June 28, 2005

Justin Gatlin Undisqualified

There was a surprising story at the U.S. Track and Field Championships this week. In the 100m preliminaries, Olympic champion Justin Gatlin was disqualified for a false start. The referee decided to put him into the semifinals anyway. Gatlin advanced to the final, and won.

On the face of it, it looks like the USATF has bent the competition rules to accomodate one of their stars. That's not something that the USATF is known for. Every year there are high-profile flame-outs at the US Track and Field trials, and some big stars end up staying home. In fact I would say that the USATF is notorious for having one of the strictest selection policies in the world: we're going to line you all up today, and the winners are on the team. Sorry, Dan O'Brien, I guess you're not good enough to make the U.S. team.

Looking at a couple of other sources, however, this might not be quite what it first seems. This article on Eurosport contains a hint of Gatlin's defense:

I reacted to another athlete in the field and I guess that (false start) was not called. I reacted to somebody else and that's all I can really say.

The Eurosport article states that the "reinstatement came after officials reviewed a computer printout, which showed there was motion in the lane next to Gatlin."

I have no idea whether this is true or not, but at least there is a basis for the decision to be overturned, under the rules. IAAF rules state:

Rule 161.2 (Starting Blocks) … the starting blocks shall be linked to an IAAF approved false start apparatus. The Starter … shall wear headphones in order to clearly hear the acoustic signal emitted when the apparatus detects a false start (i.e. when reaction time is less than 100/1000ths of a second). As soon as the Starter … hears the acoustic signal, and if the gun is fired, … there shall be a recall and the Starter shall immediately examine the reaction times on the false start apparatus in order to confirm which athlete(s) is/are responsible for the false start.
Rule 162.6 (The Start: False Start) An athlete, after assuming a full and final set position, is only allowed to commence his starting motion after the report of the gun … . If, in the judgement of the Starter …, he fails to do so, it shall be deemed a false start. It shall also be deemed a false start if, in the judgement of the Starter: … (b) an athlete after the command "on your marks" disturbs the other athletes in the race through sound or otherwise. Note: When an approved false start detection equipment is in operation (see Rule 161.2 for operational details of equipment), the evidence of this equipment shall normally be accepted as conclusive by the Starter.
Rule 162.8 (The Start: False Start) The Starter or any Recaller, who is of the opinion that the start was not a fair one, shall recall the athletes by firing a gun. Note: In practice, when one or more athletes make a false start, others are inclined to follow and, strictly speaking, any athlete who does so has also made a false start. The Starter should warn only such athlete or athletes who, in his opinion, were responsible for the false start. This may result in more than one athlete being warned. If the false start is not due to any athlete, no warnings shall be given.

So it's possible that the referee decided that one of the athletes next to Gatlin "disturbed the other athletes in the race through sound or otherwise," using the output from the false start detection equipment as evidence. That being the case, the offending athlete should have been given a false start, under rule 162.6(b); and Gatlin, having been induced to jump the gun, should not have been given a false start, under rule 162.8.

Adam Nelson

Adam Nelson and Friend

It still smells a bit fishy, Gatlin being the Olympic Champion and all; I wonder how that protest would have been treated if it came from some other schmo? But we'll never know. In the end, the USATF gets to send its Olympic champion to the World Championships, so I am sure that they are happy with the decision.

$12K in Advertising for MedivoxRx?

Following up on a previous story, Adam Nelson finished second in the shotput.

Hmmm, is that a dancing pill bottle I see?

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