Winter Olympics / Speed Skating: Britain's O'Reilly appeal: Rerun demanded

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S Olympic team managers were waiting to hear last night whether their formal protests had been successful in getting Wilf O'Reilly reinstated in the 500 metres short-track speed skating.

O'Reilly, who has been blighted by bad luck at the last two Olympics, was eliminated in the heats of the 500m event after being refused permission to change a broken skate at the start of his race.

The British Olympic Association yesterday drafted a written protest to the International Skating Union's short track technical delegate, Ottavio Cinquanta, but received no immediate response.

But while that was going on, remarkable efforts were being made to make sure that O'Reilly would be able to take the ice should he be reinstated. The result of the start incident meant that the 29-year-old had ruined all three pairs of skates he had taken to Lillehammer.

His manager, Bob Copeman, watching events on television, contacted skate-maker Mike Allen to ask for his help. Allen left his Nottingham home at 11pm on Thursday night, and drove 60 miles to his factory in Halesowen where he tooled a new set of blades. They were then driven to Heathrow Airport at 4am, and flown out yesterday morning.

Copeman had strong views about O'Reilly's disqualification. 'It was mind-boggling,' he said. 'It's like asking a tennis player to play a match with 10 strings missing from his racket'.

The sport's feldgling Olympic existence could be under threat already. Stung by the constant stream of controversy short track has engendered at these Games, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, has called for a report. The sport was a demonstration event in 1988, and only gained full Olympic acceptance at Albertville two years ago.

But the competition at Lillehammer has been as notable for its disqualifications and arguments as for its races. One silver medallist even stormed off the podium, throwing her bouquet of flowers to the ice in disgust, after her protest against the gold medallist was overruled. The entire Chinese women's relay team was disqualified, 20 minutes after they had 'won' the silver the medal, and Britain's Nicky Gooch was also eliminated after finishing second in the 1,000m.