the event's controversial finish late Friday night, the video has circulated throughout the state's track community, triggering many to call for the WIAA to reverse the disqualification and name Cochran the winner.

That, WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said, isn't likely to happen.

He said the WIAA must follow the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which prohibits the use of unauthorized video for reviews. In addition, the race official's ruling is considered a judgment call, which Colbrese said is non-reviewable.

Bellarmine Prep coach Matt Ellis isn't satisfied with that explanation.

"There's all these values listed by the WIAA, and this is a golden opportunity for them to do something unconventional," Ellis said. "Nicole rightly won the 3,200, and she should win that title.

"We're getting a little frustrated. We will, if we need to, take legal action."

Ellis said, however, that a lawsuit would be a last resort.

"If we have no other recourse," Ellis said. "Under the laws of the land, I think we have a pretty good case."

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Said Cochran: "I will support whatever he [Ellis] thinks is necessary. I know he, my parents and my whole team want to see the whole thing done and cleared up.

"It's not that we have any problem with the WIAA. We just want the WIAA to clear up the problem."

Cochran and Ellis list several problems with the disqualification ruling, including that the disqualification form indicates the infraction occurred on Lap 7, even though the video shows the official raised his yellow flag on the final turn of Lap 6.

At the same turn on the seventh lap, Cochran moves outside to take the lead.

"Even without looking at the video, you have a disqualification form with the wrong information," Ellis said.

Also, Ellis said the WIAA should consider that one of the two race officials watching that turn refused to sign off on the disqualification.

It took about 10 minutes after the race ended for meet officials to deliver word of the disqualification to Ellis and Cochran, enough time for Cochran to conduct a post-race interview with flotrack.com. Cochran, who plans to run next year at Harvard, said many of the girls in the race told officials that she didn't break any rules.

Andrea Nelson, a sophomore from Shadle Park of Spokane, was named the official winner, but she walked off the podium and hung her gold medal over Cochran's neck.

"It kind of gave me chills," Cochran said. "It was really emotional."

Then the rest of the top eight finishers passed their medals down to the person who crossed the finish line ahead of them.

"The kids got it right immediately," Ellis said. "And as adults, we can't do the same thing?"

Tom Wyrwich: 206-515-5653 or twyrwich@seattletimes.com

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