When the dehydrated Huskies runner couldn't provide a urine sample, NCAA officials should have delayed her drug test by a few hours instead of keeping her up before a big race.
When Katie Flood was handed the baton for the anchor leg of the distance medley late Friday night, Washington was in eighth place and she was 3.75 seconds behind the leader.
But the next 1,600 meters were typically remarkable for the Husky sophomore. They defined her.
Flood did what anchors are supposed to do. She blew past the talented field at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field championships in Nampa, Idaho, powering off the banked corners and outkicking the competition. Washington won.
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It was one of those delicious moments in athletics. Her team’s taste of March Madness.
Flood and teammates Chelsea Orr, Jordan Carlson and Baylee Mires won a national championship and celebrated the way all champions do, hugging and hollering and unleashing all the pent-up anxiety that is part of a championship quest.
Katie Flood had another chance for another bright, shining moment the next night in the 3,000 meters.
But then the NCAA reared its officious head.
Washington’s winning relay was designated for drug testing. After their celebration and after they had warmed down, the four Huskies went into a room and were asked to urinate into a cup.
It was after 10 p.m.
Flood, who had been suffering from a stomach flu and was dehydrated after the race, couldn’t urinate.
While her teammates waited outside, inventing games like trying to outdistance each other sailing Wheat Thins through the air, Flood was isolated in the testing room. She became more and more anxious.
“It was kind of a stressful situation as time was passing,” Flood said, sitting in coach Greg Metcalf’s office Tuesday. “I wasn’t feeling that great to begin with and I was thinking, ‘It’s already after midnight and I’ve got another race tomorrow.’
“As time passed, I just felt kind of helpless. It definitely changed how the next day went.”
The right thing for the NCAA drug testers to do would have been to excuse Flood around midnight and ask her to return the next day. They should have shown more compassion. Flood could have taken her test after Saturday’s 3,000-meter race, her final race of the meet.
“It makes some sense, doesn’t it?” Metcalf said.
But sometimes the NCAA acts like it stands for Not Caring About Athletes.
Never mind that Flood was dehydrated, weary, hungry and in need of sleep. Never mind that she would be running for another national championship in about 20 hours. The drug testers were going to wait this out, no matter how long it took. Rules, after all, are rules.
“The people who administer these tests are all nice people,” Metcalf said. “They want to be fair, but they ride the hard line that ‘we’re going to get a sample tonight and you don’t get to leave until you do so.’ But, gosh, there’s got to be a little wiggle room so you can make a decision about what’s best for the athlete.
“I think this is a rule that can be tinkered with so that it can benefit the athlete. Yes I’m for drug testing. It’s a necessary evil in our sport, but let Katie have a shot at a fantastic effort the next day.”
Flood finally produced a sample and left the building at 1:15 a.m., almost four hours after the start of the distance medley. Saturday, she was the favorite in the deepest field ever for the 3,000. Every runner had gone under 9 minutes, 10 seconds, but her time of 8:55 was the national leader by more than five seconds.
“You could just tell from the race’s get-go that she wasn’t herself,” Metcalf said. “She made zero excuses after the race, but it just wasn’t perfect.”
Despite her struggles, Flood still had a chance with 400 meters to go, but she ran out of gas and finished ninth. She doesn’t blame her Saturday night disappointment on her Friday night dehydration, but, like her coach, she believes the situation could have been handled more pragmatically.
“I felt worn out, kind of washed out,” she said of her 3,000 race. “I guess I just didn’t understand why I still needed to be there at 1 a.m. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was going to be there the next day. I don’t understand why coming back the next day wasn’t an option.”
Katie Flood should have had that option. But this is the NCAA and too often it seems as if college athletics’ governing body lets the rules get in the way of common sense.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org