Millions have seen 105-year-old Julia Hawkins, flower in hair, trot 100 meters in Hammond, Louisiana — becoming the oldest woman to officially compete in track and field.
Only a handful know whether her mark of just under 63 seconds will count as a world age-group record.
Dubbed “Hurricane” Hawkins, the retired schoolteacher from Baton Rouge may be robbed of record certification due to an officiating miscue — failure to test the timing system used Nov. 6 at the Louisiana Senior Games at Southeastern Louisiana University.
On Wednesday, when this story first posted, USA Track & Field showed her application for an American record of 1:02.95 in the 105-109 age group was awaiting proof of the required zero-control test. On Thursday, after Times of San Diego inquiries, the application was denoted as “approved.”
Requests for a copy of the record form and supporting documentation were not immediately granted.
David Bickel, chair of the USATF Masters Track and Field Records Committee, said Tuesday that he has been in touch with the meet’s referee. His last update was Nov. 13.
“She told me she would reach out to the appropriate officials, etc., and ask them to provide the requested information,” Bickel said via email. “I have not heard back from anyone as of yet.”
Senior Games organizers did not respond to numerous email and phone messages from Times of San Diego.
But Gloria Louis, officials chair in USATF’s Southern Association, said Wednesday: “We hope to get back with you very soon.”
On Thursday, David Svoboda of timing company chippedtech.com said: “To the best of my knowledge, everything is complete.” Full results — except for wind-speed readings, also key to record ratification — were posted only Wednesday.
Andrew Hecker, a veteran meet organizer and USATF official, said the zero-control test aims to assure the timing system starting sensor is working properly.
“It is performed by placing the gun on the finish line … and in Zero Gun Test mode you time the start,” he said. “Since timing is a photographic process, you should see the flash of the explosion of the shell recorded in time.”
If the flash is recorded as 0.00 second, the system is working.
“If there is a delay between the gun and when the system starts, that is time the athlete can be reacting and moving before the system starts [operating],” Hecker said from Ventura. “Advantage athlete and obviously wrong for a record.”
The premier timing systems in America, called FinishLynx, are sold by Lynx, based in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
“Lynx was not involved with the race in question, although it is possible that Lynx technology was in use,” said Hugues Lacroix of Lynx. “That said, it is the responsibility of the governing body to establish the rules of competition, and that of the organizing committee or service provider to apply these rules.”
Don Chadez, a longtime meet timer with Flash Results-West, said only a “poor timing company” would neglect to do the zero-control test. Further, he faulted Hawkins’ team for possibly not taking steps to assure record ratification.
“As a master runner that is world class in their age group, she should know the requirements needed,” he said. “See and insist on ZCT.”
Julia Hawkins’ daughter, Margaret Hawkins Matens, was present for the record attempt. She said via text that meet organizers “made elaborate preparations to be sure record would stand.”
In fact, the record attempt was widely advertised, especially by the National Senior Games Association, which put out a press release a dozen days before the Nov. 6 meet. (Accounts of her race appeared on the BBC, CBS Morning News, CNN, The Washington Post and hundreds of other outlets.)
“The retired educator generated worldwide publicity in both the Birmingham 2017 and Albuquerque 2019 National Senior Games when she set world track records in the 100-104 age category,” said the release. Hawkins is the listed world record holder in the W100 100-meter dash and 60-meter indoor dash.
She also holds a world indoor record in the 2-kilogram shot put (2.77 meters or 9 feet 1).
The only 105-year-old men to compete in track and field were Hidekichi Miyazaki of Japan (shot put) and Stanistaw Kowalski of Poland (100 and discus). Miyazaki, nicknamed “Golden Bolt,” died at 108 in 2019. But Kowalski is still alive at 111.
The Senior Games meet was USATF-sanctioned, another mandated ingredient for American records. World Masters Athletics, which keeps official age-group world records, did not respond to questions.
Rob Jerome of New York City has traveled the world taking photos of masters track athletes.
“It would be terribly disappointing if Julia’s mark is not ratified given the fact that the event received so much advance publicity,” Jerome said. “In fact, the event centered on Julia’s establishment of the W105 100 meter record.”
He said meet organizers and promoters owe Hawkins’ many fans “a complete and open description of the procedures that were followed. This is masters history in the making and our history should be clear and accurate.”
USATF official Hecker, who has worked at Olympic Trials such as race walk events in Santee, said the meet referee also is the supervisor of how events are being conducted.
“The individual officials should know how to officiate an event — the ones I work with do. We train and observe each other, improving our techniques as time goes by,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of wishy washy around here. Unfortunately some places, non-certified officials are given the responsibility an official should have.”
All meets should be properly officiated, he said, but at a masters meet, “where records are a greater potential, we have to officiate to the standards of record all the time…. You can’t be sloppy about how things are set up.”
He said the ZCT, also called the zero gun test, should be done at the beginning of the day.
“Know what the records are (sometimes you need the athletes to tell you) and if there is a record, stop the proceedings, get three officials and the referee involved,” Hecker said. “Some athletes can set a personal best and it is the world record.”
He concluded: “If you don’t go into a masters meet with that mindset and that kind of checklist, you are going to get problems you can’t fix later.”
If Julia Welles Hawkins loses the 100-meter record to a technicality, she’ll have another shot in May 2022 — at the National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she’d strive for sub-60.
“If I can, I’d like to go,” she told The Washington Post. “You can’t count on much at 105. One day at a time.”
Story updated at 5:44 p.m. Nov. 18, 2021