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Ring the alarm!

Published:Thursday | December 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Usain Bolt
Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba

Hubert Lawrence

There is alarm here about speculation that the IOC plans to cut the 200 metres from Olympic track and field competition. It's understandable. Thanks to the likes of Donald Quarrie, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Usain Bolt, Jamaica has won five gold, six silver and four bronze medals in the curved sprint at the Olympic Games.

When Quarrie made Jamaica's first Olympic medal in the 200m golden in 1976, the great one started a trend. The 2012 Games saw Jamaica gain medals in the 200m for the 10th straight Olympics. Moreover, Jamaica is reloading.

Last year, Michael O'hara of Calabar won the World Youth title. This year, Natalyah Whyte of St Jago took the Youth Olympic crown. Even so, it probably isn't wise to fight solely to keep the 200m in the Olympics.

smaller package

Apparently, the 10,000 metres and the shot put are on the chopping block too. The 10,000m has already been hurt by a seeming drive to squeeze athletics into a smaller package. When Finland's Lasse Viren won Olympic 5,000/10,000 doubles in 1972 and 1976, the longer event had heats and final. Now in this era controlled by Haile Gebreselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Mohammed Farah, the 10,000 is a straight final in all major championships.

A closer look shows that Ethiopia would suffer hugely if the 10,000-metre race disappears. While Kenya has eight medals in the event with one gold, the Ethiopians have 19 of 45 overall from the longest track race in athletics. That includes nine gold medals won by the likes of Deratu Tulu, Tirunesh Dibaba, Geta Wami, Miruts Yifter, Gebreselassie and Bekele.

The removal of the 10,000m would kill the Ethiopians. While Jamaica has Olympic medals from nine disciplines, the 45 Olympic medals won by the African nation have come from just four - the marathon, the steeplechase, the 5,000m and the 10,000m.

Ethiopian women have won Olympic medals in only three disciplines and the 10,000m is one of them. By way of comparison, Jamaica's women have mounted the Olympic podium for their success in six different disciplines.

Talk about pruning athletics has been brewing for years. Some think the 200m is too similar to the 100m and 400m and some feel the distances take too much time. The false-start rule was changed in 2010 to save time, and the sport's government body, the IAAF, has already tested restrictions to the number of field event attempts.

If the changes advance from the realm of speculation, the affected nations might be well advised to act together. Trading one event to save another might simply mean that your event is next on the chopping block. For Jamaica, standing together with fellow sprint powerhouses, field event giants and distance titans might be the only option.

Hubert Lawrence has scrutinised athletics since 1980.