Hubert Lawrence | The double that we want to see
There was excitement in the air when meet organisers approved a request from Michael Johnson to make the 200m/400m double possible at the 1996 Olympics.
Johnson had made his case with a gold medal audition at the 1995 World Championships and with a world record of 19.66 seconds in the curved sprint at the US Olympic Trials. With the world watching, he lived up to expectations at the Games in 19.32 and 43.49 seconds, respectively.
At the same Games, France’s Marie Jose Perec won the women’s 200m and 400m double.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo is walking in their footsteps. The tall Bahamian has been zooming at Johnson’s prime time distances for several seasons now and hit a home run in Zurich late in August with a super 200-metre run of 21.74 seconds. That’s the time Veronica Campbell-Brown produced to win her second individual Olympic gold medal in 2008, and it looked just as good.
There’s no way of knowing for sure whether she would win the 200m at the World Championships in Doha, but the schedule of the 17th global track and field showcase makes it impossible for us to find out. The heats and the semis of the 400m, in which she is Olympic champion, and the 200m are so tightly scheduled, that a double is daunting.
She tried the combo in 2017 at the 16th World Championships. Anxious to save energy at the end of the 400m final, she lost her stride and missed the podium completely. Then, in her sixth race in six days, Miller-Uibo salvaged a medal in the 200m. Dafne Schippers of Holland and Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou were long gone with the gold and silver.
Had she chosen to run the 200m this time around, her super Zurich run would make her the favourite. However, with Olympic champion Elaine Thompson and Schippers, the double defending world champion, both hoping to be at their best on the day, there would be no guarantees. Sadly, that race won’t happen when the world gathers in Doha. It’s an opportunity lost for Miller-Uibo, the fans and the sport.
A touch of excitement
Match-ups delight fans, and a Doha clash between Miller-Uibo, Thompson, Schippers, double European champion Dina Asher-Smith and 2017 runner-up Ta Lou all lined up together, fits the bill. To add a touch of excitement, just imagine what would happen if 2013 World 200-metre champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce came off the turn first.
Fortunately, the Tokyo Olympics lie ahead. There is time to revert to the schedule used when Allyson Felix tried the 200m/400m double at the 2011 World Championships. That timetable had a rest day in between the 400m and the 200m and it would be perfect.
Again, there are no guarantees. Things didn’t pan out for Felix in 2011, as she lost to Amantle Montsho of Botswana in the 400m and long-time rival Campbell-Brown and Carmelita Jeter in the 200m. Despite those losses, Felix was brave enough to try and fans respected her for it.
Miller-Uibo wants to try, too. She beat Asher-Smith and Thompson into third and fourth in the 200 metres at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Later in the year, she legged the 400m in 48.97 seconds. With her improving speed, that personal best will probably go in Doha and if it does, she will have done enough to earn a double-friendly schedule in Tokyo.
It’s a double people want to see.
Hubert Lawrence is a public relations specialist who has scrutinised athletics since 1980.