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From Coghlan's Fall, Protests Arise : Irish Runner Trips in 1,500 Heat, Loses and Awaits Ruling

March 07, 1987|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — In the first 1,500-meter qualifying heat here Friday at the Hoosier Dome, Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan fell. From that point on, about the only thing anyone knew for sure was that it wasn't Zola Budd's fault.

It happened in the first event on the first day of the first World indoor track and field meet. Thirty minutes into the program, the meet already had a controversial history.

Since Coghlan fell at 10:15 a.m., there were fewer than 1,000 people in the Hoosier Dome to see it.

Two hours, one appeal and one protest later, the result was in. Coghlan, recognized as the chairman of the boards for his success indoors over the last decade, will not run in today's final.

Whether that is the final decision, however, was still being debated Friday night.

It certainly wasn't the final word.

Let's begin at the beginning.

With 2 laps to go on the 200-meter track, approximately 465 meters from the finish, Coghlan was fourth in the 10-man field.

When he made his move on the outside to pass the third-place runner, Coghlan's left leg became tangled with the right leg of the man behind him, West Germany's Dieter Baumann.

Coghlan tumbled, the first time the 34-year-old Dublin native and Rye, N.Y., resident has fallen in 14 years of running indoors.

"The first thing that came to my mind was, 'Don't panic,' " Coghlan said. "I wanted to catch up as fast as possible. If I didn't qualify for the final, then I'd panic."

Although three men had passed him, Coghlan was back in fourth place with two laps remaining. At the bell for the final lap, he was in third place. Considering that the first three finishers in each of the two qualifying heats automatically advanced to the final, Coghlan appeared secure.

But in the final three meters, a little more than a stride from the finish line, Coghlan seemed to relax and was overtaken by two other runners, Baumann and Canada's Dave Campbell.

"I think Coghlan was too sure he was third," Baumann said. It was so close that, moments after the race, Coghlan still thought he was third.

"There was never any doubt," he told American Jim Spivey, who finished second in the heat.

You were fifth, someone told Coghlan.

"I wasn't fifth," Coghlan said.

He was fifth.

Even so, he still would have qualified for the final if his time had been one of the three fastest from among the remaining runners after the six automatic qualifiers had been determined.

But his time of 3:43.40 was too slow, by four-hundredths of a second.

"I'm out," said Coghlan, admitting that he had misjudged the finish line. "I'll pack my bags and go home."

Not so fast.

Ireland's team manager, Ronnie Long, appealed to the running events referee, Washington State Coach John Chaplin.

On what grounds, Long was asked.

"Under the circumstances of the way it happened and on the basis that the quality of the championship will be improved if he's let in," Long said, adding that he wasn't asking for Baumann's disqualification.

While reporters were still remarking about Long's incredible naivete, or perhaps his gall, Chaplin announced that he was upholding the appeal and allowing Coghlan into the final.

"The contact that knocked him to the ground wasn't his fault," Chaplin said. "It was not the fault of the German. We'll take 10 for the the final instead of nine."

Did it matter that the fallen runner was the favorite, a reporter asked.

"I don't care if it was Coghlan or God," Chaplin said. "I would add anybody in the essence of fairness."

Long thought it was fair.

"I know there are rules, but there has to be a common-sense approach," he said. "This is a common-sense approach."

Alas, others had their own ideas of fairness.

Officials from Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, all of whom had runners who qualified for the final, filed a joint protest with the three-member jury of appeals.

"I agree the final would be better with Coghlan," said Jose Odriozolo, the Spanish team manager whose runner, Jose Abascal, becomes the favorite with Coghlan out of the race.

"But I'm amazed the American (referee) would let Coghlan in because NBC is paying a lot of money to show him in the final.

"This has happened only because it was Eamonn Coghlan. If it was a Kenyan, nothing would happen."

A spokesman for NBC, which is televising the meet today and Sunday, said the network made no attempt to influence Chaplin's decision.

Meeting with reporters for the third time of the morning, Coghlan knew it was too early to celebrate.

"If the ruling is that there are only supposed to be nine in the final, I won't be in it," said Coghlan, who had not lost in six previous races this winter.

"If they want the guy who should be the winner, I should be in it. If they want a real quality 1,500 in the first indoor World championships, they should let the chairman in there.

"Otherwise, we'll adjourn the board meeting."

Minutes later, the jury of appeals, which consists of Georg Wieczisk of East Germany, George Nicholas of Singapore and Lamine Diack of Senegal, overturned Chaplin's decision.

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