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Aussie Welsh DQ'ed, Criticizes Officials -- December 10, 2001

By Wayne Smith

MELBOURNE, Dec. 10. DUAL world champion Matt Welsh yesterday criticized "nit-picking" officials after being disqualified from the World Cup 100m backstroke yesterday for allegedly surfacing a few centimetres too late.

Backstrokers are permitted to swim no more than 15m underwater off starts and turns, a rule that was brought in following the 1988 Seoul Olympics to prevent "submarines" like American David Berkoff swimming virtually the entire race without surfacing.

It is debatable whether Welsh actually exceeded the limit in his heat yesterday morning, since an amateur video taken by one of his Melbourne Vicentre clubmates indicated he may have surfaced just in time.

Chief referee Geoff Hare watched the video but discounted it and would only accept the official Channel 9 footage.

It was inconclusive since it was on a tight frame when Welsh passed under the 15m rope strung two metres above the Melbourne Aquatic Centre pool.

Welsh's coach Ian Pope, realising the officials were in no mood to give Welsh the benefit of the doubt, decided not to even lodge an appeal against the disqualification. However, both he and Welsh were critical of meet organisers for not having standard lane rope indicators at the 15m mark from each wall.

"Last night (Saturday), the officials apparently put the backstroke flags in the wrong place but none of them got disqualified," said Welsh. "There is no consideration whatever given to swimmers."

It seems staggering, given that there was no more than a centimetre or two in the infraction - if there was one - that officials did not simply give Welsh a warning that he was close to going over the line, like an umpire advising a fast bowler that he was close to overstepping.

The disqualification cost Welsh a near-certain $US1000 since his unofficial 52.6sec clocking would have taken him into the final with a 1.6sec edge over the next fastest qualifier Matthew Spicer.

But is also put a dampener on the meet to have Melbourne's favourite son scrubbed from the final session.

"There would have been a lot of people coming along to see a good Victorian swimmer in action but they won't get that chance now because one person's eyesight is a little off," said Welsh.

"They say the guy who disqualified me was an experienced FINA judge," said Welsh. "Well, hey, aren't I an experienced swimmer who knows what he's doing?"