Willamette Law's John Kern JD/MM’94 goes head-to-head with International Olympic Committee

by Sarah Carlson,

  • John B. Kern
    Willamette University College of Law' Alumnus John B. Kern JD/MM'94

Carvin Nkanata, a dual citizen of the United States and Kenya, qualified for the Kenyan track and field team going to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and arrived there prior to his race. However, on August 8, he couldn't produce a Kenyan passport for Olympic officials and was deemed ineligible, so he was sent back to his training home in Florida.

When Nkanata approached Willamette Law and Atkinson Graduate School of Management alumnus John B. Kern JD/MM'94 with his case to run in the games, Kern took on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to secure the runner's return to Brazil in a matter of days. Nkanata hired Kern on August 11, and his 200-meter dash was on August 16.

Kern sought a solution through Kenyan embassies in the US and Brazil to no avail. He then filed an emergency claim against the IOC in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and scheduled a hearing for the following day.

We ended up losing the CAS case, but in the process, we opened the door to negotiate his return,” Kern said. “First, we confirmed an agreement with the IOC, conditioned on other approvals. Next, we came to terms with the NOCK (National Olympic Committee of Kenya).”

Although there was no confirmation yet of a deal with the International Association of Athletics Federations, the group overseeing track and field competitions, Kern arranged a grant from a Charleston company for Nkanata's flight. With that, the athlete flew back to Rio de Janeiro, leaving Florida around 6 p.m. on August 15. When he arrived at 5:50 a.m. the next day, his race day, he found that he was approved to run.

We received final approval, and Carvin parked his bags at the stadium less than an hour before his event,” Kern said. “Final word came just 27 minutes before his race, the eighth of 10 qualifying heats.”

Nkanata did not advance to the semifinals, Kern said, but he'll always be an Olympian, an opportunity that may not have been possible without the help of the Willamette-trained sports lawyer.

About Willamette University College of Law

Opened in 1883, Willamette University College of Law is the first law school in the Pacific Northwest. The college has a long tradition at the forefront of legal education and is committed to the advancement of knowledge through excellent teaching, scholarship, mentoring and experience. Leading faculty, thriving externship and clinical law programs, ample practical skills courses, and a proactive career placement office prepare Willamette law students for today's legal job market. According to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association, Willamette ranks first in the Pacific Northwest for job placement for full-time, long-term, JD-preferred/JD-required jobs for the class of 2014 and first in Oregon for the classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Located across the street from the state capitol complex and the Oregon Supreme Court in downtown Salem, the college specializes in law and government, law and business, and dispute resolution.