Last week, former San Diego State track star Allison Halverson posted photos of herself modeling the Armenian national uniform. Granted citizenship in February 2020, she looked ready for Tokyo. Fierce but friendly.
But this week she said: “My season is over.”
No Summer Games for the 2014 NCAA runner-up in the heptathlon.
“That was really shocking,” she said of turn of events. Robert Emmiyan, a 29-foot long jumper in his Soviet days who advocated for her as president of the Armenian Athletic Federation, “was like really surprised.”
Halverson, known as Allie Reaser in her Aztec days, remains mystified why she has to wait until Feb. 19, 2023, to compete for the landlocked West Asian nation — based on when she got her Armenian passport. (Her mother has Armenian ancestry.)
She and her husband, Nic, recently documented that 70 of the 82 athletes allowed to change national affiliations in recent years waited as little as a day to change countries. Many were based on when the athlete last competed for their original country.
If that were so for Halverson, 28, she’d likely be on Team Armenia headed for Tokyo — perhaps as a wildcard entrant in the 100-meter dash.
Based on her last Team USA outing — July 27-28, 2018, in the Thorpe Cup at the University of Tennessee (she took third) — her date of Armenian eligibility would have been July 28 — a dozen days from now.
The women’s 100-meter heats at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium start July 30.
“I’ve been treated pretty unfairly and I don’t know why,” she said this week from Austin, Texas, where she moved after living in Mission Valley until October.
Under rules of World Athletics (formerly the IAAF), so-called transfers of allegiance are decided by a Nationality Review Panel upon request of a member nation — not athletes themselves. But the rules apparently include loopholes allowing transfer rules to be ignored.
Halverson’s case was posted Jan. 26 in a 480-word letter of a four-member panel signed by Hiroshi Yokokawa of Japan.
“The Panel was satisfied that the athlete has a genuine, close, credible and established link to [Armenia] and that the imperatives set out in clause 1.2 of the Regulations were not being impinged by granting this transfer,” Yokokawa wrote.
Armenia’s Emmiyan appealed the decision in early February: “We strongly need Allison’s representation from the year of 2021.” He was rebuffed for not supplying new evidence.
But after researching the recent history of transfers, the Halversons made a final appeal in mid-June.
She wrote: “I would greatly appreciate any explanation as to why 85% of athletes get the waiting period from their last competition but that wasn’t deemed reasonable in my case.”
The “NRP Secretariat” replied: “Every athlete’s circumstances are different and fact specific. The Panel balances many different factors when considering applications and requests to waive the waiting period.”
The letter noted that under transfer rules, “the starting point” is that a 3-year waiting period commences from the data of application — or May 15, 2020, in her case.
“If the Panel had not waived this requirement, then in your case the three years would have commenced from 15 May 2020,” Halverson was lectured. “The waiting period is underpinned by the imperatives set out in the Regulations.”
Times of San Diego wrote the Nationality Review Panel, citing the case of distance runner Jordan Gusman of Australia, who waited only 84 days between his last competition for Australia (May 29, 2019) and his eligibility to compete for Malta (August 21, 2019).
On Thursday, spokeswoman Nicole Jeffery shared a statement from Monaco-based World Athletics.
Every request for a transfer of national allegiance is considered individually on its merits. The process is designed to ensure that the athlete is genuinely committed to the country he or she wishes to represent in all national representative competitions. In cases where the three-year waiting period is partly or wholly waived, this is generally because the athlete concerned can demonstrate their commitment to the new country because they have been living, training or competing in that country prior to their application or will have done so by the end of the waiting period.
In cases where the evidence of such commitment is absent, the three-year waiting period is a necessary condition to ensure that the athlete is committed to the transfer of allegiance and it is not merely a matter of convenience for either athlete or country.
Times of San Diego wrote back, quoting part of the letter to Halverson: “The NRP under Rule 1.8 of the Rules and clauses 4.1 and 4.2 of the Regulations has a discretion to waive or vary the requirements of the Rules.”
We asked: “How can the rules be considered fair when the NRP has the authority to ‘waive or vary’ them on a whim? How often do you ‘waive or vary’ transfer of [allegiance] rules?”
Replied Jeffery, the world governing body’s head of communications: “Our statement addresses this and explains that these decisions are not made on ‘a whim’ as you claim. We don’t have anything to add to the statement.”
Halverson and Armenian officials weren’t alone in dismay.
Olympian Willie Banks of Carlsbad, a member of World Athletics’ governing council, advised Halverson on how to make her pitch — based on pregnancy imperatives.
“I have worked with Allison for a few months,” he said Friday from Montana, where he was at a track clinic. “Sadly I was unable to change the decision.”
In early 2020, before the COVID-19 shutdowns and the NRP decision, Halverson said she called Banks, the former world record holder in the triple jump, and he “was really hopeful.”
“He talked to the person who wrote the [transfer of allegiance] rule … and that person told Willie: ‘She’s married and she can say she wants to start a family and can’t wait till 2023,'” Halverson said. “So Nic and I wrote this very good argument.”
As proof of her motherhood intentions, she cited an interview with an ABC 10News crew that cancellation of the 2020 Games would “be really devastating because I was hoping to start a family after .”
“If I can’t compete until 2023 and compete in the 2024 Olympics, I would have my first child at 33 (best case scenario) and last one at 39,” she wrote the NRP in late February, citing risks including Down syndrome, miscarriage, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and premature birth.
This week, she said: “I want to have four children, and if it’s after 2024, it puts me at risk for birth defects for my children or problems with me having babies.”
Sprinter Alexander Donigian, an American OK’d to represent Armenia in August 2019 a day after the NRP decision, couldn’t say why his request was accepted more quickly.
“My case for eligibility was initially rejected, but after further discussions about my connections to Armenia and my heritage they were able to grant me eligibility,” he said Saturday. “I can’t speak for what reasons they may have granted me this eligibility.”
“Bummed out” when learning the action in Halverson’s case, Donigian said he was looking forward to competing alongside her internationally.
“My hopes are that I get to see her represent Armenia sooner rather than later,” said the former Western Washington star, 27.
On May 16, he lowered his own Armenian 100-meter dash record with a time of 10.37 in Amarillo, Texas. And on June 26, he earned a bronze medal in the 100 (in 10.56) at the Balkan championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
“It is my understanding that I am currently an alternate selection for Tokyo,” he said.
Despite the delay in her Armenian track career, Halverson continued her quest for world rankings points in the heptathlon — the seven-event, two-day grind. Forgoing the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, she sought a meet on the Spanish island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
“Nic and I flew to New York to get on a flight to Spain so I could compete in the Arona heptathlon,” she wrote June 11 on Facebook. “When checking into our flight to Spain, we were told the documents we had were not enough to prove we were going to Spain for work. … It was like really sucky.”
The meet director’s letter wasn’t good enough. Only an invitation from the Spanish Consulate would do.
“We stayed the night in New York trying to get the correct documents from the meet director but couldn’t get it in time and had to fly back home” to LAX, she wrote, later saying an April 24-25 heptathlon in Italy — where she was hobbled by a foot injury and scored a mediocre-for-her 5424 points — was likely her last.
(She still ended up breaking the Armenian national record of 4918. “It’s considered a record,” she said. “I got drug-tested after the meet. So I know it’s an official record. … They were making a big deal of it (in Italy).”)
Not mentioned in her social media: learning in New York that the NRP had denied her latest request to soon start her Armenian track career.
Email from World Athletics said the panel had decided “they do not want to waive your waiting period. They say that your reasoning was a personal choice to have kids.”
Unable to make the Arona meet, and at the last minute, Halverson entered the June 13 San Diego-Imperial Association USA Track and Field Championships run by her father, Rick Reaser.
She clocked 54.56 in the 400-meter dash at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center that Sunday — a personal record — as well as 12.01 seconds in the 100-meter dash — her No. 2 career mark after an 11.95.
Not giving up completely, she was advised to contact a Canadian lawyer with experience in dealing with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland — the Supreme Court on athletic matters.
“I called the lawyer and … he said it would cost 50 grand to switch the minds of this panel,” she said. “So I think they’re probably bribing them.”
She also balked when the lawyer said: “I need a couple of grand just to see if your case has a chance at winning.”
So she and her software-CEO husband ended up doing the transfer study — looking at athletes granted permission to change nations under rules that followed a pause from an earlier era where world-class Kenyan athletes were “poached” by countries like Turkey and Bahrain.
Times of San Diego didn’t confirm the chart she provided, but it shows only a dozen athletes told to wait more than three years since their last national team to compete for their new one — with Halverson among them. The remaining 70 had shorter waits, including a dozen Americans OK’d for countries including Nigeria, Jamaica, Estonia and Portugal.
Triple jumper Kristina Alvertsian of Greece waited only 73 days to compete — for Armenia. She’s eligible for Tokyo.
Advised to have a baby now and resume training for the 2024 Paris Games, Halverson is looking to change events.
“My PR is 57.8 in the 400 hurdles,” said the one-time El Segundo High prep star who took sixth in the California state meet 300 hurdles as a sophomore. “I think [the Olympics] take 48 athletes in the 400 hurdles. So the field size is a lot bigger.”
Reviewing how entrants earned world rankings points — a way to qualify for Paris without meeting a tough Olympic time standard — she sees a path for herself in an Armenian uniform.
“You just have to be smart at which meets to go to, where in the heptathlon there’s only like five meets that give you these really big rankings points,” she said, thinking a 55-second time in the one-lap hurdles is possible. “I could go to a bunch of meets, and even if I had a bad race, it’s not the end of the world. … So maybe they could send me as a wildcard for the 400 hurdles.”
She added: “I could get into [the Games] because I’m Armenian, and they want all the countries there.”
Still, Halverson hopes to make the Paris Games on her own ability.
“It would be really good to be there for Armenia, the only girl athlete,” she said. “But it’s more honorable that I qualify myself.”
Updated at 11:21 p.m. July 17, 2021