The DQ controversy that almost threw Yarraji off-track
After China's Yanni Wu was disqualified for a false start, the officials sought to disqualify the Indian too but better sense prevailed
Jyothi Yarraji's campaign at the Asian Games nearly ended at the starting line, and it took an instant protest from the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), and a feisty fight by Yarraji herself, to ensure the 24-year-old was allowed to get back on the track. And when she did, she won a 100m hurdles silver -- upgraded from a bronze -- to end a memorable night for Indian athletics in Hangzhou.
The stage was set for the final event of the day when China's Yanni Wu was disqualified for a false start after she took off before the gun had been fired. The Chinese seemed to have taken the decision in her stride, quietly stepping back with a wave to the stands.
But drama began moments later when technical officials sought to disqualify Yarraji too. The visibly disgruntled, bemused, and animated Indian athlete walked to the monitor and began reasoning with the officials. The race remained suspended for over ten minutes and action resumed with a decision on both athletes' disqualification to be taken after the race. Yarraji clocked 12.91s behind China's Yuwei Lin (12.74s) and Wu but within half an hour, her bronze was upgraded to silver with Wu finally being disqualified.
The protest was lodged by the Indian side by chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair and deputy chef-de-mission Ravinder Chaudhary who questioned the retention of Wu after she had clearly fouled.
"The rules clearly state that whoever leaves the ground first in case of a false start is disqualified. Jyothi's hands were still on the ground while the Chinese athlete was already one and a half steps ahead of her. We lodged the protest even before the race restarted, paid the $100 fees mandated for lodging protests, and won. Jyothi's medal has been upgraded to silver," AFI's senior vice president and former long jumper Anju Bobby George said.
AFI president Adille Sumariwalla promised the federation will take up the issue "at the highest level."
"We need to ensure such things are not repeated," he said. "The rules are very clear, and we must play by the rules. We didn't understand why was Jyothi penalised in the first place and then why the Chinese athlete was later let off, so we decided to protest."
Yarraji, running her last international competition of the season, claimed that she would have fared much better but for the distraction. "Obviously, whatever happened distracted me. This was my last international competition of the season and I wanted to finish really strong. But whatever happened did disturb my rhythm," she said.
"I think it is important for every athlete to fight for her right, and that is what I did there. I didn't do a false start, so I went to the officials to understand why I was being disqualified," she said. George said the delay in reviewing the disqualification was the longest she had ever seen.
"I have been to numerous domestic and international competitions but no one takes so long to decide on what is a black-and-white call. It is beyond me what took them so long. And when they disqualified Jyothi, the entire Indian camp went, 'What?' It certainly did affect Jyoythi too and it takes great mental strength to come back and win a medal," she said.
Another Indian official, who didn't wish to be quoted said the Indian contingent, had come anticipating trouble in China. "We have an inside joke - Anything can happen in China. So, we are always guarded. We had people near every competition, you never know what can happen when," the official said.
The race itself followed Yarraji's template of a relatively slow start being compensated by a burst of power at the 60m mark. This is Yarraji's second international medal in China this year, having won a bronze at the World University Games in Chengdu in August (12.78s).
"I didn't think much before the restart. Actually, I was a bit blank and just ran. Hopefully, I'll do better next season," Yarraji said.