Farcical error has Olympic hopefuls fuming

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The Independent Online

The organisers of the World Triathlon championships here were forced to take the extraordinary step of apologising to competitors after a monumental mix-up reduced yesterday's race to farce.

Officials from the International Triathlon Union were forced to take action after it was revealed that the course had been measured incorrectly. It is the sport's last major event before its Olympic debut in Sydney.

Canada's Carol Montgomery lodged a protest after finishing second in the women's race when it was discovered that the concluding 10-kilometre run was less than 8km long. However, the ITU's executive board dismissed her appeal.

Montgomery stormed home to finish just seven seconds behind Australia's Nicole Hackett after completing three-and-a-half circuits of the running course. But the Canadian became suspicious when she saw that her time for the run was 25min 21sec, a time that would have smashed the men's 10,000m track world record.

To avoid another protest, particularly as a number of countries, including the host nation, were using the event as their official Olympic trial, the organisers decided that the final leg in the men's race would be run over four-and-a-half laps. However, some competitors, including Australia's Chris McCormack, complained that they were not told of the last-minute change.

Believing he was on the last lap, McCormack sprinted to the line after three-and-a-half laps to cross in fifth place and guarantee himself a place in Australia's three-man team for Sydney, only to learn that he had another lap to run. Exhausted by his dash to the line, McCormack weakened to finish 15th, which almost certainly cost him a chance of Olympic selection.

Olivier Marceau of France went on to win the men's race in 1:51:40.8, ahead of Australia's Peter Robertson and Craig Walton. Hackett took out the women's race in 1:54:43.3 ahead of Montgomery and Michellie Jones of Australia.