A Case Of Misfortune And Opportunity For Roisin Willis

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - Roisin Willis' only goal this weekend inside the Gately Indoor Track Center was to hit the U.S. Olympic Trials Standard for 800 meters. 

In truth, the Stevens Point (WI) High School junior has been vying for that number all season, really for the last year even.

Only 11 American women, including two high schoolers -- Juliette Whittaker and Sophia Gorriaran -- have secured a mark that fast indoors in 2021. Only 32 women will ultimately have the chance to run in the 800m at the U.S. Olympic Trials, leaving urgency for those who qualify to run fas fast as possible under the standard. 

Willis has been close. 

She traveled to Austin, Texas, in late February and competed at the Texas Trials of Miles in an attempt to hit that mark. Flanked by a pacer and some talented runners, the effort was superb as she won the race in a new personal record of 2:03.85. However, she was off.

So she entered the CYUP Cabin Fever Invite on Saturday with that sole goal again. 

Saturday came, the race took place, and Willis came through the finish line in 2:04.64. It was an odd result, considering Willis seemed to be flying -- she was having the race of her life. 

But here's the thing. Here's the heartbreaking truth: 

An error was regrettably made by officials at the start line.

Willis may have actually ran her goal time. And because the error was noticed after the fact, and because the protest was made after USATF's in-place rule -- 30 minutes afte the publication of results -- the officials were in a bind:

The Cabin Fever Girls 800m, Heat 4

The officials did ultimately admit to error. They also expressed their deep regret. 

"In our review of the starting procedures used for that particular race, we recognize a mistake was made.  We did set up and run this 800 meter race in lanes.  The starting line should have been the white/red for a two-turn stagger.  We used the white/green line for a one-turn stagger." 

Unfortunately, the officials also could do nothing to amend that mistake. 

"Regrettably, there is nothing we can do at this time."

Ultimately, Willis ended up running longer than the 800 meter distance. While there's some slight conjecture on just how long she ran extra, a possible close-to estimate was made: 2:02.34. 

The officials, however, had been running the race correctly at the venue all year. 

"For the record, all of the previous 800 races were run properly using the double waterfall and the correct start lines/waterfalls for a two-turn stagger," the statement read. 

Willis ultimately wasn't the only athlete to have run overdistance. 

Alexandra Brent, Megan Garrett, Katrina Schlenker and Kylie Finger also ran the same race. 

Ultimately, the outcome was one of those outlier moments you almost never see happen -- a mistake that cost an athlete a potential milestone moment. 

Willis, however, will have other opportunities as the outdoor season approaches. The race on Saturday was just her third out right 800 meter race of the 2021 season. Earlier in the year, she ran a U.S. No. 2 all-time performance of 2:41.53 in the 1K at the same venue. 

In February, she was part of a contigent -- including Whittaker, Gorriaran and Bailey Goggans -- that set a new World U20 all-time lead in the 4x800. And in January, Willis also ran the No. 5 ranked 600m race in history at 1:27.19.


* MileSplit Illinois editor Tony Jones and MileSplit USA editor Cory Mull contributed to this story