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Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Victory wiped out by accident
Paralympian awaits sport court ruling on need for rerun

JAMES CHRISTIE

Canadian Paralympic officials expect to learn today whether a gold medal taken away from wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc will be reinstated by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In a controversial decision on Sunday, a Paralympic Games track referee voided the result of a crash-marred women's 800-metre race in which Petitclerc, 30, of Montreal, scored an unprecedented victory over Australian Louise Sauvage.

Politically, it will be a tough decision to overturn. The Canadian didn't simply upset the home favourite, but an icon of the Paralympics.

Sauvage is the reigning world sportsperson of the year with a disability. She lit the Games flame in Sydney. She won seven gold medals for Australia in the two previous Paralympics and hadn't been beaten in eight years.

"This decision overshadows a brilliant performance," Canada's chef de mission, Wayne Hellquist, said in a statement. "Chantal won that race. She won it fairly. The decision to reschedule is indefensible."

"We [the Canadian Paralympic Committee] will go to all lengths to ensure that Chantal and all Canadian athletes are treated justly," CPC president Patrick Jarvis said.

Sauvage said she was content with her silver medal and congratulated Petitclerc. Sauvage was not the racer who asked for a rerun of the race. The protest came from Wakako Tsuchida of Japan, who was bounced out of her chair in the accident and felt she had a chance at the bronze.

Petitclerc is the world's top female wheelchair short-distance sprinter, with 1996 Paralympic gold medals at 100 and 200 metres in Atlanta and three silvers at longer distances. And she does hold the world record at 800 metres.

The crash, involving three athletes, occurred at the 195-metre mark at the back of the pack. Quick-starting Petitclerc was in the lead group.

Organizers subsequently disqualified Patrice Dockery of Ireland for her role in the crash and nullified the race result. However, that decision was ordered by the chief referee. In fact, the jurisdiction for the first 200 metres of an 800-metre race belongs to the race starter. The starter elected to let the race continue and cannot be overruled by the referee, Canadians argued. A postrace protest failed.

"We do not understand the decision to deny our protest," said Earl Church, the track team's head coach. "It is illogical and a contradiction of the IAAF [International Amateur Athletic Federation] handbook and the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] rules."

The referee ordered the race to be rerun on Thursday. It will be difficult for Petitclerc to fit it into her schedule, as she has three other races to go: the 1,500 metres, 5,000 metres and the marathon.

Yesterday, Petitclerc and Sauvage met in a semi-final heat of the 1,500 metres and both advanced to today's final. Petitclerc also won a silver medal in the 100 metres last Friday.

In other events, Jeff Adams, 29, of Brampton, Ont., took the gold medal in the men's 800 metres, defending his Atlanta title in a Games record of 1 minute 38.22 seconds. Richard Reelie of Saskatoon won the bronze in the wheelchair 5,000 metres, Lisa Franks of Moose Jaw took the gold in the 200 and France Gagné of Quebec City captured the bronze in the men's discus.

In the pool, visually impaired Kirby Cote of Winnipeg and Stephanie Dixon of Caledon, Ont., set world records, and Philippe Gagnon of Chicoutimi, Que., added a third gold medal. Cote, 16, clocked 1:19.43 in the women's 100-metre breaststroke, eclipsing the previous world mark of 1:20.45, set by Marie-Claire Ross of Vancouver in 1996. Cote broke Ross's world mark in her 200-metre individual medley win last Saturday.

In the women's 400 freestyle, Dixon, 16, clocked 4:53.83 to eclipse the 4:55.57 world record, set by Joanne Mucz of Winnipeg at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics. In the men's 400 freestyle, Gagnon, who tried to make Canada's Olympic team in the spring, won in a Paralympic record of 4:11.44.

Visually impaired Walter Wu of Richmond, B.C., collected the silver medal in the men's 400-metre freestyle. Enrique Floriano of Spain surpassed Wu's world record of 4:21.08, set at the 1996 Paralympics, clocking 4:16.20. Wu, who won five gold medals in Atlanta, was under his old record in 4:20.23.

Canada stands seventh in the overall medal standings with 12 gold, 16 silver and 11 bronze medals. Australia tops the standings with 58 medals (24-17-17). Canada has won 21 medals in the swimming pool, eight of them gold.

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