23 August, 2016

The mysterious affair of the US women's 4x100 m relay

I have started collecting material for a more detailed article on the Rio Olympics and I reached the point where I had to deal with the relays. And then I felt that I had to write something about the 4x100 m women's relay fiasco.

No, the fiasco is not one of the US team. I have a great respect for athletes and (with a reservation I will voice later in this post) I admire the members of the US female team. The fiasco is one of the instances and their dealing with this case. 

So, what did happen during the semi-finals? A. Felix reached the third relay runner, E. Gardner, and tried to pass her the baton. Gardner did not manage to hold it firmly and the baton slipped out of her hand. With an impressive demonstration of presence of mind the US team-mates recovered the baton and went on to finish the race so that they could file a protest (Had they abandoned, a protest would have been impossible).

In the protest the US team argued that Felix had been elbowed by a brazilian athlete and had to throw the baton at Gardner who did not manage to grab it. Felix and Gardner initially did not try to recover the baton but started screaming in frustration. Only later the realisation that they had to finish the race set in and they went back to recover the baton. Felix declared:

“It just knocked me off. I mean, I was tripping, but I don't know, I was still trying to get it off, but I just...I couldn't.”

However a look at the video shows the brazilian runner turning her back to Felix. She does not see her coming and she is definitely not obstructing her: it is Felix who is bumping into her, which could even lead to disqualification of the US team (but that would have been too harsh a judgment indeed). 

I just hope the IOC does not order the video to be deleted

The rest is history. The brazilian team was disqualified. The rules stipulate that in case of disqualification either the race is re-held without the disqualified athlete/team or the affected athlete is allowed to compete in a subsequent round of the event. However, in clear disregard of the rules the US team was allowed to run alone their heat. Their time of 41.77 s was better the 42.70 s of the last two qualified teams, Canada and China. Initially, there was supposed to be a run-off between China and Canada but the judges went back to the photo-finish and decided that Canada had beaten China. So the latter was expelled from the final (and their subsequent appeal was denied).

All this rigmarole got me thinking. Had the same thing happened to some other team, what would have been the outcome? I am convinced that the clemency (and the rule twisting) shown in the present case would have been totally absent for any other team. But here we had to deal with a great US drama. Had the 4x100 m been non-qualified, A. Felix, who the US media try to pass as the female counterpart of U. Bolt, would have gone back home almost empty handed. After missing the US Trials for the 200 m (remember, the USATF had twisted the arm of the organisers in order to make the program compatible with a 200-400 double for Felix) and losing the 400 m, getting eliminated in the 4x100 m would mean that Felix's harvest in Rio would be a single 4x400 m gold. That was unacceptable and thus the US team was offered a place in the final which they went on to win. (Fair is fair: they managed to beat the jamaican team roundly 41.01 to 41.36 s, a jamaican team hampered by the presence of V. Campbell-Brown who is way past her prime).

And just a few lines in order to put the Felix-Bolt comparison to rest. Felix has 6 gold medals at the Olympics and 9 at the World's. However most of them are obtained in the relays. She has just one individual olympic gold medal and four individual world champion titles. Bolt in comparison has 6 individual olympic golds and 9 overall, where in the World's he has 11 gold medals and 7 individual world champion titles. Enough said.

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