An early bell and mass confusion: What went wrong at 2023 NCAA D2 track championships

Adams State senior distance runner Davonte Jett-Reynolds emptied the tank when he heard the final lap bell ring during the men’s 5,000 meters at the NCAA Division II Championships.

Jett-Reynolds was in third place and on the cusp of surpassing the runner just ahead of him. He raced down the backstretch and sprinted toward the finish line. He crossed the line in third, nearly overtaking the runner in second on the track at the CSU Pueblo ThunderBowl.

The only problem − the race wasn’t over. The runners had one final lap.

“That last 200 meters I gave everything I had. When I crossed the line, I was dipping to the line trying to beat the Colorado Christian athlete,” Jett-Reynolds recounted to USA TODAY Sports. “I’m like exhausted.”

Error during men’s 5,000 meters

The 5,000 meters is 12½ laps around the track. There is a lap counter for athletes, coaches and spectators to keep track of the number of laps remaining in the race.

The first few laps were completed without any hiccups, but a miscalculation occurred midway through the race that manifested itself at the conclusion of the event.

“When it should’ve went eight, and it’s a digital indicator at the finish line, they skipped eight and went to seven (laps). The visual of the lap counter went from nine to seven,” Adams State track and field head coach Damon Martin told USA TODAY Sports. “They skipped eight.”

At the NCAA Division II Championships, an error occurred during the men's 5,000 meters.
At the NCAA Division II Championships, an error occurred during the men's 5,000 meters.

The runners kept running when the gaffe occurred unaware that the accident would come back to mar the race, especially for Jett-Reynolds.

Final lap bell: What went wrong

When runners have one lap remaining in long distance races in track and field, an official rings a bell as an indicator that there is one lap to go.

An official rung the bell during the men’s 5,000, but the bell sounded one lap too early because the lap counter was wrong.

“When he rang the bell, everybody took off sprinting,” Martin said.

Jett-Reynolds is visually impaired. He is completely blind in his left eye and 20% blind in his right eye. He relies on the bell because he is visually compromised and due to the lap counter traditionally located inside of the track to his left.

When the bell sounded, Jett-Reynolds gave it everything he had for what he thought would be the last lap. He crossed the finish line in third place and stopped.

“The officials are like, ‘You have one lap.’ But they are on my left side and I’m blind and they are yelling at me. I thought they were talking to the other kid that I had lapped,” Jett-Reynolds recalled. “In my mind, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, keep running because you definitely did not beat me.’”

Jett-Reynolds would soon find out that the officials were speaking to him, however, by then it was too little too late.

The Adams State men's track and field team finished third in the NCAA Division II national championships.
The Adams State men's track and field team finished third in the NCAA Division II national championships.

Physically exhausted from what he thought was the entire race and with several runners already passed, Jett-Reynolds resumed the race and ran the final lap in 2 minutes and 53 seconds, more than a minute and a half slower than each of his previous lap splits. A total of 15 runners surpassed him and he finished in 18th place.

“I’m broken hearted for Davonte. He was a senior. He ran the absolute best race of his life. He laid it all out there. I feel like he was unfairly impacted by a sequence of events by the officials,” Martin said. “I left feeling very unfulfilled. I felt like he was wronged.”

The result of the race also impacted the overall team score. Jett-Reynolds would’ve earned six points for Adams State (located in Alamosa, Colorado) if he placed third in the 5,000. Adams State finished third overall in team scoring with 44 points, just three points behind West Texas A&M, second at the DII championships with 47 points.

Martin, who has won 41 national titles in his career, protested the result of the men’s 5,000 meters to no avail.

“It was kind of confusing. I didn’t know what was going on out there,” Adams State junior Awet Beraki, who won the men’s 5,000, told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m pretty sure everybody was confused.”

NCAA says race outcome is 'regrettable'

The NCAA national office admitted there was an error in the men’s 5,000-meter final in a statement obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

“During the men’s 5000-meter final at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday, the bell, signifying the last lap of the race, was mistakenly rang a lap too early. After the track and field officials realized the error, they attempted to inform the runners that they had another lap remaining. At the conclusion of the race, Adams State filed a protest. By rule, a minimum of two referees must review the protest and make a final decision.

“While the unfortunate lap-counting mistake caused confusion, the referees determined, since the full 5,000 meters were completed by all participants remaining in the race at the time the bell rang and the distance race could not be run again, the results would stand as completed.

“This scenario is regrettable for all involved but resulted in the fairest outcome.”

Adams State coach's message to his team

Martin imparted a message to Jett-Reynolds and his Adams State track and field team amid the unfortunate outcome.

“The one thing I told the boys at the end is life is sometimes not fair. But the true people that count the most are the people that know you the best and love you the most. Your teammates and your families, they know how hard you ran and what effort you gave to the university,” Martin said. “The greatest respect that you can have from anyone are those people that know you best. I guess we have to rely on that and realize it was an error.”

As for Jett-Reynolds, the result of the race isn’t going to discourage him from running. He plans to run post college and is in the process of submitting paperwork for the Paralympics.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NCAA D2 track championships results: What went wrong in men’s 5,000