This report appeared in today’s edition of The Straits Times:
Dipna denied by glitches (The Straits Times, 4 April 2011)
Electronic timing system fails, so her national marks aren’t recognized
By Terrence Voon
POOR Dipna Lim-Prasad. The 19-year-old sprinter and hurdler was in sizzling form at the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) Track and Field Series 3 at Nanyang Polytechnic yesterday, ‘breaking’ two national records.
But a historic day for the youngster turned sour when she learnt that both ‘records’ – in the 100m hurdles and the 200m – would not stand because of a glitch in the electronic timing equipment.
Had the timings been admitted, seasoned observers say it would have been the first time a Singapore track athlete had set two national records in different events on the same day.
Instead, it was a weekend in which nothing went right for Dipna. On Saturday, she was disqualified from the 100m dash after a false start.
Yesterday came the 100m hurdles, when her time of 14.30sec would have lowered the previous national record of 14.56, which she set in January. But a technical malfunction put paid to the feat in her pet event.
Later, the electronic timing system failed to work again in the 200m, where she clocked 24.50sec. The result, had it stood, would have broken Prema Govindan’s 26-year-old time of 24.54sec.
A disappointed Dipna said the technical problems had ‘shattered her dreams’. ‘I didn’t false start, the headwind was okay, everything was there,’ she added. ‘But I forgot to pray for the electronic timing to work.’
The timing system used by the SAA, called FinishLynx, has been in service since the 1990s. Breakdowns are rare, said SAA’s general manager Ong Yeok Phee, although there were at least four instances yesterday when it failed.
But Dipna’s coach Slava Vassiliev said a similar problem occurred at the previous week’s Singapore Press Holdings Schools Relay Championships.
‘They must buy a new system because this is not the first time something like this has happened in competition,’ he said. ‘People want to qualify for the South-east Asia Games and break national records.’
The SAA has clarified that it will still recognise Dipna’s results – under a category for hand-timed national records.
But that is little consolation for the Nanyang Technological University freshman, who had returned to the track recently after a year-long injury layoff. ‘They have acknowledged my efforts, but to me it’s not official,’ she said.
Her next race is at the Thailand Open in two weeks’ time, where she hopes to meet the 100m hurdles’ SEA Games qualification time of 14.21.
I was so dismayed when I read this and I cannot begin to imagine the huge sense of disappointment Dipna must be feeling.
But to be honest, I don’t think all blame should be shouldered by the current management of the Singapore Athletics Association. I strongly feel that the accusing finger should be pointed at the previous regime.
During his running battle with the Singapore Sports Council, during the period when the SSC stopped its funding of the SAA, then-president Loh Lin Kok had proudly and cockily boasted that the national body had enough funds (reportedly more than $1 million) in reserve to keep going on its own steam for a while.
Now this in turn begs the question: if there were enough funds, then why wasn’t any of it ever used to upgrade the electronic timing system?
I mean, the ST report says that the current system used by the SAA, which failed four times during last weekend’s Track and Field Series 3, has been in service since the 1990s. So, shouldn’t that have raised alarm bells a long time ago?
How can one reasonably expect electronic systems to last for 10 to 15 years when laptops and other gadgets these days have a shelf life of up to five years? Where was the foresight and forward planning in the SAA back then?
And now it has led to such an unnecessary fiasco, and it has rendered a historic feat by a rising talent completely meaningless. And to think that the previous management had officials and coaches with such high-level IAAF credentials and qualifications. Shame on them!
I am not going to blame the current SAA management entirely even if the system had supposedly failed during the Singapore Press Holdings School Relay Championships. I really don’t think they could have gotten a new replacement in such a short space of time.
But the national body must now do the right thing by its athletes and buy a new timing system as soon as possible so that such incidents do not happen again.
As for Dipna, I can only hope that she is not badly affected by this incident and that she will bounce back from it in the most stunning way.
I am crossing my fingers too that she will gain confidence from the fact that she did break the two national records nevertheless, and use that to push herself to an encore performance at later meets and qualify for the South-east Asia Games.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan