Then-USATF President Vin Lananna visited San Diego in October 2017.
Then-USATF President Vin Lananna visited San Diego in October 2017. Photo by Ken Stone

Nearly two years after being put on “temporary administrative leave” by USA Track & Field, Vincent “Vin” Lananna has been reinstated to the sports body’s presidency.

The famed Oregon coach and administrator, who recently moved to coach at the University of Virginia, also was restored to chairmanship of the USATF board by order of the international Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

Thursday’s action followed an Oct. 18-19 grievance hearing before American arbitrator Jeffrey Benz of Los Angeles and London — who wrote the 134-page opinion on the suspension of Nike track coach Alberto Salazar in a doping case.

Attorney David Greifinger of Pacific Palisades said he learned of the CAS arbitrator’s decision just before 5 a.m. Pacific time (via email) and texted his client, Lananna, who is in Reno, Nevada, for the USATF annual meeting.

“He happened to be awake,” Greifinger said in a phone interview. “I talked to him after I got the email. … probably 5-5:30 in the morning.”

Lananna was “delighted” by the news, reported Greifinger, who has spent hundreds of hours representing the 2016 U.S. Olympic men’s track coach in his grievance action against USATF, along with lead lawyer Mark Lambert.

Lananna’s term expires in December 2020, but he is expected to run again a year from now.

What did CAS say in explaining its decision?

“Unfortunately, I can’t go into the arbitrator’s award, which is a very lengthy opinion because, under orders from CAS, we can’t publish it unless they say we (can),” Greifinger said. “I think they will publish it, but they have to give us the benediction.”

The longtime sports attorney also wouldn’t say whether USATF was ordered to pay Lananna for his time and legal expenses trouble.

Benz, the arbitrator, told Times of San Diego that he couldn’t comment on the case and when CAS might release his report.

“That is beyond my pale,” he said in a phone call from London. “I did my thing, and that’s it. I have a very specific task and I do that.”

The October grievance hearing was in Washington, D.C., where Lananna was represented by Greifinger and Lambert and USATF was represented by Paul Greene. USATF general counsel Norman Wain was there, too — but only as an observer.

Lananna thus takes his elected leadership post back from Olympic triple champion Mike Conley.

Nearly 12 hours after the Lananna decision was announced, Indianapolis-based USATF reported the immediate reinstatement.

“The parties were determined to have a fair and unbiased process to settle their dispute,” USATF interim president/chair Conley said in a statement. “The board accepts the decision. USATF is prepared to move forward; it’s beneficial to the sport and our athletes to put this behind us.”

USATF CEO Max Siegel said: “Next year is a pivotal year for the sport with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the preparation leading up to Oregon21,” the IAAF world outdoor meet at the University of Oregon. “We are thrilled to work closely with Vin and now focus on those events and our athletes to continue moving the sport in a positive direction.”

Lananna, 66, was elected USATF president by acclamation in late 2016, but the board removed him, citing “potential conflict of interest concerns” over a federal probe of how the 2021 IAAF World Championships were awarded to Eugene, Oregon, in 2015.

On Thursday, Greifinger noted that Lananna, the former head of TrackTown USA in Eugene, Oregon, was interviewed once as a witness in the federal probe “and that’s the beginning and the end of it.”

Greifinger said delegates to the Reno meeting, which began Thursday, will consider changes in governance that could deal with how Lananna was removed from office.

In February 2018, USATF board chair Steve Miller said in a statement: “USATF has no reason to believe TrackTown and/or Mr. Lananna have done anything wrong and understand that they have been told that they are not a target of the investigation. But to avoid any conflict or appearance of conflict of interest in relation to the investigation, the board voted to place Mr. Lananna on temporary administrative leave until the Department of Justice investigation pertaining to TrackTown and the 2021 World Championships is resolved.”

Five months later, however, Lananna was given a chance to have his volunteer job back.

According to the grievance Lananna filed with U.S. track’s governing body, then-board Chairman Miller had several catches.

“Tellingly, the offer of reinstatement … came with preconditions, including a demand for Mr. Lananna’s pledge of loyalty to Mr. Miller as board chair and to incumbent USATF leadership, including a promise to actively support bylaws changes,” said the grievance demanding his reinstatement and payment of legal fees.

Such bylaw changes would have:

  • Extended the term of Miller as board chair through 2021.
  • Elevated Mike Conley to permanent vice chair and extended his term as a director through 2021.
  • And lengthened Lananna’s own term as president into 2021, “beyond the [four-year] term for which he was elected by the membership.”

“The proposal would essentially vitiate the 2020 election for these key leadership positions,” says the 33-page grievance signed by attorneys Lambert and Greifinger.

But the lawyers say Lananna rejected the offer “as an affront” to the membership that elected him at the 2016 annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.

Miller then responded with a “tirade of ad hominem attacks,” the grievance alleges. “In short, the former chair [Miller] and the board were happy to have Mr. Lananna serve as president if he would kowtow to them instead of representing the membership that elected him, and advance their self-interested motives to retain control over USATF.”

“For the first time in two years I’m positive about what could happen,” Lananna told Ken Goe of The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, saying he planned to seek re-election to another four-year term in 2020.

Lananna told Goe that he wants more opportunities for elite U.S. athletes to compete in America, to more effectively manage the various geographical units of USATF and get everyone pulling in the same direction.

“Everybody should be part of this, not just the elite athletes,” he said. “They’re essential, but they’re not the only thing. I want everyone sharing in the excitement about what is potentially in front of us.”

Greifinger was quoted as saying Lananna’s activist agenda “is the reason so many of us supported Vin the first time around. He gets things done. He is a force of nature for the good of the sport. It’s a shame that talent has been wasted during this crazy fight.”

Updated at 4:37 p.m. Dec. 5, 2019

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