THE Olympic swimming competition plunged straight into controversy on the first day of action in the pool yesterday with the shock disqualification and reinstatement of South Korea's 400 metres freestyle champion Park Tae-Hwan.
Tae-Hwan, a national hero to his compatriots after he overcame childhood asthma to become the first South Korean swimmer to win Olympic gold in Beijing four years ago, was judged to have moved on the block.
After a protest, and several hours of deliberation, governing body FINA back-tracked on the referee's decision and decided he could compete in the evening's final at the expense of Canadian eighth-placed qualifier Ryan Cochrane.
FINA said the unusual reversal was based on the recommendation of its technical swimming commission but provided no further details in a one paragraph statement that begged plenty of questions.
An official for the governing body said the original disqualification had been based on visual evidence rather than technology.
Reinstatements are rare but FINA has performed similar U-turns before.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, American Aaron Peirsol was reinstated as the winner of the 200m backstroke after winning an appeal against his disqualification.
The first big controversy in the London pool came moments after American Michael Phelps, the greatest of Olympians with 14 gold medals, narrowly avoided creating another huge shock by sneaking through to the 400 individual medley in eighth place as last of the qualifiers.
Tae-Hwan seemed to have made a schoolboy error in moving too early for a heat he should have won easily, a mistake that provided a flashback to his Olympic debut in 2004 when he was also disqualified from his preliminary heat in the same distance.
The youngest South Korean athlete at those Athens Games, he was so upset he hid in a bathroom for hours.
The reinstatement left the first male swimmer to win four individual medals at an Asian Games in a single stroke on course for an appetising duel with China's Sun Yang, still clear favourite for gold.
Sun set the fastest overall time, just ahead of American Peter Vanderkaay, while German world record holder Paul Biedermann, missed out on the final after initially finishing 12th overall then dropping to 13th after Tae-Hwan's reinstatement.
Timing is done by Omega, who have introduced new electronic sensor pads on the blocks for London to measure swimmers' reaction times, but only the referee can declare the disqualification. Reuters