Tuesday, 30 August 2011

World Championships suffer false-start

Now i’m not a raving athletics fan, but watching some of the World Championships in Daegu this week, I really had to feel for some of the British athletes, and others besides.

Jessica Ennis today failed to emulate her Championships of 2009 and scoop gold in the heptathlon. Actually, ‘failed’ is a bit harsh, seeing as she claimed silver which is no mean feat, especially not spread across so many disciplines. But she was undoubtedly and understandably disappointed that she wasn’t able to become the first British athlete to defend a world title. Instead, that opportunity and associated pressure now lies with triple-jumper Phillips Idowu, whose qualification round begins Fridays morning.

Similarly, Mo Farah took silver on Sunday in the 10,000 metres, after being pipped at the post by an Ecuadorian he’d never even heard of! In his efforts to take the world crown, Farah broke away from the pack just a little too soon and ran out of steam, but the unbelievable amount of determination and exertion displayed across his face as he fought tooth and running-spike to hold onto his lead was awe-inspiring. Unfortunately in those situations, as idealistic as it may be to pressure your opponents by creating a gap and (quite literally) running away with it, the easier job may actually lie in chasing the leader. At least you have something to aim for and drive you on, whereas out in front, you’re looking over your shoulder and with no marker set down, it’s sometimes difficult to know how much you need to push yourself to reach the finishing line.

Nevertheless, despite the duos disappointments, better to suffer them now than next summer at the Olympics. It gives them both some extra drive and determination, if they need it, to succeed on the biggest and best stage sport provides.

But it has not just been the Brits suffering in South Africa. Usain Bolt and – ok, more Brits – Christine Ohurugou and Dwaine Chambers (my sympathy is limited where he’s concerned) have each been disqualified from their respective events for false starts. Under new-ish laws, there are no second chances for false-starters. Previously, the first athlete to jump the gun would be allowed to try again, although any second athlete would be automatically disqualified. This was changed because slow-starting runners could purposefully false-start once and hinder their opponents who were quicker out of the blocks.

In an ideal world, each athlete would be given one chance before disqualification, but in this 21st Century world, television rules and the time this could take means it is not an option. In my humble opinion (and apologies to my employers), TV can take a running jump quite frankly. Whilst Lord Coe believes getting away properly is all part of the race, it only takes one twitch, one bit of over-enthusiasm and two or even four years of training and hard-work (and in some cases drug abuse) is in tatters. And that’s only from an athlete’s perspective. What about the thousands of people who have paid through the nose (especially in the case of London 2012) to watch the world’s best competitors and those who haven’t been lucky enough to get tickets but have forked out for Sky/ESPN/Eurosport for the same privilege?

As it transpires, Usain Bolt can consider himself especially unfortunate, as television pictures actually show the eventual winner of the men’s 100 metres on Sunday (and Bolt’s training partner), Yohan Blake, twitched on the blocks before Bolt, well...bolted. Whether this movement triggered Bolt’s premature departure or not we will never know and the ever-gracious Olympic champion is unlikely to say. But in the black and white laws penned by the IAAF, Blake’s movement should have meant disqualification but the sensors failed to pick it up.

No matter what Lord Coe says, one strike and you’re out just isn’t the way forward for athletics. Except in the case of drug abuse, in which case Dwaine Chambers should consider his false-start disqualification the second chance that he blew.

Overall, the World Championships have so far provided many talking points. With five days left to go, let’s hope they continue to do so, but with more positive news for the Brits and athletics as a whole.

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