Sally Pearson disqualified from gold medal
By Jessica Halloran
October 08, 2010 6:49AM
AUSTRALIAN athletics greats have spoken out after sprinter Sally Pearson was stripped of her Commonwealth Games gold medal following an English team protest overnight.
A devastated Pearson broke down upon hearing the news on a farcical night at the Nehru Stadium where she was almost awarded the 100m gold medal.
Pearson crossed the line first ahead of Nigeria's Osayemi Oludamola (11.32) and Natasha Mayers of St Vincent and the Grenadines (11.37), with England's Katherine Endacott fourth.
But an English team protest against Pearson's false start was uphelp. The Australian team lodged a counter-appeal but it was rejected after lengthy, four-hour deliberations.
Pearson had completed her victory lap and was preparing for the medal ceremony when she was told of the protest. After a nervous wait and a series of conflicting communications from officials, she was eventually disqualified.
Due to Pearson's disqualification, the gold medal will go to Oludamola.
Endacott moved up to the bronze medal upon Pearson's disqualification.
Australian athletics greats today expressed their disbelief at the ruling.
"The circumstances – they let her run the race, she won the race, they let her do the victory lap, " said Jane Flemming, heptathlete and two-time Olympian.
"Let’s just hope … that in three days time – and she is hot, hot, hot, in the hurdles (her pet event) and something dramatic would have to happen for her not to win that. These things happen in Games."
Olympic 400m champion Cathy Freeman said she understood Pearson's heartbreak.
"We saw her press conference earlier – poor thing – it’s just terrible and something you can never prepare for. But she will get over it. You don’t prepare for these circumstances because you are always preparing for success. She will get over it, she has to.
"On the rule change for breaking which has been criticised by others. I was always one of those athletes that just accepted the rules. You have to be flexible and just work with the rules and get on with it. Even though she’s without the gold medal, undoubtedly she’s the best (on the track). She will learn from this."
The drama-filled night was made worse by conflicting communications from officials.
In the 30 minutes the English team was given to lodge an appeal, Pearson was instructed by officials to line up for the medal ceremony.
Pearson was in the stadium hall waiting to walk out to the medal ceremony – the Australian flag was already laid out waiting to be raised - when she heard that a protest had been lodged against her.
Pearson was then subjected to a four-hour wait, before finally being told she'd been disqualified for a false start.
The 24 year old was floored by the way that she was handled.
“To do the victory lap everything, ok, and then be told; ‘Oh no you can’t have your medal now’ it’s horrible,” Pearson said. “But I have to deal with it because that’s just the way sport is, hey.”
Pearson said she left in the dark throughout the protest process.
“I didn’t know anything was going on. I was told that I was in the clear,” Pearson said.
“I was walking out to do my medal ceremony and they called us back and said there were still protests going on.
"No one could tell me what it was about. (Or) who it was against. That’s probably been the most disappointing thing because I still thought I was alright.
“I was getting told all these different stories and I was not ever once told the truth. Never once told what was going on and I don’t think that is fair. I am in this sport as a competitor and as an athlete just like anyone else.
“This is our career, this is our job. This is what we train for. To run the race."
The drama began when Pearson and English runner Laura Turner were involved in a false start in the first attempt to get the race underway.
Turner was disqualified immediately, although a check of electronic data showed Pearson also jumped the gun.
Pearson, fearing she was about to be disqualified, held her head in dismay, but electronic sensor pads on the starting blocks showed Turner broke first.
Readings from the sensors showed Turner reacted to the gun in 0.070sec, when the margin for error is 0.001.
Pearson reacted in 0.071, meaning that technically, she also false-started.
Confusingly, Turner was still allowed to run in the final once the field had been recalled, although she came last.
Immediately after the race, England made two appeals: one against Turner's disqualification and the other by fourth-placed Endacott against Pearson.
Australia's head coach Eric Hollingsworth delivered that bad news to Pearson.
"It's not good result for Australia," Hollingsworth said.
"The jury of appeal has done it's independent assessment around it. It boils down to the one thousandth of a second not being humanly possibly [to detect]. Two independent false starts have been credited in the race rather than Sally reacting to the English girl's false start. That's the basis of the decision.
“It's pretty disappointing. At the end of the day, she is without question the fastest girl in the Commonwealth. We went through a reasonably tough decision to put her in. To get that far and to win it and get it taken away is obviously not good.
"From the point of view of the technical data, she's under the threshold so therefore the disqualification stands. By the rule she's under the threshold, but there are a lot of extenuating circumstances around that process.
"We've already done our dash, done our appeal, and the jury have sat again and decided there's not enough to overturn the decision.
“At the end of the day, all of us saw that it could be a false start but the data said she wasn't the one that broke. That's what I think everyone needs to understand. She wasn't the one that broke even though all our TV screen and the pictures looks like she's the first one away. She wasn't. The data says that Laura Turner was the first one away."
Tears streamed down Pearson's face as she spoke about the terrible situation.
“(The result) is devastating,” Pearson said.
Pearson said it was the toughest moment of her career so far.
“I’m just numb right now," Pearson said.
“I don’t really know how to feel. Obviously devastated and very disappointed.
“It didn’t go my way and that’s what I have to deal with and I’m just going to use my emotions and my anger and my disappointment and put it into the hurdles and I hope that I can come out on top.”
Hollingsworth would not expand on how the situation would affect English-Australia relations but slammed the process.
"The English team management protested against Sally," he said. "Obviously, they had a girl who finished fourth, and Sally being disqualified gives them the chance to get a bronze medal. It's as simple as that. Once we found out the nature of the protest, we then counter-protested. The jury sat out again and here we are.
"From outside of the decision itself, the process I'm not happy with. At the end of the day, Sally should never have been standing at the medal ceremony, our flag should not have been in the middle. That's the part that I will definitely be trying to find out behind the scenes what actually occurred from that point of view.
“It's unfair for an athlete to go through that given the time we spend training, to go through that emotion and have it taken away.
"We'll look at it in the morning. Without a question, Sally's a great competitor so I don't anticipate there being anything but a gold medal at the end of the hurdles in three days time.
"She's a great athlete and a great competitor. I've got no doubt she'll be as determined as hell to bring home a gold medal from Delhi.
"I'm not necessarily keen on talking about the spirit of the Games. This is high-performance sport. The spirit of the Games? We're no longer in the Corinthian era. They were well within their rights to appeal and good luck to them."
Pearson, who made a late decision to add the race to her schedule, had cruised into the final as the fastest qualifier in 11.27 seconds.
On the eve of the games, Pearson surprisingly announced she would be doubling up - adding the 100m flat to her schedule - and is a hot favourite for gold in the 100m hurdles.
She last competed over both 100m and 100m hurdles at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007.
A gold for Pearson would have been our first in the 100m Commonwealth Games since Raelene Boyle in 1974.
Young Australian sprinter Melissa Breen failed to qualify for the final, finishing fifth in 11.78 in her semi.
The men's 100m was won in a pedestrian time, with Jamaican Lerone Clarke's gold medal effort of 10.12 the slowest in a Commonwealth final since countryman Don Quarrie in 1974.
England's Mark Lewis-Francis was second in 10.20 and Aaron Armstrong of Trinidad and Tobago claimed the bronze in 10.24.
Australian Aaron Rouge-Serret completed an encouraging couple of days by finishing fifth in 10.30.
It was Rouge-Serret's debut outing in an individual event at a major international championships.
"I think I surprised myself," Rouge-Serret said. "Its what you aim for, all those lonely days at the track."
Australia's Dale Stevenson finished third in the men's shot put, with a personal best of 19.99m in the second round.
The gold medal went to Canada's Dylan Armstrong with 21.02m and Jamaica's Dorian Scott took silver with 20.19m.