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Sunday, August 24, 2003
Updated: August 26, 1:40 PM ET
Drummond reaction not helping image, but rule absurd

By Eric Adelson
ESPN The Magazine

PARIS -- And you thought Terrell Owens was expressive.

U.S. sprinter Jon Drummond's outburst after getting disqualified from the 100-meter event at the World Championships has to go down as the most melodramatic athletic performance since Rod Tidwell came back from unconsciousness in "Jerry Maguire."

Drummond, who won gold in the 4x100m relay in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, got DQ'd when he shifted his foot ever so slightly on the starting blocks. When he saw he was getting thumbed, Drummond charged at the officials on the infield yelling, "No! No! No!" Anarchy ensued. The remaining heats got postponed for a half an hour while Drummond made the Stade de France into the setting for a cut-rate performance of Hamlet.

Drummond, you may remember, is known for flexing and pulling off the straps of his singlet like Hulk Hogan. Sunday, he topped himself by laying down in Lane 4 and refusing to move unless he got the disqualifying false start overturned. (He didn't get his way.) The sight of Drummond lying supine on the track staring skyward in defiance as an official stood over him with a menacing red card looked like something out of a Time Life documentary on The Sixties.

(Drummond, by the way, was diagnosed at birth with spina bifida. Doctors told his parents he would never walk. So, of course this is what happens when so-called experts tell him he can't run.)

After several noisy and confusing minutes, Drummond rose to his feet, pranced around in hopes of getting the crowd behind him, bawled in the arms of his coach, and took a dip in the probably-not-chlorinated steeplechase pool. American Olympians -- track stars in particular -- have a tendency to emote, but Drummond made Cassius Clay look like Tim Duncan.

"He knows better," said Kim Collins of St. Kitts, who won his heat while Drummond protested in vain. "He's not some 13-year-old kid. He's gonna put a bad name on the Americans. This does not look good."

No, it doesn't. The last thing America needs (in France of all places) is another example of showmanship instead of sportsmanship.

But you know what? Drummond was right.

The rule is ridiculous. If one runner false starts, and then a different contestant false starts, the second runner gets tossed even though he only erred once. Worse still, the wired blocks are as trigger-happy as Rambo on a bad day. "If I so much as pass gas," Collins said, "I false start. The blocks are very sensitive."

The rest of Drummond's opponents agree. American sprinter Maurice Greene stormed off the track shouting "It's a shame!" Trinidad's Ato Boldon showed even more anger. "Obviously I'm upset," he said. "The machine made the wrong call."

The machine probably did not make the wrong call. Drummond's twitch measured 0.052 seconds on the block sensors, which exceeds the legal limit of 0.01. According to the IAAF, even Drummond admitted he committed the error.

No matter. The rule stinks. And a good portion of fans on hand hissed in efforts to filibuster the resumption of the heat. (No matter how unpopular the Americans become in France, they will always get the nod over modern science.) Eventually, Boldon won.

Collins said that if this had happened to him, he would have simply left the track. Probably the politically correct move, but not the best move. Let's face it: this fiasco will bring some needed attention to a festering problem, while a more low-key protest may not have even caused a ripple. Sure, the setting isn't ideal, but better here in Paris than next year in Athens.

Drummond needs to grow up a little, yes. The Americans need to calm down a little, yes. But if this disaster brings about a return to the two-false-starts-and-you're-out rule of the past, then one very tiny step for Drummond could mean one appropriate leap for the track world.

Eric Adelson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at eric.adelson@espn3.com.