A controversial judges’ decision cost the American pole vaulter Jeff Hartwig a landmark victory in the world indoor track and field championships today.

The 31-year-old resident of Jonesboro, Ark., cleared 19 feet, 6 1/4 inches on his third attempt, the only competitor in the 10-man field to do so. At that point he appeared to have the competition won. But in a brave tactical move, Jean Galfione of France passed on his final two jumps at the height electing to try 19-8 1/4 instead.

With pressure mounting, the reigning Olympic champion sprinted down the runway and launched himself up and over the bar. As his torso rounded the bar he reached out with his hands and clearly touched the bar. According to the International Amateur Athletics Association rule 172.6 (d), a vault is a foul if the athlete deliberately replaces a bar about to fall from the supports with his hands or fingers.

The pole vault judge immediately waved a white flag indicating a valid jump, but the international technical officer on the scene, Cecil Smith of Canada, recommended the jump be ruled a foul. Two vaulters also approached Smith to advise him they felt Galfione had committed a foul.

While Galfione set off in celebration, Smith was dialing up the referee setting off the controversy.Hartwig’s attempts to match the Frenchman’s mark were delayed for 10 minutes while officials and Galfione engaged in animated discussions.

It would have been the first major international pole vault title for the United States in 31 years. When Galfione was declared the winner, the United States assistant coach Greg Foster filed a protest, but the three-man jury of appeal — while agreeing Galfione had indeed touched the bar — ruled he didn’t do it to keep the bar from falling off.

Video replays were studied over and over and the conclusion upheld Galfione’s jump. Hartwig was unable to keep his concentration and failed three times at 19-8 1/4. Instead, he settled for 19-6 1/4, an American indoor record, but good only for the silver medal today.

”Maybe this will finally convince the powers that be to reconsider the rule because it’s a bad rule that affects the sport and the show we want to provide,” Hartwig said. ”The problem is that the rule is so vaguely written that it becomes a judgment call and takes it out of the hands of the officials,” he said. ”I don’t feel robbed. I was happy for Jean. But I was upset about the rule because I probably touch the bar more than anybody.”

by: Paul Gains

from: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/07/sports/track-and-field-controversy-in-pole-vault-hurts-hartwig.html

Jeff Hartwig
Jeff Hartwig

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