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ATHENS 2004

Britain Weighs Peirsol Protest

An appeal would seek to disqualify the U.S. swimmer and gold medalist again.

August 21, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — "Faster, higher and stronger" is in danger of being replaced by "protest, appeal and litigate" at the Olympic Games.

Two years after a scandal resulted in the unprecedented issuing of dual gold medals in pairs figure skating at Salt Lake City, judging is again under scrutiny.

In the first eight days of the Athens Games, there have been a three-team challenge to Germany's equestrian gold medal, a re-examination of the men's gymnastics all-around results by the sport's governing body and the disqualification Thursday of American gold-medal winner Aaron Peirsol in the 200-meter backstroke for an illegal turn, followed by his reinstatement in less than half an hour.

But the controversy continued to simmer Friday as British officials considered appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in an effort to disqualify Peirsol again and elevate one of their swimmers from fourth place to the bronze medal.

Denis Cadon of France, the lane judge who called the infraction, stood by his ruling Friday that there had not been a continuous motion when Peirsol made his final turn.

"It was an infraction of the rule," said Cadon, a swimming judge for 25 years. He added for emphasis: "I'm independent."

Asked about his decision being overruled by FINA, the international governing body for swimming, Cadon said, "I can't speak of that."

After the race was official and Peirsol awarded the gold medal, Austria and Britain appealed unsuccessfully on-site to a FINA jury. Markus Rogan of Austria finished second, Razvan Florea of Romania was third and James Goddard of Britain was fourth.

Though Cadon, turn judge Felix Mikhailov of Russia and referee Woon Sui-Kut of Singapore agreed that Peirsol had made an illegal turn and should be disqualified, they were quickly overruled by FINA. FINA officials said there had been a problem with the information on the paperwork submitted by the judges and referee.

"The explanation of the call was totally inadequate and should not have been accepted," FINA official Carol Zaleski said in a telephone interview on Friday. "It never should have happened. There was no violation."

Zaleski, a former president of USA Swimming and chair of FINA's 12-member technical committee, said the matter never reached her committee.

"There was no information that indicated any violation," Zaleski said.

One of FINA's top officials, executive director Cornel Marculescu, indicated to Reuters that the judges would be held accountable for the paperwork glitch, saying: "You will not see them again."

Hours later, he told a FINA spokesperson there had been no action taken against the judges, distancing himself from the earlier comments. And Cadon was told that he could continue working the meet, according to an official with the French swim team.

Earlier in the week, Peirsol had accused Japan's Kosuke Kitajima of using an illegal dolphin kick when he defeated Brendan Hansen in the 100-meter breaststroke. Rogan suggested that Peirsol might have been the victim of "politics."

"I believe there may have been something about Aaron being very outspoken about his friend Brendan," said Rogan, who finished almost 2 1/2 seconds behind Peirsol's Olympic record 1:54.95.

Australian Mark Tonelli said he thought Peirsol may have been targeted because of his comments.

"It's petty, it's childish. Is Yank-bashing turning into the 29th Olympic sport? It's just all implausible," said Tonelli, who competed in two Olympics, finishing fourth in the 200-meter backstroke in 1976.

Australian Olympic coach Leigh Nugent said there had been problems in the past with the regulation that Peirsol had been accused of violating.

"It's been a contentious rule for a long time," he said. "In Australia we've had lots of little kids being DQ'd for turning onto their front, couple of kicks, and [they were] rubbed out. There was a bit of a revolt in the coaching ranks. I think it hasn't been aggressively enforced. I think that's what happened last night as far as the way he turned."

If British officials are to pursue the case, they must file an appeal with Swiss-based CAS, which is empowered by the International Olympic Committee to resolve complaints. Britain, the United States and France have protested the outcome of an equestrian event won by Germany. CAS is expected to hear the matter today.

As of late Friday, no decision had been made to pursue the swimming case.

"Any talk of an appeal is premature, it's up the chef de mission to decide that, but we are looking into it," Philip Pope, the British Olympic Assn. spokesman, told reporters. "Chef de mission Simon Clegg will meet with the Team Great Britain lawyer and swimming team leader Craig Hunter to discuss the merits of the case and decide whether to take it further."

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