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Mistake robs Gatlin of outright record

18 May 2006

IT TOOK less than ten seconds to run but five days to admit that it had all been a terrible mistake. Accustomed as it is to wiping out records after the discovery of the use of drugs, the IAAF is not so used to the position that it found itself in yesterday — having to cancel a world record because officials got it wrong.

It was not just any world record, either. It was the men’s 100 metres mark, the most celebrated in track and field. When Justin Gatlin, the world and Olympic champion, from the United States, crossed the finish line in Doha last Friday, at an IAAF Super Grand Prix meeting, he was given a time of 9.76sec. The athlete may not have jumped the gun, but hasty officials did.

Instead of following the rulebook, and rounding up the time to the nearest hundredth, they rounded it down. Thus Gatlin, who, according to the timing system, ran 9.766sec, should have been credited with 9.77. Any time between, and including, 9.761 and 9.770 should be recorded as 9.77 and thus Gatlin lost sole ownership of the record, while Asafa Powell gained a share of it.

“It motivates me to go out there and run even faster,” Gatlin said on being told the news after a training session in Durham, North Carolina. “I was very upset this morning but that anger turned to motivation. I want to be the first man to run 9.7 twice. When I broke the world record my plan was to break the world record again, so nothing has changed.”

Gatlin and Powell, the Commonwealth champion from Jamaica, who ran 9.77 in Athens last year, are scheduled to meet in Gateshead on June 11. “It makes it very interesting for the rest of the season because they are identical now,” Nick Davies, the IAAF’s spokesman, said, finding what positive spin he could from what he admitted was a serious blunder.

Full responsibility has been taken by Tissot Timing, which provided the system, but whether the Swiss company is to blame is a moot point. Under the sport’s international laws, the chief photo-finish judge is responsible for the functioning of the system and, together with two assistants, for ensuring that the results are entered correctly into the competition system.

It is understood that a local official acted as chief photofinish judge. Qatar is a relative newcomer to hosting IAAF meetings and organisers may have assigned somebody who was not up to the job. That all the times in the race are out suggests equipment error, but Tissot said in a statement: “The IAAF rounding rule, to be initiated manually on the timing system, had not been activated as instructed.”

Maria Ahnebrink, a company spokesperson, said: “Tissot Timing regrets this incident and apologises.” However, Davies noted: “This is not a problem of timing but of reading the time.” The IAAF is to ask Doha officials for “a detailed report”.

Only one previous similar incident comes to mind. Daley Thompson missed Jurgen Hingsen’s decathlon world record by one point at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Two years later, study of the photo finish from the 110 metres hurdles showed Thompson’s time at 14.33sec, not 14.34, giving him a share of the record.

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