Oussama Mellouli, Olympic 1,500m freestyle, is at the centre of a controversy made by his own federation today and looks set to de dropped from the last and final evening heat of the 60-lap race tomorrow as the world s/c championships draw to a close because he was entered with a time never registered with FINA.
The Tunisian, coached by Dave Salo in California, is entered with a time of 14:24.71, 10sec inside the time registered as the official African record and Mellouli's best effort. The swifter time looks likely to be legitimate, Mellouli having raced in a local meet at home in December last year on the eve of the ban on non-textile suits. However, details of the meet and the swim were only sent to FINA, in desperation, yesterday after Mellouli's entry time, which does not appear in rankings nor record books, was called into question.
A source told SwimNews that the swim was legitimate but Mellouli was a victim of the incompetence of his own federation in Tunisia, which had failed to grasp the need to register swims, particularly record-breaking swims and those that will serve as qualifying efforts to be submitted as entry to international competition to FINA.
It would, of course, be easy to leave the Olympic champion in lane 4 and overlook the rules but that way lies madness. Some are now suggesting that FINA give consideration to times converted from long-course efforts and conversions from yard swims (Mellouli has a 1650 yards swim on the record within the dates eligible for entry here in Dubai that would have placed him in the final eight here), while there has also been talk of allowing past success to count in some way when line-ups for heat-declared events are considered. For example, the reigning Olympic champion or world long-course champion would have automatic right of entry to the fastest heat of an 800m for women and 1,500m for men without having had to post a short-course time.
The decision on Mellouli has yet to be taken but the dilemma of the situation caused by the Tunisian federation is clear: rules are broken at FINA's peril; and it would be a great shame if the title favourite for the 1,500m had to plough a lonely furrow in morning heats.
The below info now being noted by the Tunisian federation, with Mellouli swimming under license because he has no home club, but sent to FINA on a hand-written note (in 2010...) is what may save the swimmer a morning mess: