Athletics: `Robbed' May is ready to retire

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The Independent Online
FIONA MAY, the British-born Italian long jumper, revealed yesterday that she was "90 percent" sure of quitting the sport at the end of the season after losing out on a World Championship gold medal through a controversial ruling.

May was distraught after winding up with the silver on Monday night when Niurka Montalvo, of Spain, surpassed her with the next-to-last leap of the competition. Italy quickly protested, contending Montalvo had gone past the take-off line, but a six-member Jury of Appeals let the jump stand. Replays showed Montalvo's shoe was right on the edge of the foul line.

"It's 90 per cent [certain] that I'm retired," the 29-year-old May said. "I have to reflect on a lot of things. This broke my heart."

The 1995 world champion and 1996 Olympic silver medallist said she has seen the replay numerous times and thought there should be no question about the call. "I was sure they'd accept the protest," she said. "There was never a doubt in my mind. But justice never arrived."

Spanish and Italian papers were split over the decision.

"A questionable leap to gold," read a front-page headline in the Barcelona daily El Periodico on Tuesday, while the headlines in Italy mirrored May's anger.

"Judges tear away the gold from Fiona May," said Il Giornale, while Corriere dello Sport said, "Fiona robbed of gold."

May said it was the second time she had been robbed in her career. At the 1997 World Championships in Athens, Greece, her final leap was ruled a foul, leaving her with the bronze. "Twice in two years. It's not possible," she said, shaking her head. "One time, maybe you can understand. But the second time it's just too hard to take. I've worked hard, I've made a lot of sacrifices. And this is the reward?"

Montalvo, who finished second to May at the 1995 World Championships, criticised the Italian's reaction. "I don't understand her attitude," the gold medallist said. "That's a very unsportsmanlike way to take it. I'm happy with my medal and she should be happy with hers."

May's husband and coach, Gianni Iapichino, said May will make a final choice about her future in about a month, but would meet her commitments to two Italian meetings and the Italian club championships next month.

"After that, and after reflection, she will decide whether to remain in this [sport] or not," said Iapichino, who holds the Italian record in the pole vault. "Athletics is no longer credible. It's not just this episode, but other episodes in recent years."

May added: "This is another difficult decision. I've had a lot of those, like becoming Italian. Now I have to decide if it's worth it killing myself for another year for the Olympics, with this sport the way it is."

May began competing for Italy in 1994, and the next year became the country's first female world champion in track and field. She is Italy's most popular female athlete.

In addition to her four medals from Olympics and World Championships, May's resume includes the 1997 world indoor and 1988 world junior titles. She also still owns the best marks in the long jump and triple jump by a British-born woman. But this blow seems destined to be her lasting memory.

"This leaves a sour taste," she said. "There has to be one rule, and you have to stick to the rule. Athletics is about facts, times and measurements, not human error, and we had human error here. I still know I'm the best in the world."