IAAF accused of massive botch-up
THE loneliness of the short-distance runner captured the attention of the London crowd, at the World Athletics Championship. They knew Isaac Makwala was denied the opportunity to contest the 400m final the previous evening as medical officials had said he had contracted the highly contagious norovirus.
Just as they knew he had declared himself fit to run, only for those officials to turn him away at the entrance to the stadium, amid cries of sabotage and conspiracy, in the chaos of a championship that seems to become more bizarre by the day.
But they also knew the size of the task facing him here last night after being given a most extraordinary, seemingly unprecedented reprieve to resume his quest for gold in the 200m – one that resulted in the IAAF being accused of a lack of professionalism.
If Makwala wanted to participate in last night’s semi-finals after missing Monday’s heats due to his illness, he had to run a solo 200m in the lane he was given two days earlier – lane seven – in less than 20.53sec. For Makwala, that would not be a problem.
He is the fastest man in the world this year, after all. Not to mention the first man in history to run a sub-20 second 200m and sub-44 second 400m on the same night.
Out of quarantine and out there on the track, Makwala stood tall. He looked briefly beyond the deluge to the heavens, crossed himself and then took up his position in the blocks.
The London Stadium fell silent at that moment but the starter’s gun not only ignited the power in Makwala’s muscular frame but sparked a tremendous roar from the stands.
If he was fuelled by “anger”, as he said afterwards, he maintained his composure quite brilliantly. Makwala accelerated beautifully around the curve before driving those arms, one covered in Lycra, through the driving rain in a mesmerising race against time that ended with the sprinter crossing the line with time to spare.
After seeing the clock stop at 20.20, Makwala rattled off five press-ups, saluted and then disappeared down the tunnel in preparation for a semi-final race that was due to start little more than two hours later.
He said: “I am running with anger. I still want to run my 400m – that is my race. I want the IAAF to give me another chance. I am still running heartbroken. I wish the IAAF had taken the decision to let me run my 400m race first. I was ready to run the 400m. The 400 is the race that I am training for, I do the 200 sometimes.”
Had the IAAF acted in a bid to clear up the mess from the previous evening and scored what amounted to yet another PR own goal for the governing body? The statement they issued yesterday afternoon suggested not.
“The IAAF has received a written request from the Botswanan federation for Isaac Makwala to compete in the 200m,” it said.
Dai Greene, the former 400m hurdles world champion, said: “It seems a strange thing to do. For him to be deemed not fit for the first round and then being told he can come back to try to compete is weird. Does this imply they (the IAAF) were at fault the first time and this is them trying to give him a second chance? It’s really messy and it lacks professionalism.”
With the lanes already allocated for the other semi-finalists, Makwala was given lane one and only a rival with a heart of stone would have begrudged him being there. Van Niekerk watched his solo run while waiting for the 400m medal ceremony and he responded to Makwala’s finishing time with warm applause.
It was nothing, however, compared to the response Makwala got when he followed his solo run with another impressive performance, finishing second in the opening semi-final in 20.14 and marking his progression to this evening’s final with a celebratory point to the sky.
He finished just ahead of Great Britain’s increasingly impressive Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, who will also race tonight as the quickest of the two fastest losers.
Makwala rattled off five press-ups, saluted and then disappeared