Red faces all round on a weekend of blunders

Mike Rowbottom reports on two events that were reduced to a farce
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The Independent Online
The 20-kilometre walk, which provided a spectacle of mismanagement which verged on the comic at the last world championships, yesterday gave the International Amateur Athletic Federation further cause for embarrassment.

Unfortunately for the world governing body, the latest difficulties in this accident-prone event coincided with a grovelling apology from the competition director for the fact that Saturday's women's marathon was 400 metres short of the proper distance.

Daniel Garcia, of Mexico, who shared the lead with Michele Didoni, of Italy, as the walkers approached the stadium, was allowed to continue for nearly five minutes after being disqualified. He had received a third caution for lifting - that is, not having one foot in contact with the ground at all times - but he was only 20 seconds away from the track when an official stepped out to display the red warning disc.

The effect on Garcia could not have been more traumatic had Long John Silver hopped into the road and offered him the Black Spot. He threw up his hands in disbelief, clutched his head in his hands, took off his cap and subsided to the pavement. The Italian, divinely disencumbered, turned into the stadium with a widening smile.

What made matters worse for Garcia, no doubt, was the fact that he had been among the seven 20km walkers disqualified at the last world championships in Stuttgart, where the track and entrance to the stadium became dotted with distraught figures as the red cards were flourished.

Didoni, too, was on his knees at the finish, before breaking down in tears as his team officials congratulated him. But his Italian colleague Giovanni De Benedictis, who crossed the line third, suffered as cruelly as Garcia when he was disqualified retrospectively, thus elevating Yevgeniy Misyula, of Belarus. "I am sorry for the Italian boy," Misyula said. "But that's the walking life.''

The validity of the event was called further into question by an unofficial survey conducted by the Eurosport television channel, which indicated that all 10 of the leading finishers had erred sufficiently from the guidelines to merit disqualification.

Meanwhile, Carl-Gustav Tollemar, the competition director for the women's marathon, spoke of his shame after discovering that the marathon field had run only three, rather than the required four laps of the track before setting out on to the course.

Tollemar, the only official who appeared to know how long the race should be, was in the lead car as the runners left the stadium and did not realise that an error had been made until he was watching a video recording of the race later that evening.

"Things happened that should not have happened," Tollemar said. "It was my fault and nobody else's. I am ashamed. "As a result of the discovery, the national record set by the silver medallist, Anuta Catuna, of Romania, was invalidated, as were four other personal bests, including those by the winner, Manuela Machado, of Portugal, and Britain's Trudie Thomson, who thought she had run 62 seconds faster than before.