05 July, 2016

Who will run at the Rio Olympics?

While following the Jamaican trials (the exact tile is a mouthful: Supreme Ventures Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) National Senior Championships) I was shocked by Bolt's absence from the 100 m final. What did happen? Bolt himself did explain in a tweet

And of course he withdrew from the 200 m as well. In a photo posted also on twitter we can see that Bolt is not losing time and is undergoing a treatment that will, hopefully, allow him to compete at the Olympics.

A second shock came a day later when Elaine Thompson, who won the 100m in a blazing 10.70, as well as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who finished second in 10.93, had withdrawn from the 200 m final. Thompson won a silver medal over 200 m in last year's World Championships while Fraser-Pryce was world champion in 2013.

The reasons evoked was that Fraser-Pryce continued to be in great pain as a result of her injured toe, and Thompson’s hamstring was hurting. Just as in the case of Bolt, a medical exemption was submitted for Thompson while Fraser-Pryce decided to forgo her participation in the 200 m.

So what will happen in Rio? Will Bolt run or are we condemned to see double doping offender Gatlin win another olympic medal (which will definitely spoil the 2016 Olympics for me)? Shall we be deprived of another fabulous duel like the one between Schippers and Thompson in last year's World's, this time arbitrated by the 2012 olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix?

But first things first. How can Bolt and Thompson participate in the Rio Olympics? The Jamaican trials are not like the US ones where you have to finish among the three first of else. The JAAA has a special provision in its selection policy:

Athletes who are ranked/listed in the top three in the world for their event who are ill or injured at the time of the National Championships and are granted an exemption from competing at the Championships may still be considered for selection provided that they are able to prove their world ranking form prior to the final submission of the entries for the competition. Where an athlete has been granted an exemption and the Selection Committee has determined that such an athlete should be selected among the entrants for the event that athlete shall be selected above the athlete placing third at the National Championships or in place of an athlete finishing in either of the first two places of the event where that athlete has been determined by a medical panel appointed by the JAAA to be ill or injured and not being in a satisfactory physical condition to warrant being entered to compete.

There is however a small problem. Bolt will try to prove that he is back in shape at the July 22, London Diamond League competition. I do not know what are the plans of Thompson but it is probable that she will choose the same competition. In any case the only other major, non-European, competition in this coming month is the July 15th, Monaco, Diamond League. Choosing the later date will provide the athletes with an extra week of recovery time. But, and this is a non-trivial but, the deadline for entries to the Olympics is fixed at July 18. And contrary to the World Championships where a nation can enter four athletes and select the three who will actually compete at the very last moment, in the Olympics there is no convenient proviso for reserves. So, what can be done?

One possibility is to replace one of the three entered athletes on medical grounds. In this case the athlete who is replaced cannot participate in any other event and, in fact, must leave the olympic team. In fact when something like this is foreseeable the national team can even enter the name of the athlete who may replace some other team member but this athlete is not member of the team until the final late-replacement decision (always on medical grounds) is taken. Such a late replacement can take place until 24 hours before the final confirmation of participation at a given event.

The alternative, which applies to the case of both Bolt and Thompson, is for athletes who are already members of the team to be considered as reserve for some other event. Thompson is already in for the 100 m and Bolt minimally for the 4x100 m relay. So, they can replace some other athlete at the moment of the final confirmation of participation and the athlete replaced does not lose his/her rights as member of the olympic team.

Of course the important question is not whether Bolt will participate but rather whether he will be in top shape and able to add a few more gold medals to his collection. I guess we shall have to wait till August for this.

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