SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Peru’s Kimberly García seemed skeptical she’d set the world record in the women’s 20 kilometers walk race at the Pan American Games. She later found out she didn’t.
Organizers of the largest multi-sports event on the continent said in a statement the times of the race were annulled due to “a measuring problem” in Santiago’s O’Higgins Park. They blamed the Association of Pan American Athletics for the mistake.
Athletes believe the distance they ran in Chile was about 3 kilometers (almost 1.9 miles) shorter. The mistake adds to Santiago’s woes in the organization of the Pan American Games, which started on Oct. 20 and end on Nov. 5.
García finished her race in a cold and damp morning in 1 hour, 12 minutes and 26 seconds. The record belongs to China’s Jiayu Yang in 1 hour, 23 minutes and 49 seconds.
The 30-year-old Garcia still celebrated her gold medal after what she called “a serious mistake” she had never experienced in her decorated career, which includes a world championship in the 20 kilometers race.
“We realized it since the first kilometer. The time did not coincide with the distance. It was more about us focusing on our feelings not to lose control,” Garcia said after the race. “It didn’t affect myself alone, I wanted the Pan American record. Other girls wanted a spot in the Olympic Games. It is a shame that will not happen because the weather, everything was fit for good timings.”
Eleven other competitors seemingly finished their race below the world record.
“We do control our pace a lot and right out of the gate, in our first lap, we say the pace was too strong. It was quicker than the men’s,” said Brazilian Viviane Lyra, who finished fourth. “We knew there was something strange, so our goal wasn’t even taking the timing into consideration.”
The Pan American Games organization said it filled its role by hiring Marcelo Ithurralde, an expert commissioned by the association, to take the measurements for the race.
“He did not take accurate measurements of the route the athletes took during the race,” organizers said. “We deeply regret the inconvenience for the athletes, their coaches, the public and the attending press, but this situation cannot be attributed to the Organizing Committee.”
The Association of Pan American Athletics didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Later, Harold Mayne-Nicholls the executive director of the games, told a local radio station it was an embarrassment but insisted the organizers had nothing to do with it.
“It is a shame because the race was beautiful and obviously the Peruvian athlete must have raised her hopes for a world record,” he said. “I was told they were going to correct this. If they didn’t, double shame.”
The mistake delayed the men’s competition by one hour. The walk race rules require competitors always have at least one foot on the ground.
Organization problems at the Pan American Games have included trash scattered outside competition venues in the four days following the Opening Ceremony, threats of a strike from the private security company working the events and a leak in the handball venue of Viña del Mar, outside Santiago.
The leak cut short Saturday’s women’s handball match between Chile and Brazil. The Brazilians won 30-10 and will play the final against Argentina. The organization of the games in Santiago said in another statement that the leaks aren’t their fault, either.
“At night and this morning, there have been repairs in the roof of the gymnasium to avoid the water leaks on the court’s surface,” the organizers said in a statement, adding that “(we) don’t have any responsibility about the bad quality and the issues of the venue’s ceiling.”
Organizers blamed the city of Viña del Mar for the problems.
AP journalists Debora Rey and Carlos Rodriguez contributed to this report.
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