Race winner Robyn Stevens approaches finish tape — dropped before she could breach it.
Race winner Robyn Stevens approaches finish tape at the 2020 national meet in Santee. Photo by Ken Stone

Robyn Stevens, America’s top female race walker, is fighting to join Team USA at next month’s world championships in Oregon after being removed from consideration.

“A grievance has been filed and all questions can now be directed toward my lawyer,” she said Tuesday.

She named Paul F. DeMeester of San Francisco as her attorney in the case against USA Track & Field, the sport’s national governing body.

In a phone interview Wednesday, DeMeester said he’s representing Stevens pro bono — for free — as he has other race walkers over the years, including Erin Taylor-Talcott in her successful campaign to race the 50K alongside men (becoming the first woman to compete in a men’s Olympic Trials track and field event and race the inaugural women’s 50K at the 2017 London IAAF world championships).

“Because grievance proceedings are confidential, I am unable to comment or provide documents,” he said of the case.

USATF officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Stevens, who set three U.S. records a day before her 39th birthday in April at a Slovakia competition, started the world meet trials in the 35-kilometer event in January but dropped out with an injury after 12 miles of the 21.75-mile event held in Santee, north of San Diego.

She recently learned that World Athletics, in its event rankings, denoted her as “withdrawn” from the 35K at the meet in Eugene, Oregon.

Stevens also hopes to compete in the 20K walk at the world meet, where she is ranked No. 45 in the world. The field is capped at 60. USATF hasn’t indicated whether she is on the 20K team.

DeMeester indicated that Stevens previously noted publicly she would appeal exclusions from both the 20K and 35K.

Normally, grievances with USATF take months, but a provision exists for expedited hearing. (The women’s 20K race walk in Eugene is 37 days away. The 35K walk is a week later.)

According to the USATF FAQ on grievances, the complaint must allege that a party has violated USATF’s Bylaws or Operating Regulations, the Sports Act, the [World Athletics] eligibility rules, or had engaged in conduct detrimental to the best interests of athletics or USATF.”

“Hypothetically, I would request expedited proceedings,” said DeMeester, a criminal defense lawyer who handles murder cases.

Stevens paid USATF a grievance filing fee of $250.

The complaint will be heard by the National Athletics Board of Review, the same panel that Vin Lananna first used to regain his presidency of USATF. (He later was reinstated by the international Court of Arbitration for Sport.)

USATF’s FAQ says “National Office Management” would first appoint a mediator with a timely hearing.

“An impartial mediator meets with all of the parties, together, and separately, and tries to get the parties to resolve the matter. There is no requirement to settle,” USATF says.

Said DeMeester: “Hypothetically, I would not mind a mediation. .. It could be a phone conference with all the attorneys.”

A former race walker on the Belgian national junior team in the 1970s, DeMeester resumed competing in 2016, alongside Taylor-Talcott and others,

“This is a small world,” he said, “and I’m happy to advance the cause of race walkers. I’ve dealt with all these groups before.”

Updated at 3:23 p.m. June 8, 2022