Fri | May 29, 2020

Why not five?

Published:Thursday | September 6, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Kenya's gold medal winner Ezekiel Kemboi (centre) crosses the line as Kenya's silver medal winner Richard Kipkemboi Mateelong (right) and their fourth-place compatriot Paul Koech looks on during the men's 3000m steeplechase final at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin. - AP

Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer

Until 1997, the World Championships allowed each competing country a maximum of three athletes per event. That was the year the IAAF introduced the defending champion's wild card. Now the IAAF is extending the wild card to winners of its Diamond League.

It looks good on paper. The Diamond League winners carry that status into the World Championships of the following year. It's a reward for consistent performances over the previous season.

For countries with a reigning World champion in the same discipline, it's not so good. Current rules say that teams with World champions can't have more than four athletes in each event. If they have both a World champion and a Diamond League winner in the same event, they've got problems.

With four the limit to the number of athletes one country can have in each event, such nations have to make a choice.

This problem shouldn't exist. It's simple. The IAAF should allow countries with both the World champion and the Diamond League winner to have five entrants per event. With a minor edit, the rules could easily accommodate a quintet of sprinters from Jamaica, or a fistful of fast steeplechasers from Kenya.

It would make 2012 Diamond League steeplechase winner Paul Koech a very happy man. World-class long enough ago to have a 2004 Olympic bronze medal, he can't qualify for the Kenyan team because the trials are always held at high altitude where he struggles.

The wild card would be a godsend for him if Kenya could enter five steeplechasers. The quintet could include Koech, 2011 World Champion Ezekiel Kemboi and the usual trio of men with the IAAF 'A' qualifying time.

This measure wouldn't have to bloat the overall number of competitors to be hosted by Moscow, the home of the 2013 World Championships.

The Championships currently include many athletes who don't meet its qualifying standard.

In the 2011 Daegu World Championship men's 100, for example, 18 men ran slower than 11 seconds. In the 400, one man ran a personal best of 49.74. Replacing some of those 'sprinters' with a Diamond League winner couldn't hurt.

The difficulty doesn't only reside in the sprints. In Daegu, one precious soul set a lifetime best of 18 minutes 44.06 seconds in the 5000 metres.

It's the same with the ladies. Heat 1 of the 100 preliminary round in Daegu saw personal best times for the first four - 12.14, 12.29, 12.63 and 12.89 seconds, respectively. In the women's 400 hurdles, there were career-best efforts of 58.54, 62.78 and 71.49 seconds, respectively, in the heats.

These athletes would be better off if they worked their way up through the IAAF's network of youth, junior, Under-23 and area championships. As things stand, they jump off in the deep end at the World Championships and drown. It's painful to watch 'sprinters' who obviously have never used blocks or worn spikes before. It's equally sad to see them apparently frightened by the sound of the starter's pistol.

Surely, the Diamond League winner in these events would add more competitive value.

To force individual athletic federations to choose 'between' World and DL champions and their other duly qualified athletes isn't cool. The smart money says that in most cases the DL winner will be ditched since the World champion has won gold on one of the sport's big days.

It's even worse when non-qualified athletes are guaranteed places in the IAAF's showcase. The dilemma punishes the good for being good. That can't be right. It certainly isn't fair.

Until the IAAF takes the baton, local federations will have to make the hard decisions. No one should blame them if they leave the DL winners to sink or swim in countries who have selection by trial. It's a choice they shouldn't have to make.

Hubert Lawrence has covered athletics since 1987.