Craig Leon, a 2003 graduate of Van Wert High School, speaks to students Van Wert Middle School students in this file photo dated May 14, 2012. Through an arbitrator, Leon was awarded a place on the US National team competing at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. (DHI Media file photo)
Craig Leon, a 2003 graduate of Van Wert High School, speaks to students Van Wert Middle School students in this file photo dated May 14, 2012. Through an arbitrator, Leon was awarded a place on the US National team competing at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. (DHI Media file photo)
EUGENE, Ore. - In the world of international track and field, there is no room for subjectivity. Winners are determined by the stopwatch or the tape measure, not by judges.

Due to what amounts to a clerical error, however, Van Wert native Craig Leon had to rely on the legal system to secure his rightful place on the United States team competing at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.

“It’s been a wild week,” Leon said after an arbitrator ruled he would be added to the US roster, “but, from my viewpoint, the right person is on the team.”

USA Track and Field officials left Leon’s name off a roster of the nation’s fastest marathoners when the organization compiled its list of potential runners for the Pan Am games. It wasn’t until official rosters were released on July 6 that Leon learned of his omission.

“When they (the USATF officials) were putting the list together back in March, they just had missed my time,” Leon explained. “They went down the list (ordered by fastest times) and contacted runners to see if they were interested in this race. It wasn’t until the rosters were released that I realized a slower runner was added to the team.”

Upon learning of the rosters, Leon reacted quickly, reaching out to USATF officials to seek clarification.

“I had a phone conversation with them on Tuesday morning, and they were pretty forthright in admitted that a mistake was made, but they weren’t going to fix it,” Leon explained. “It was too late to do anything.”

After years of training, Leon wasn’t about to let someone else’s mistake sabotage his dream of running for his country.

“Our sport is very black-and-white; there is no judgement. You are either faster or you are not, you either throw farther or you don’t, you either jump higher or farther, or you don’t; there is no ‘who’s the best…,’ you know where you rank,” Leon added. “It was a bit frustrating through this whole process to be caught up in technicalities and procedure rather than the very black-and-white ‘who are the two fastest athletes that want to go?’

“Tuesday afternoon (July 7) I contacted some lawyers, and I had a legal team all of a sudden,” Leon said. “The rest has just been a legal back-and-forth between lawyers.”

That process came to a head when an arbitrator heard Leon’s case on the evening of July 14, more than a week after he first learned of his omission from the roster.

“I sat in on a lengthy arbitration call last night, longer than what it takes me to run a marathon, and by the end of last night I was just so tired,” Leon said. “It’s not really how I envisioned making my first US team.”

Now that the legalities are behind him, Leon has a short window to prepare for the race.

“It’s not ideal,” Leon said of having so little time before the July 25 men’s marathon. “It’s not a timeline that I would willingly thrust upon myself, but being a professional runner, I’m always training. Part of the deal of being a professional runner is always being ready to race; I hope my legs and lungs will follow my heart and mind.”

Still, as his dream of representing his country comes true, Leon expects to run well.

“I run my best when I’m running for something greater than just myself,” Leon explained. “Being on the US team for the first time, I just want to be able to put together a good race and I’ll certainly give it my best effort as a thank you to the people that have helped me - not only through this whole process the last couple of weeks but all of the coaches helped me on the way to make this possible - teammates, family members.

“It’s been 18 years in the making, so I’ll certainly use all of that - I’m going to need to as I’m probably not as well-trained as I could be - I’ll need to rely on some of that extra motivation just as a thank you to so many people that have helped me out.”