During a heatwave, American heptathlete Taliyah Brooks collapsed amid the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials. The athlete has taken legal action against USA Track and Field, the governing body for the sport. Heading into the trials, Brooks was a top contender in the heptathlon, a two-day, seven-event sport that involves three track and four field events: 100-metre hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-metre dash, long jump, javelin and 800-metre run.
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The June 2021 Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, coincided with an intense heatwave, with temperatures reaching as high as 43 C, or 111 F. While USATF managed to postpone some events to keep athletes safe (the women’s 10,000m, men’s 5,000m and race walk events) the second day of the heptathlon went ahead as planned on June 27. Requests from the athletes and their representatives to reschedule the date were denied.
Brooks, a Texas native and eight-time all-American, was in second place after the first day of competition. When temperatures soared on June 27, she began to suffer from the heat, eventually collapsing and being taken to hospital by ambulance.
Athletes who compete at USATF meets must sign a liability waiver. Brooks’s legal team initially filed a motion Nov. 29 requesting “declaratory and injunctive relief regarding unenforceability of alleged USA Track & Field Waiver and Release of Liability,” in the hopes that the waiver would be set aside, and that they will be able to pursue a direct lawsuit against USATF.
Bill Brock, Brooks’s attorney, explained in a statement that: “USATF’s effort to shed its duty to protect the health and safety of its own athletes competing in the U.S. Olympic trials is unconscionable. We are asking the court to find that USATF can be required by its athletes to hold reasonably safe Olympic trials and national championships and that USATF can be sued by its member athletes for negligence if USATF fails to conduct these events safely.”
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Being an advocate and voice for change is not new for Brooks, now 27, who is a University of Arkansas graduate with a master’s degree in communications and a minor in legal studies. She wrote her master’s project in 2018 about athletes creating change: ” I wrote about Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick and about teaching young kids about athletes protesting,” Brooks said in an interview with World Athletics.
When the 2021 Olympic trials incident occurred, Brooks shared a message to USATF on social media, asking them to do better, “Not only for myself, but for all of the athletes at the trials. It’s a shame my situation had to happen for the meet to finally be postponed,” she wrote. “Hurts like hell. Not because I didn’t make the team, but bc I wasn’t able to finish to even find out.”
“I’ve got some new, fresh scars on my back, but I’ll be back, the athlete shared. “Better, stronger, faster.”