THE FIVE STRANGEST SPORTING DAYS IN '95

Man in blue blows away any chance of world record

H e was a corpulent man in a blue jacket. And apparently so fascinated by the long jump competition at Sestriere on 29 July that he was unable to restrain his curiosity.

As the Cuban, Ivan Pedroso, took off on a self-powered flight that ended 8.96 metres further on - a centimetre beyond the world record distance - video evidence supplied by an amateur cameraman showed the Mysterious Man in Blue turning his ample belly towards the wind gauge from around 20 centimetres away.

Unusually on what was a chill and blustery day at the high altitude venue in the Italian Alps, the following wind recorded during Pedroso's effort was within the legal limit of two metres per second. Indeed, of the 60 attempts made in the long and triple jump competitions, only four were within the limit and three of these were by Pedroso.

Every jump the Cuban made was closely attended by the uninvited guest beside the runway, even though the rules of the competition stated that no one should stand close to the wind gauge. The Italian federation (Fidal) ruled that the new mark should not be ratified because of the suspected interference by a man who, it later transpired, was one Luciano Gemello, a former pole vaulter and now a Fidal official coaching in Turin.

Italian journalists reported that he had links with Fiat, which owns Ferrari, suppliers of pounds 85,000 cars to Sestriere world-record breakers.

Gemello put a different slant on things, according to a spokesman for the IAAF, Enrico Jacomini. "The man said he was very fond of the long jump and, as Pedroso was by far the best in the field, he was very interested in his performance."

The Italian federation, however, was not convinced by Gemello's explanation. After investigating the incident, they banned Gemello for life and suspended the two judges at the meeting, Paolo Gugliemi and Denis Morino, for life.

"We do not know if there was anyone behind this," Gianni Gola, the Fidal president, said. "Gemello is an adult so I believe he could also have acted of his own volition."

Whatever the case, the Italian federation was anxious to be seen to be acting correctly. It could not contemplate a repeat of the bad publicity stemming from the incident at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, when Italian officials mismeasured a long jump by the home jumper Gianni Evangelisti in order to promote him to the bronze medal position, and later attempted to cover up their actions.

It was all good news for Mike Powell, the American who set the world record of 8.95m at the 1991 World Championships. Although the IAAF Council has yet to rule on the Italian Federation's report - due to a delay in its presentation - the matter is officially regarded as being no more than a formality.

It was not good news for the Cuban federation, whose president, Alberto Juantorena, the double Olympic champion, was furious at the refusal to ratify Pedroso's record. "It's an outrage," he said. "Everything is valid."

At the World Championships in Gothenburg in August, Juantorena, whose full name is Alberto Juantorena Danger, bumped into some Italian officials in a hotel lobby. He told them that his boy was going to win the world title anyway, and that they could stick their world record up the place where long jumpers land.

Pedroso rose to the occasion, taking the gold in 8.70m, and promptly announced that he intended to take the world record to beyond nine metres. But he won't be getting his free Ferrari.

MIKE ROWBOTTOM

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