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Mountain biker Haywood awarded $319K in suit, 4 years after ouster

11/7/2008

WHEELING, W.Va. -- After a four-year Olympic fight, Sue Haywood has a sense of vindication.

Haywood, who was left off the 2004 U.S. Olympic mountain biking team because of a clerical error in the qualifying series standings and has battled that decision since, was awarded nearly $319,000 over "the negligence of USA Cycling" from a federal jury in her home state of West Virginia on Thursday.

Her conflict with USA Cycling, though, isn't over. The organization, which declined to comment Friday, is considering an appeal.

Still, Haywood considered the jury's award a significant victory.

"In some ways it reinforces my true belief that USA Cycling gravely erred and continued to show absolutely no remorse for it," Haywood said Friday in a telephone interview. "They never said, 'Hey, Sue, we're really sorry.' And that might have gone a long way. So I feel like I was the rightful nominee and this was really the only recourse that I had."

Haywood went to mediation twice in an effort to avoid trial.

"I gave them plenty of chances," Haywood said.

Haywood and Mary McConneloug battled for a year for the lone women's mountain bike spot on the 2004 U.S. team, and one month before the Athens Games opened USA Cycling said Haywood prevailed -- by a single point.

But in USA Cycling's own selection criteria, it said the official standings would be kept by the International Cycling Union. And one race from 2003 was not included in the UCI's totals because the results were not submitted by event organizers. That race would have given Haywood 15 points, which were never included in the UCI rankings.

McConneloug eventually was chosen by an arbitrator as the winner. Haywood filed suit in October 2005, and the two-day trial finally took place in Wheeling, W.Va., this week.

"No verdict or court can ever give me what USA Cycling took," Haywood said. "It is my hope that this outcome will send a message to USA Cycling that it needs take its job as seriously and work as hard as those athletes who pursue the dream to represent the United States at the Olympics."

The jury awarded $240,000 for "emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and/or loss of personal dignity" and another $60,000 for "annoyance and inconvenience." The parties agreed previously that Haywood's out-of-pocket legal expenses of $18,847.14 would be paid by USA Cycling.

Haywood planned to retire from elite mountain bike racing this year, but injured her leg at what was to be her farewell race this summer. She will race part-time in 2009.

"I would have never, ever have gone through with a civil action like this unless it was really important to me," Haywood said. "It wasn't about money."