Run on a technicality

The tasks of the athletics technical delegates at a world championships or major games are wide and varied, but always with the rider that we have responsibility for working out how to proceed with something that’s never happened before.

GOING SOLO: Botswana's Isaac Makwala crosses the finish line in his men's 200m individual time trial during the World Athletics Championships. Picture: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

GOING SOLO: Botswana's Isaac Makwala crosses the finish line in his men's 200m individual time trial during the World Athletics Championships. Picture: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

For example - the unprecedented situation in London this week with Botswana’s Isaac Makwala.

The rising star’s clashes with 400 metres world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk over both that distance and the 200 metres were looming as a highlight of the 2017 World Championships.

But fate of the most unexpected kind intervened as Makwala, along with a few dozen other athletes and team officials, found themselves quarantined with an infectious virus.

For the medical teams it was a tough decision – the health of the public and 3000-plus athletes and officials staying in the team hotels versus the desire of individual athletes to be able to compete.

Some of those athletes who were affected, including Makwala, were adamant that they felt fine to compete even in an arduous event like the 400 metres.

And the doctors were fairly sure that in most cases recovery would be fairly quick for such super-fit people.

But the risk of transmission was considered to be very high and contact with unaffected athletes in any way was to be avoided.

So the call was made on medical and public health grounds that athletes diagnosed with the virus would be quarantined for 48 hours.

It meant that Makwala missed the 400 metres final after qualifying fourth-fastest and before that, the first round of the 200 metres that was held the day in between the 400 semis and final.

But Makwala was one of those who did recover quickly and his team asked we three technical delegates allow him to run alone the next evening to try to record a time that would have progressed him to the semi-finals scheduled for a couple of hours later.

While running alone for time itself is not unprecedented, having been used as a mechanism of overcoming an injustice one way or another several times over the past five years, doing so for this reason was.

In fact, it is almost unprecedented that an athlete has a medical certificate thrust upon them to prevent them from running.

It is usually the other way around with the athlete presenting such documentation to explain why they are not.

We made the call that he should be given the chance, pending the clearance out of quarantine – which came four hours before his eventual time trial.

It was a relatively easy one to make technically because no other athlete already qualified for the semis would be disadvantaged.

United States' Ryan Crouser, right, congratulates gold medal winner New Zealand's Tomas Walsh after the men's shot put. Picture: AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

United States' Ryan Crouser, right, congratulates gold medal winner New Zealand's Tomas Walsh after the men's shot put. Picture: AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

Fortunately the London track has a spare circular lane which can be used when necessary.

Makwala was so keen to have his chance to run that he readily agreed to the conditions of our offer – to time trial in lane 7, the lane in which he was originally drawn for the first round and then if he made it, to take lane 1 in the semi-final.

To the continuous roar of the crowd he made the solo time with ease – by three-tenths-of-a-second and then automatically qualified for the final.

The following day there was a sixth in the final – the toll of the illness and two races in two hours the day before, clearly having an effect.

As it happens while such decisions have largely been made by precedent until now, rule changes already made that come into effect on November 1 will actually make provision for it.

As they will for two other controversies this week.

Firstly American Ryan Crouser’s shoe touched the back of the circle in the shot put delivering the gold to Kiwi Tom Walsh, and then there was Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic whose fine last leap in the long jump had to be measured from the mark made by the name bib attached to the back of her competition top.

Come November both results would have been quite different.