Wild card wonders
When the IAAF introduced the World Championships' wild card in 1997, it wasn't welcomed by all. It seemed to appear all too suddenly to save superstar American Michael Johnson, who was struggling with injury a year after his wondrous 200/400 double at the Atlanta Olympics.
The wild-card provision ensures that defending champions, like Johnson was in 1997, are guaranteed a place in the next World Championship and are certain to enhance the meet with their prowess and presence.
It's looking like a pretty good decision now. Star throwers Robert Harting and Valerie Adams are recovering from surgeries. The giant German and the dominant New Zealander both need more time than they would have if they needed to prove their fitness to their home federations in the here and now.
The same goes for Ashton Eaton, the decathlon world record holder, who withdrew from a meet recently because of injury. All three are superstars and, if they are absent from the World Championships in Beijing this August, they will leave a huge gap.
Harting is on a World Championships streak in the discus with gold medals from 2009, 2011 and 2013, with an Olympic triumph tucked away in 2012. Adams is the reigning World and Olympic shot put champion. Last year, she was named World Athlete of the Year. She hasn't lost since 2010.
With the wild card provision now extending to Diamond League event winners, the benefits touch Jamaica, too. The threat of injury forced reigning world 100m and 200m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce to withdraw from a scheduled 200m race in Rome at the last moment. 2014 Diamond League 400 winner Novlene Williams-Mills stopped in her one-lap race in New York last Saturday. Even the incomparable Usain Bolt seems to need time to get into top shape.
By the way, given the worry Jamaicans show for Bolt's current form, spare a thought for our friends from Trinidad and Tobago and their defending world 400m hurdles champion Jehue Gordon. He ran 47.69 to win that title in 2013, but hasn't broken 49 yet this year. Fortunately, the Championships are in August.
In all, the only one of our wild-card holders who seems ready to roll is 2014 Diamond League 400m hurdle winner Kaliese Spencer. She has been in control in her two 2015 Diamond League races, with her times trending down to 54.15 seconds. By contrast, one of her rivals hasn't looked so good. Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic was a commanding winner at the last World Championships, but slow recovery from injury and surgery probably has her grateful for the extra time gifted to her by the wild card and direct entry in the Beijing summit meeting with Spencer.
Even though young American Shamier Little last week moved past Spencer's world leading time with a fast run of 53.74 seconds, no one yet expects her to test the leggy Jamaican the way a fit Hejnova would. After all, Hejnova ran faster times overall in 2013 than Spencer did in 2014. Her portfolio had nine sub 54 second clockings with a time of 52.83 to win the World title as the cherry topping. Last year, Spencer beat 54 three times. If she improves as seems likely and Hejnova comes back to form, then the 400m hurdles will be one of the events not to be missed in Beijing.
The wild card does have disadvantages. Wild-card holders are able to skip their national championships and that robs the home fans of an opportunity to see them compete. The greater good is served if they deliver at the World Championships. That's what Johnson did in 1997. Hopefully, that's what the Jamaican wild-card holders will do in Beijing.
n Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.