|Sunday, August 24
Sprinter disqualified for controversial false start
SAINT-DENIS, France -- Jon Drummond sprawled on the track, bellowing at race officials who had just red-carded him for a false start. His jaw clenched, he refused to let the 100 meters resume.
Chaos ensued Sunday at the World Championships.
There were long delays in completing the quarterfinal heats. The huge crowd turned rowdy. Drummond weeped on the grass of an adjacent practice track, then sprawled out in the steeplechase pit.
The drama was so intense, and the acrimony between runners and race officials so raw, that Kelli White's victory in the women's 100 an hour later seemed almost an afterthought.
With Olympic champion Marion Jones doing TV commentary on the race, White ran away from the field to win in 10.85 seconds. Jones, who gave birth in late June, hopes to return for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Drummond's angry protest highlighted a day on which new international rules governing false starts were ridiculed by male and female sprinters.
Previously, a runner was disqualified only after his or her second false start in a race. Now, the field is allowed one false start. After that, anyone who jumps the gun is out of the race.
The craziness began when Jamaica's Dwight Thomas was called for a false start. Then both Drummond and Jamaica's Asafa Powell were called for leaving their blocks too early.
TV replays were inconclusive, but the official meet computer showed Drummond indeed had left the blocks too early. Drummond's foot may have flinched, which could have told the computer he had left the blocks.
Drummond lay on his back on the track for several minutes, yelling, "I did not move, I did not move," at a race official who stood over him with a red card. He stood up, walked around, then flopped to the track again.
Finally, he arose and ripped off his racing top as he walked away. Then he turned around and fought back tears as he marched to the starting line, where he settled into the blocks.
Thirteen minutes after the false start was called, all the runners in the heat were ordered off the track. Drummond blew kisses to the crowd.
The remaining quarterfinal heats were run, then the runners from Drummond's heat were called back to the start. But, with Drummond sobbing next door at the practice track, the crowd would not let the race resume.
Powell returned to his lane and began warming up. Then a course official confirmed that he, too, had been disqualified and made him leave.
Each time the six remaining runners got into their blocks, spectators at the Stade de France booed and whistled. It took seven attempts before the heat finally took place, 45 minutes after Drummond's disqualification.
Patrick Johnson of Australia, who held the world's fastest time this season of 9.93, finished last and didn't qualify for the semifinals.
"I flinched, the guy next to me flinched and another guy flinched. I didn't understand the rule to mean that a flinch is a false start," Drummond said in a statement released through USA Track and Field.
"I protested because this is my livelihood. At this point in my career, for me to lose an opportunity to pursue a dream, it crushes me. I walked away from what I had worked for the whole year."
It was reminiscent of the men's 100 final at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where Britain's Linford Christie refused to leave the track after being disqualified.
Ironically, the winner of Drummond's disputed heat was Ato Boldon, who also was in that 1996 Olympic final. He said Sunday's chaos was "way worse" than the Atlanta situation and blamed it on the International Association of Athletics Federations for its new false start rule.
"We told them this rule was going to do this -- someone was going to get thrown out and ruin the World Championships. That's exactly what they're doing," said Boldon, a friend and training partner of Drummond's.
"It's a wrong call. When the machine makes a wrong call, it's all over -- 100,000 pairs of eyes could see, obviously, it was a wrong call."
World-record holder Tim Montgomery won his heat before the controversy began. Three-time defending world champion Maurice Greene ran immediately after it. Both were timed in 10.04 seconds, and advanced to Monday's semifinals. The final is set for Monday night.
It was not the first taste of controversy for Drummond.
As part of the victorious U.S. 400-meter relay team at the Sydney Olympics that also included Greene, he preened and flexed his muscles during a victory lap. The foursome clowned on the victory stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner," a display that some U.S. teammates found offensive.
At the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Drummond ran his opening leg of the 400 relay with an Afro comb tucked in his sock.
"He's still crying. We're making him drink water because he's becoming dehydrated," manager Emmanuel Hudson said about two hours after Sunday's race. "If they don't change the rule, it's going to happen again."
In other finals Sunday, Kenenisa Bekele passed compatriot Haile Gebrselassie on the final lap to lead a 1-2-3 Ethiopian sweep of the men's 10,000. Gebrselassie, a four-time 10,000 world champion, was second.
Russia's Yelena Nikolayeva won the women's 20-kilometer walk and Carolina Kluft of Sweden won the heptathlon.