Sydney, Australia Australian Jane Saville headed into the Olympic Stadium tunnel with a huge lead in the 20-kilometer walk, awaiting the roar of a jubilant hometown crowd. Instead, she left in tears.
Saville was disqualified in the closing seconds of the nearly 90-minute walk, allowing China's Wang Liping to capture the gold medal. Kjersti Plaetzer of Norway won silver and Maria Vasco of Spain took the bronze.
In other events today (Wednesday night EDT), Chris Huffins had nearly a 200-point lead after seven events of the decathlon, and all three American women were eliminated in the qualifying round of the high jump.
Saville already had been given two white warning cards, and knew a third "lifting" infraction not maintaining contact with the ground would warrant a red card and automatic disqualification. The woman walking with her in the final stages of the race, Elisabetta Perrone of Italy, already had been disqualified.
As she headed into the tunnel, a judge suddenly thrust a red card toward Saville. She threw her arms in the air and looked up in disbelief.
Saville did not continue walking through the tunnel, but headed instead to a hill overlooking the stadium. A half-hour later, she finally entered the stadium.
"I didn't know what to do, I was quite embarrassed all these people waiting for me in the stadium," she said. "It's bitterly disappointing, I thought I was going to win the gold medal in my hometown. I was thinking this is going to be the most awesome experience of my life, and it was not to be."
Wang won in 1 hour, 29 minutes, 5 seconds in the inaugural 20-kilometer walk for women at the Olympics. The event replaced the 10-kilometer walk that was contested at the 1992 and 1996 games.
Michelle Rohl was the top American, finishing 17th in 1:34.26. Chen Yueling, who won the 1992 gold medal in the 10-kilometer walk while competing for China but won permission last month to compete for the United States, was 38th.
U.S. decathlete Huffins had 6,401 points to lead after seven events. Roman Sebrle was 196 points behind. American Tom Pappas was fifth with 6,124 points and world champion Tomas Dvorak was sixth.
In the women's high jump, Karol Damon, Erin Aldrich and Amy Acuff all failed to advance.
A night before, the drug taint at the Olympic track became so suffocating that when an injured Gail Devers dropped out of the hurdles, one of the first questions she faced was whether her withdrawal would arouse drug suspicions.
"It would never be a thought that crossed my mind," she responded, having hobbled away from her last realistic medal chance in an event in which she seems to be cursed.
Every time an athlete performs unexpectedly well, or suddenly pulls out of an event, the rumors of drug use start swirling.
Wednesday began with a women's hammer thrower being escorted off the field by officials because she had tested positive for drugs this summer. It ended with a woman once banned for steroid use winning the hurdles.
And, in between, it featured Marion Jones' return to the track in the 200 meters and long jump a day after she stood by husband C.J. Hunter, who tested positive for steroid use four times this summer.
With the injured Devers suddenly reduced to the role of spectator, a hurdler who missed the last Olympics on a drug ban captured the one medal Devers truly wanted. Devers, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in sprints, barely missed getting a hurdles medal in 1992 and 1996 and dropped out in the semifinals this time.
Devers' injury could have severe repercussions for Jones and her hopes for five Sydney golds, because Devers is a member of the 400 relay team.
Teammate Inger Miller, who missed the 100 and 200 meters because of a hamstring injury, says she is ready to run in the 400-meter relays.
"We're going to run Inger in the first round and see what happens," U.S. women's coach Karen Dennis said.
The relay semifinals are scheduled for Friday. Jones has done her part to achieve the golden goal. After winning the 100, she qualified Wednesday in both the 200 and long jump.
Olga Shishigina of Kazakstan won the 100-meter hurdles in 12.65 seconds. Glory Alozie of Nigeria won the silver and Melissa Morrison of the United States won the bronze. Alozie's fiance was killed when hit by a car in Sydney a few days before the games opened.
Shishigina missed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics while serving a two-year drug ban.
Earlier in the day, Mihaela Melinte of Romania was prevented from competing in the Olympic women's hammer throw because of a failed drug test.
American Angelo Taylor won gold in the men's 400-meter hurdles. Germany's Nils Schumann held off Wilson Kipketer to win the 800 meters. In women's events, Russia's Irina Privalova won the 400-meter hurdles and Ellina Zvereva of Belarus won the discus.
Meanwhile, Maurice Greene said today he never threatened to boycott running on the U.S. men's 400-meter relay because teammate Curtis Johnson had not been included in the American relay pool.
Greene said he offered to skip the first round to allow all six members of the relay pool to share in a possible gold medal, but he will run the anchor leg in all rounds.