Chester-le-Street race official tells of Olympic involvement

Starter's Orders: Alan Bell

Starter's Orders: Alan Bell

First published in News The Northern Echo: Static HTML image by , Chief Reporter (Durham)

A KEY figure at the centre of the athletics events at the summer’s Olympic and Paralympic games was delighted to avoid the headlines at London 2012.

Alan Bell was the starter who famously disqualified Usain Bolt during the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

The triple Olympic champion false started in the Blue Riband event, the much anticipated 100-metres final, to the immense disappointment of a packed stadium and billions of expectant viewers world-wide on television.

But the 61-year-old race official from Chester-le-Street said it was among the easier decisions he has made.

“Bolt false started. It was crystal clear, and he knew it.

“By the time I was about to announce it, he already had his vest off, so I didn’t really have a decision to make.”

Going into this summer’s games, the Jamaican superstar spotted Mr Bell shortly after arriving in London to prepare to for the ultimate successful defence of his three titles from Beijing.

“He just smiled and shook his head at me, but, fortunately, there was no need for a repeat of Daegu,” said the official chosen as chief starter for London 2012.

“I’m lucky, I’ve done 12 world championships at different levels, and now two Olympics and a Paralympics, and yet I’m a volunteer.

“I get to travel first class and stay in some lovely hotels and, the fact is I’ve had the privilege and good fortune to work with some of the world’s top sportsmen.

“I wouldn’t say you get to know them really well, but they do recognise you and build up a respect.

“But, I treat every event with the same concentration and effort.

“Three days after I came back after starting the World Championships in Berlin, in 2009, with a 2.7 billion global tv audience, I was doing a school’s meeting in Carlisle.

“But the same principle applies.”

Of all the games he has officiated in, Mr Bell, now based in Wetheral, in Cumbria, said the London 2012 experience topped the lot.

“I’m partisan and it’s a dream to officiate in an Olympics in your own country, but I have to say it was the best athletics events I’ve been to.”

The controversy was limited with only three ‘red card’ false starts, although one blind French Paralympian found it hard to take and received a second red, for his antics, banning him from competing in other events during the games.

Mr Bell turned to officiating in club athletics on Tyneside 35 years ago, after injury cut short his progress in high jumping.

He progressed to such a stature in the sport that he was appointed to a panel of six starters to officiate at major games round the world by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in 2005.

• He was back in the North-East to recount some of his experiences this summer to the Olympians of tomorrow, at a celebration of the County Durham Youth Sport Games, shortly before Christmas.

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