Form and reputation counting for nothing is part of what contributes to the excitement of sport – witness two of the most consistent athletes in history failing to complete their events.
Multiple Olympic and world champions and world record-holders Kenenisa Bekele (10,000 metres) and Usain Bolt (100m) dropped out or were disqualified.
Injuries like that which doomed Bekele are the rub of the athletics green. They also denied former world 100m record-holder Asafa Powell and former world champion Tyson Gay their chances to run in Daegu, but the rules of the sport, reinvented for the benefit of television – and emphatically not for the good of the athletes – destroyed one of the spectacles of the championships by excluding Bolt.
They also removed former European and world indoor sprint champion Dwain Chambers and Olympic and World 400m gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu, further victims of premature starts.
Getting out of the blocks is a fundamental sprint skill, one Bolt appeared to have mastered, and certainly no sprinter is under less pressure at the start than Bolt.
However, he is now the extreme case which prompts further scrutiny of the one-strike-and-you’re-out principle, and perhaps even reappraisal of what it has achieved, and at what cost.
Swimming was first to introduce this, and it was some time before athletics followed.
Long before that, Linford Christie, Olympic and world 100m champion (and convicted drug cheat) had proudly boasted that he never false-started. Yet there were to be two high-profile exceptions. He made a complete buffoon of himself in Atlanta when he was dismissed from the 1996 Olympic 100m final as he attempted to defend his title. He refused to walk after a second default, before Donovan Bailey won in world record time. But Christie was also once given bizarre latitude at the AAA Championships in Birmingham where he was allowed to run in the 100m final despite having been disqualified after a second false start.
Following the intervention of Peter Radford, former Olympic 100m bronze medallist and chief executive of UK Athletics, Christie was allowed to run in the final, on the basis that the crowd had paid to see him run. It was a flawed decision, no matter how well-intentioned, taken in the era when it required two false starts by the same individual to disqualify.
Consequently, all eight competitors could have a false start against their name before a ninth would see the first of them eliminated. With as many as 16 100m heats at major championships, this could play havoc with TV schedules. Consequently, under pressure from television, the IAAF bowed to a change, with any athlete jumping the gun going out.
Rules are rules, but paying spectators in Daegu were bitterly disapointed to be denied the chance to see Bolt. Imagine the reaction if there is a repetition in London next year from those who have paid £700 for the Olympic 100m final session.
Sponsors of major events will take a jaundiced view if top competitors cannot be delivered to the start line. It is even possible that this could rebound on the market value of events. In the current climate. athletics can ill-afford to offend potential sponsors.
It would be preposterous, of course, to suggest that Bolt should have been allowed to run. But it is also a mistake for the world body to pander to the media by rewriting the rules.
Pehaps the IAAF should consider a penalty which has been in vogue for years in the professional arena: pull the offender back by a metre, so that he runs 101m, or 102m if he defaults twice.
Then nobody is cheated.
n Dayron Robles, the Cuban world record-holder who was disqualified from 110m hurdles gold after a brush with his Chinese predecessor, Liu Xiang, has a troubled history with officials, and Liu.
He has been disqualified before for obstruction, but at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Robles thought Liu had jumped the gun, which he had. But as Robles pulled up, he realised to his horror that there was no recall gun, and he was eliminated. Playing to the whistle is always the best policy.
Disqualifying Robles in Daegu did not necessarily serve the ends of justice – Liu may well have won but for tangling with Robles. Robles was rightly sanctioned but a rerun is not without precedent and would have better served the ends of justice.
n Prodigy has had a field day this week in Korea. First it was 17-year- old Ethiopian Mohammad Aman reaching the 800m final. Then 22-year-old Ibrahim Jeilan upstaged gallant Mo Farah with a 52-second last lap to win the 10k. Kirani James, just 18, defeated the defending and Olympic champion, LaShawn Merritt, to take 400m gold, and yesterday 23-year-old Tatyana Chernova ended the reign of Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon.
We had best hope there is a British prodigy waiting in the wings somewhere come London next year. The omens for 2012 are not good.
n “Oscar Pistorius in the 400 metres hurdles . . . History in the making as Oscar Pistorious makes history.”
That was the dramatic, if slightly repetitious intro to one of Channel 4’s broadcasts. Step forward new kid on the athletics commentary blocks, Ortis Deley. Well, it certainly would be history – and so, we suspect, may Ortis. Pistorius was actually running the flat 400, not the hurdles.
Deley is somewhat off the pace, and clearly has little empathy for the sport. Oh, for a Ron Pickering to open his mouth and show his class.