Gatlin Loses World Record

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006

For five days, Justin Gatlin celebrated his victory in the 100 meters in Doha, Qatar, where he received the title of "World's Fastest Man" after appearing to have lowered the world record by a hundredth of a second last Friday.

But Gatlin did not set a new world record after all, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced yesterday after discovering an error in the results.

The IAAF said it learned late Tuesday that Gatlin's time of 9.766 was incorrectly rounded down to 9.76 when it should have been rounded up to 9.77. That merely ties the world-best time held by Jamaican Asafa Powell, who set the record last June.

"It is very disappointing to me that it has taken five days to determine the official time of a race with this significance," Gatlin, 24, said in a statement. "I remain confident that I am the World's Fastest Man and I look forward to proving it once again. My parents raised me to be a good sport, but I don't want to share the world record."

The IAAF blamed the mistake on Tissot Timing, which worked the event at the behest of the Doha organizers. The Swiss-based company described the mistake as a computer error caused when a human failed to turn on the prescribed rounding system. "The IAAF rounding rule, to be initiated manually on the timing system, had not been activated as instructed," Tissot said in a statement.

Tissot, which provides timing for cycling events and other track and field competitions, said the error was discovered during a routine examination of the results, but the company did not explain the delay in reporting it.

"Someone [made] a mistake," IAAF acting general secretary Pierre Weiss said. "Who that someone is I prefer not to know because I would kill him. . . . Our duty is just to see the file, study the file and make a decision."

Weiss said the IAAF was notified of the error Tuesday evening. Officials met early yesterday to discuss the information provided by Tissot and concluded that the world record had not been broken. Weiss said the IAAF rounding rule would have required that any time above 9.760 be rounded up to 9.77.

Scoring errors discovered after sporting competitions are not uncommon, but few affect a result as significantly as this one. Some sports -- including all major U.S. professional sports -- never change results after the fact. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the international gymnastics federation announced that a scoring error deprived the third-place South Korean of a gold medal. The federation suspended three judges, but did not take away the gold medal from American Paul Hamm or change the results.

The results in several lower-profile figure skating competitions have been changed, however, to correct errors from an electronic scoring system that was adopted after the 2002 Winter Games.

Weiss said the IAAF encounters timing errors about once a year and announces the appropriate adjustments. Usually, however, the corrections do not affect the outcomes of races nor do they substantially affect the finishing time, such as when they occur in the 5,000 or 10,000.

"This is the first time we've had such a mistake in so big a result," Weiss said.

Gatlin's agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, said yesterday afternoon that Gatlin was at home in Raleigh, N.C., trying to digest the news. The financial consequence for Gatlin could be significant, though Nehemiah said no bonus offers had formally been withdrawn. Gatlin had been promised $30,000 from Doha organizers and $100,000 from the IAAF.

"He's disappointed," Nehemiah said. "We all are. But Justin did what he was supposed to do. . . . He performed at the highest level. . . . He's still the co-world record holder. It would be worse if he wasn't even a co-world record holder.

"The timing people really need to have their act together and understand the seriousness of what these athletes are trying to accomplish . . . the timing of it was late, but more importantly, it calls into question [the timing system] going forward. When anyone legitimately runs a 9.76, this casts doubt on if, in fact, the timing is reliable, and that's unfair to whoever it might be."

The IAAF, which employs Seiko at the world championships, does not require meet organizers to use a particular company, Weiss said.

There also had been confusion about the wind reading shortly after the race. The IAAF had reported the race took place with the maximum allowable wind of 2.0 meters per second, but later corrected that figure, reporting it as 1.7.

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