ATHENS — In an Olympic atmosphere that hardly needs added drama, heptathlete Tiffany Lott-Hogan added some anyway.

In the heptathlon's final event of the first day — the 200-meter run — the 29-year-old BYU graduate and former NCAA champion was not in the "set" position when the starter fired his pistol. Lott-Hogan was on her knees as the race began, reduced to watching in shock as the other five women in her heat sprinted off. She stood up and jogged down the track a few paces to collect herself, then saw her coach, Craig Poole, an assistant on the U.S. women's Olympic track team, in the stands and walked over to ask him for advice.

"I told her to go back and protest," said Poole. "It was obvious she wasn't ready. She went back and they agreed. The official near her knew she wasn't set and had raised his hand, but the starter didn't see it and started the race."

The official's error was corrected three heats later when Lott-Hogan was inserted into an opening in the final heat. Her time was 24.99 seconds, .65 off her personal best of 24.34. "I think it cost her about half-a-second over what she could have done," said Poole. "She salvaged it, but she's been running faster. It was an emotional thing. To have to protest, then race again, that's tough."

"I thought my Olympic experience was pretty well shot," said Lott-Hogan. "I was about ready to cry. Tears were welling up. But then I talked to them and they agreed I wasn't set and got me in another heat. At least I got points."

The seven-event heptathlon covers two days of competition. Friday's portion started with the 100 meter hurdles, followed by the high jump, shot put and 200 meter run. Saturday finishes with the long jump, javelin throw and 800 meter run. Lott-Hogan, competing in her first Olympics, stood in 16th place among a starting field of 34 contestants at the one-day break with 3,634 points. Her former BYU teammate and good friend, Marsha Mark-Baird, who is representing her native Trinidad & Tobago, stood in 28th position after the first four events at 3,379 points. That total marked a new personal first-day high for Mark-Baird, however, and gave the Provo School District counselor hope for a strong finish Saturday that could place her higher than the 22nd she scored four years ago in the Sydney Olympics.

"I'm pretty pleased," said Mark-Baird. "I've never had this many points this early. I did well at hurdles and high jump. Tomorrow's my strong day."

Mark-Baird was entered in the fourth heat of the 200 and was warming up nearby when she glanced over to watch the start of the second heat. "I was looking for Tiffany and I thought, 'Where is she?' " she said. "Then it was like, 'What happened?' "

Lott-Hogan ended up racing in the heat after Mark-Baird recorded a 25.11 in the 200, not far from her personal best of 24.80.

The two BYU alums were riding high after the hurdles opened the competition. With a 13.13 clocking, Lott-Hogan was second overall, while Mark-Baird, after a 13.58 that was only a hundredth off her personal best of 13.57, was 12th. After the high jump — not a strong event for either woman — they slipped to 17th and 22nd, respectively. After the shot put, Lott-Hogan improved to 11th and Mark-Baird dropped to 29th. Each moved up a bit in the 200.

Leading the field, as expected, was 21-year-old Carolina Kluft of Sweden, who was at or near her best in all four events and scored 4,109 points, establishing a substantial lead over Kelly Sotherton of Great Britain, who used a personal best high jump to score 3,869 first-day points.


E-mail: lbenson@desnews.com