-- The story Friday night at the USA Track and Field Championships was not who finished races but who failed to start, or started improperly. The result was a night of unexpected voids in the starting blocks and plenty of accompanying chaos.
Justin Gatlin, the Olympic champion in the 100 meters, advanced to the semifinals despite never running his preliminary heat. He was disqualified for false starting, then reinstated after he appealed the ruling -- and after Maurice Greene, the 2000 Olympic champion in the event, excoriated the official starter for not doing his job properly.
The Olympic silver medal winner in the 200, Bernard Williams, was also disqualified for a false start in his heat. His appeal was denied.
Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones never even made it into the blocks. Montgomery, entered in the 100, withdrew from the meet without competing, citing the distraction of the drug charges against him from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Jones, meantime, left the track moments before her first-round heat in the 100 because of a sore quadriceps. She also withdrew from the 200.
Montgomery might have walked out of his last sanctioned track meet. The former world record holder in the 100 will not compete again until after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decides the U.S. case against him, according to his agent Charlie Wells. Wells said he hoped for a decision by mid-July. He faces a possible lifetime ban.
"He can't concentrate on what he's doing right now," Wells said. "Because it's on his mind, it's affected his ability to perform well."
Jones scratched from a round in which 18 of 19 runners who competed advanced. The five-time Olympic medal winner, who has been a subject of a USADA investigation but has not been charged, suffered a slight quadriceps injury last Friday, her attorney Rich Nichols said. He said she warmed up well here but withdrew after attempting a couple of strides on the track.
Jones has not performed well since her name became entangled with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative affair. She finished fourth in the 100 at the Olympic trials last year, failing to make the Olympic team in that event. She then withdrew from the 200.
Montgomery likewise has performed poorly since allegations surfaced last year connecting him to the BALCO scandal. His best time in the 100 this year was just 10.14 seconds, the 12th-best qualifying time here.
"He's going to wait until a decision comes out," Wells said. "I hope [it comes in July] so we can get on and move on."
Gatlin nearly had to move on to the 200, an event in which he won an Olympic bronze medal last summer. Called for the second false start in his heat, Gatlin was automatically disqualified.
But Gatlin protested, saying the athlete next to him in lane 5 -- Mark Jelks -- flinched, and that caused him to jump early. After reviewing tapes of the race, meet referee Ed Gorman agreed and used his discretion to advance Gatlin to the semifinal round.
"I reacted to another athlete in the field," Gatlin said in a statement. "I guess that wasn't called and I was off with the first athlete in the blocks."
Williams also appealed, but his false start was ruled a clear violation. In any case, Greene found the circumstances of Williams's departure and Gatlin's near-departure deplorable.
"The starter, he's not any good," Greene said. "They need to change that. . . . He's holding us [in the starting blocks] for like a thousand years. He's like no other starter in the world, I will say that much. In every championship meet, people are nervous, you got adrenaline rushing, but I can't recall any time there were this many false starts."
Greene, who advanced in 10.12 seconds, said he was so disappointed with the starter he walked over to Gatlin and told him he was sorry. Meet director Rich Perelman identified the starter as Tom Hott, and described him as a veteran official. Shawn Crawford, Gatlin's training partner, posted the night's fastest time (10.10).