Controversy struck in the ongoing National Open Athletics Championships in Ranchi as Merlin K Joseph's new national record timing in women's 100m dash was on Monday questioned by Rachita Mistry in whose name the record had stood since 2000.
Merlin ran 11.35 secs yesterday in the semifinal heats to shatter Mistry's 13-year-old national record of 11.38 secs created in Trivandrum in 2000. She has a personal best of 11.75 secs before yesterday's national record.
What has raised suspicion in Merlin's national record timing was that she clocked 12.07secs in the first round heats before the semifinals and then finished third in the final with a timing of 11.95 secs. Her record though is yet to be ratified by Athletics Federation of India.
Mistry, an Olympian and a top sprinter of 1990s, said she suspected either a faulty timing system or some people were playing mischief as such a gap in timings was hard to believe in 100m race. She has written a letter to the AFI to find out the correct position.
"It's unbelievable if you see the big gap in the three timings. She (Merlin) clocked 12.07 secs in first round heats and then out of blue ran 11.35 secs in semifinal heats. Then again she clocked 11.95 secs in the final to finish third," Mistry told PTI from Mumbai.
"A gap of 0.72 secs between first round and semifinal is a huge one and it's 100m dash and not marathon and everybody knows how far you can run in a second in 100m. Then she ran 11.95 secs in final. I agree she ran the final one hour after semifinal and she must be a bit tired. But still, a difference of 0.6 secs is a huge one and I don't believe this," she said.
"Either the timing system is faulty or otherwise somebody was doing that intentionally. I have written to AFI to find out the correct position," she added.
A senior AFI official, who has been associated in organising national events for many years, also said that it was certain something must have gone wrong during the competition.
"It's certain there is something wrong because somebody who can run 11.35 secs cannot run 11.95 secs later in the final. Any difference of more than half a second would raise questions in 100m race. Mistry has reasons to ask questions," the AFI official said.
"There must be something wrong in the starting gun sensor or the photo finish equipment," he added.
AFI Secretary C K Valson, who is in Ranchi for the Championships, said that he was investigating into the issue.
"We have got the letter from Mistry and we are looking into it. We will look into the details like the photo finish timing of the semifinals and other things," he said.
Mistry was a member of India's 4x100m gold medal winning quartet, which included PT Usha, in the 1998 Asian Championships in Fukoka in Japan. She also won a bronze in 100m in 2000 Asian Championships in Jakarta. She also held the 200m national record (23.10 secs) for two years from 2000 to 2002.
Explaining why she was questioning Merlin's record timing, Mistry, who is now a Railways employee, said that unlike that of Merlin, there was no inconsistency in the timings of the other two medal winners -- Dutee Chand (gold) and H M Jyothi (silver).
"Dutee clocked 11.72 secs in first round heat and then had 11.73 secs in semifinal heats and clocked 11.73 secs in the final. Jyothi had 11.98 secs, 11.81 and 11.87secs and all these are consistent and acceptable," she said.
"But you have more than half a second difference in the timings and that also not increasing or decreasing order, there is always a suspicion," she said.
Mistry said that she has no personal issues with Merlin but felt that there should be a transparent process in recording national marks.
"I have no issues with Merlin and it is not a personal issue. I will congratulate if it comes that she had shattered my national record in a legitimate way. But I feel there is something wrong in the whole thing," she said.
In the letter she wrote to the AFI, Mistry said that the electronic timing system could have been faulty.
"With all due respect to the officials, I presume that there was a problem in electron inc timing system. I strongly feel that the timer was not activated during the start of the race, it either delayed in activating the timer or the watch was started manually," she wrote.
"Requesting your goodself to please look into the matter and even compare the manual timekeeping sheets of the referee and take a decision," she said in the letter addressed to the AFI president.
"It is a matter of the National Record of 100m run which I had taken 18 years to break it, I would not like my record to go because of some faulty timing machine," she added.
She claimed that the athletes who ran in the women's 100m final yesterday were told by the officials that there could have been some mistake with the timings.
"The final runners present on the spot were told that there seems to be some mistake with the timings and were given a vague answer that it is hand timed. The coaches present over there says that the race was not atÂ all fast but the timings appeared on the results says otherwise," she wrote.
"I am not upset on someone breaking my record. But the case should be genuine. I understand if Dutee Chand breaks it for she is steadily progressing towards it. Merlin Joseph as far as I know her personal best is 11.70sec, she in one race of the semis clocked 11.35 sec and in the finals and heats could only manage 11.95s and 12.07s seems suspicious."