False start in 100m ends Yeo's SEA Games hopes
His time of 10.44 seconds is the fastest personal best among the 100-metre local sprinters and, in 2011, he flew Singapore's flag high when he returned from Palembang with a South-east Asia (SEA) Games silver medal in the event.
But Gary Yeo will play no part in athletics' blue riband event when the Games come to Singapore from June 5 to 16.
Adjudged to have burst out of the blocks before the signal to start the second 100m semi-final at the Singapore Open Track and Field Championships yesterday, Yeo was disqualified and fluffed what was effectively the last chance to earn a ticket to the SEA Games as one of Singapore's two best sprinters in the event.
"I am disappointed, this is the first false start of my career, and it hurts," said Yeo, on the sidelines of the first athletics event to be held at the Singapore Sports Hub's National Stadium.
"This is the first time the start-line machine is being used, and I'm not sure how accurate it is - there were at least three false starts (for other athletes running in other events).
But, having said that, as sportsmen, we can't let these things bother us."
The race just before Yeo's semi-final, the 110m hurdles, witnessed three false starts. And when the 100m final eventually got underway after Yeo's official protest was thrown out, Indonesia's Fadlin was also ejected from the race for a false start.
Wong Tien Choy, competition manager at the meet, told The New Paper that experts from Time Tronics - manufacturers of the equipment that measures reaction time from the starting blocks - were present at the National Stadium making sure that the system was functioning perfectly,
But there were hints that all may not be well.
Said Wong: "There won't be any fine-tuning (of the system) at all, this is the same system that is being used at top events in the world, and experts from Time Tronics are here."
Despite Wong's assertion, Singapore Athletics officials C Kunalan and Loh Chan Pew made an internal decision at the end of the day's proceedings to conduct an impromptu time trial for three Singapore sprinters - Yeo, Afiqul Adib and Joseph Yuan, all of whom made false starts.
This time, history did not repeat itself for Yeo, but he managed only a 10.59, which was not good enough to qualify for the SEA Games.
Amirudin Jamal, who finished third at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar, was the first Singaporean to have met the qualifying mark of 10.55 - clocked at a meet in Perlis, last November. He clocked 10.69 in the semi-finals yesterday and did not qualify for the final.
He will be one of Singapore's two representatives in the 100m alongside Calvin Kang, who clocked a personal best of 10.48 in the first semi-final yesterday.
Kang clocked 10.56 to finish third in the final behind Indonesian duo Iswandi (10.42) and Yaspi Boby (10.44).
"The organisers were gracious enough to offer me a time trial in lieu of the disqualification, that's really more than I could ask for," said 28-year-old Yeo, whose 2011 SEA Games silver medal was Singapore's first in a decade, after UK Shyam's second-placed finish in 2001.
Shyam was watching from the stands yesterday and he applauded Singapore Athletics' decision.
"It's good that they let Gary have a chance to run. It suggests that they think that the machine is faulty and it is right that they should give him another chance," said Shyam of the impromptu time trial.
"An athlete doesn't need this, thinking at the back of his mind that something could be wrong with the machine. It will definitely affect his performance."
Yeo prefers to take the setback in his stride, even though he had earlier told TNP that this SEA Games could well be his last.
"I wish good luck to whoever gets to run (at the Games), they've proven themselves as the best (in the country) when it matters," he said.
"I just have to do my best in the (4x100m) relay."
The much-anticipated men's 4x100m team did not take to the track in their intended form.
With Yeo pulling out due to the impromptu time trial, and Kang sitting out due to fatigue, a patched-up quartet led by Amirudin finished third out of three teams with a time of 41.01, behind Indonesia (39.67) and Taiwan (39.68).