Hubert Lawrence | Robbed of a great race
When the ‘Set’ command was issued to the athletes in the 100-metre hurdles final at last month’s National Championships, fans held their breath. In the field was Janeek Brown, the NCAA champion, world leader and new national record holder at 12.40 seconds. Beside her was the woman ranked number four in the world for 2018, Danielle Williams. It was a clash fans had longed for.
In 2018, Williams had won the Oslo Diamond League meet, cut her personal best to 12.48 in Stockholm, and on September 8 in the Czech city of Ostrava, she avenged her loss at the NACAC Championships to world record holder Kendra Harrison with a near-PB 12.49-second display to win the gold medal in the Continental Cup.
On that form, it seemed that in 2019, before Brown surged forward, that she was going to endanger Brigitte Foster-Hylton’s 2003 Jamaica record of 12.45 seconds.
When Williams, the 2015 World Champion, started this season with a 12.66 seconds win at the Doha Diamond League meet, it compared favourably to her performance at the same meet last year. On that occasion, she placed fifth in 12.82 seconds.
When the starter raised the field to the set position at the Nationals, the next sound should have been the starter’s pistol but instead, heard by many present, a loud sound pierced the quiet.
Reportedly produced by a child bursting an air-filled noisemaker, the sound prevented the staging of a fair start and it was reasonable to expect that a green card would appear. Had the sound been taken into evidence, the situation would have been saved. Williams was instead disqualified, robbing fans of the highly anticipated race with Brown.
The outcome was a long delay, injury to two of the other finalists in the second start, a decision to abort the race and select the nation’s hurdlers in accordance with the IAAF World Rankings and Williams’ expulsion not just from the Nationals, but also from the Jamaica World Championship team.
The situation isn’t beyond repair. The loud sound impaired the provision of a fair start. Once the selectors acknowledge that, Williams will certainly be restored to the pool of 100-metre hurdlers from which they will pick when the time comes. It’s simple and fair.
If the selectors hit that hurdle, Williams will have to qualify for and win the Diamond League final to earn herself a lane at the World Championships. Given her late-season form last year, I wouldn’t put it past her. Her event will be staged on Monaco on July 11, London on July 21, and Birmingham on August 18, with the final in Brussels on September 6.
That’s almost a year to the day after her fast Continental Cup win.
Spare a thought for the ladies who got injured in the restart. Had the original, impaired start received a call-up and a green card, their ailments might have been averted. Now, their route to the Worlds, or the Pan-Am Games in early August, has become far more difficult.
With that nagging discomfort aside, only one question remains. Had the noisemaker not sounded before the starter’s pistol, who would have won the 100 metre hurdles at the National Championships? Would Brown’s sizzling form have continued? Would Williams have defended the title she won in 2018? Would they have pushed and pulled each other to national record times? Or would someone else have spoilt the party? Thanks to that sound, we will never know.
Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.