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Randy Harvey

Suddenly His Whole Life Is a Lie

August 25, 2003|Randy Harvey

PARIS — A couple of Californians, Kelli White from Union City and Torri Edwards from Los Angeles, finished 1-2 in the women's 100 meters, establishing themselves as sprinters to watch even after Marion Jones returns from pregnancy leave.

Haile Gebrselassie, perhaps the greatest distance runner ever, passed the torch in the 10,000, finishing second to 22-year-old countryman Kenenisa Bekele.

Sweden's Carolina Kluft became the first woman over 7,000 points in the heptathlon since Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1992.

So who created the most buzz among the crowd Sunday night at Stade de France on the second day of track and field's world championships?

Jon Drummond.

Naturally. He might not be as fast as he once was, but he remains the world leader at drawing attention to himself.

Once, he ran the first leg for the United States' winning 400-meter relay team with a comb wedged in his hair. Another time, he led his sprint relay teammates during a celebration in a reenactment of the Marines' Iwo Jima pose, angering veterans throughout the country. After another winning sprint relay effort, in Sydney in 2000, he and his teammates were criticized worldwide for preening on the medals stand.

Drummond apologized after that one, acknowledging that as the oldest and most experienced member of the team he should have known better.

He was 32, going on 16.

He is 34 now, going on 14.

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Drummond, who is from Philadelphia but has lived in Southern California for many years, has had a distinguished career. He has won Olympic gold and silver medals, both for relays, and three world championship gold medals in relays. He was the 1997 outdoor national champion in the 200.

But, sadly, the defining moment of his career probably came Sunday night, when he held the world championships hostage for 47 minutes.

That is how long it took for the second heat of the 100-meter quarterfinals to be run because Drummond wouldn't accept the officials' decision that he had violated the new false-start rule and had to be disqualified.

Now, it should be pointed out that not many sprinters like the rule applied for the first time this year. It allows the field one false start, then calls for disqualification of each athlete who subsequently false starts. It also should be pointed out that the motion detectors within the blocks here are extraordinarily sensitive. Athletes have been warned to not so much as twitch before the gun goes off.

Drummond and Jamaica's Asafa Powell twitched. They were ordered off the track.

While Powell stood dazed, Drummond ran to the officials in the infield to protest, much like a baseball manager bolting out of the dugout to argue with the umpire. Fair enough. As Gail Devers, who would later finish eighth in the women's 100 final, said, "You're not going to take that lying down."

Except, as she added, correcting herself, that is exactly what Drummond then did.

He returned to his starting block and lay down.

He stood a couple of minutes later, establishing his position in his lane and defying officials to move him. When the scoreboard's big screen replayed the start, revealing no foul visible to the naked eye, Drummond advanced 15 meters on the track and lay down again. He remained there for eight minutes.

Finally, officials ordered all eight sprinters off the track and called for the third and fourth heats to be run before trying the second heat again.

Kim Collins, the winner of the fourth heat, said he sympathized with Drummond. But Collins, who is from St. Kitts and Nevis, also called his fellow Texas Christian alum a "spoiled brat" and said he should have known when he was embarrassing himself and the U.S. team.

"He's going to put a bad name on the Americans," Collins said. "At a time like this, it doesn't look good for him and his country."

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He was referring to a time when relations between Americans and French aren't the best because of their governments' disagreement over Iraq. But here's an odd thing. The fans, already fed up with the false-start rule because of the havoc it created in other races, sided with Drummond.

They cheered his antics and jeered the officials. They whistled in derision when the public address announcer asked for silence. They quieted momentarily when Eunice Barber, the popular French heptathlete whose competition was interrupted by the commotion, put her index finger to her lips to shush them.

But then they booed whenever the sprinters from the second heat took their positions in the blocks after being recalled to the track. Finally, on their 10th attempt, the gun went off and the race proceeded without further incident.

Although unequivocally supportive of Drummond, his teammate with the L.A.-based HSI club, Ato Boldon, who also was in the second heat, was so frustrated by the delays that he almost put his fist through a wooden barrier behind the start line. He, however, composed himself to win the heat.

IAAF officials were clearly upset with Drummond, who would later acknowledge in a statement that he flinched, but they decided to take no further action during this meet.

"In the big scheme, what did he do?" HSI Manager Emmanuel Hudson said of Drummond. "He interrupted a Sunday afternoon for a couple of 15 minutes. You got entertainment out of it."

It didn't seem as if Patrick Johnson was entertained.

The Australian sprinter arrived here with the best time in the world this year. But, unfortunate to be drawn into the second heat of the quarterfinals, he was so unnerved that he finished last and was the only sprinter among the six who didn't advance to today's semifinals.

"I've got to take it on the chin," he said.

That is what Drummond should have done. He calls himself the clown prince of the sport. He is half right.

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Randy Harvey can be reached at randy.harvey@latimes.com.

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