It was the least they could do, but even then the IAAF didn’t seem to be doing Isaac Makwala any favours.
Whoever was responsible for barring the Botswanan from the London Stadium and his showdown with Wayde Van Niekerk in the World Championships 400 metres on Tuesday night, some amends were made when Makwala, who had to miss the 200m heats on Monday due to suffering from a vomiting bug, was given a qualifying heat of his own to run prior to last night’s session.
Despite the driving rain and relative chill of 13C, Makwala, willed on by the early crowd roared around his half-lap, to record 20.20sec, easily inside the 20.53sec required to qualify for the semi-finals later in the evening. For good measure, he dropped to the track and performed a half dozen push-ups, to prove he was far from spent.
Even then he started the semis with even more disadvantages. With three races available, he was added to the first, affording him less recovery time; even worse he was in the inside lane, since that was the only spare. As everyone will know, the tighter bend tends to be a bar to progress in a half-lap sprint. Furthermore, the relentless rain had made the inside lanes more like a swimming pool. Even so, Makwala overcame all of those drawbacks, catapulting out of the blocks and flying to one of the best lane one times in history, 20.14sec, only being edged by Isiah Young of the USA, on 20.12sec, both qualifying automatically for tonight’s final.
Surprisingly, Van Niekerk, widely touted to emulate Michael Johnson from Gothenburg 1995, and win both 200 and 400 metres only qualified as the second fastest loser with 20.28sec for third in the final heat, slower than Britain’s Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake on 20.19sec from Makwala’s heat.
Even a place in the 200 metres final this evening will be scant consolation for Makwala, who has run the fastest 400 metres of the year, and was expected to be a strong contender to beat world record holder Van Niekerk. But when Makwala succumbed to the stomach bug on Monday, he withdrew from that evening’s 200 heats, but said he was fully recovered for the 400 final on Tuesday. IAAF doctors maintained that he had had the contagious norovirus which requires 48 hour quarantine. Yet none of the dozens of people who either prevented him entering the stadium, or subsequently interviewed him seems to have succumbed.
And Makwala reasonably and pointedly asked if Mo Farah and Usain Bolt would have been excluded in similar circumstances.
From one fairy tale to another; Karsten Warholm of Norway, a 21 year old refugee from the decathlete had looked good in his heat and semi-final, and was being touted as a future star in the 400 metres hurdles. Warholm short-circuited those expectations with a dynamic run in the final. He blasted out of his blocks to tear into his better-known rivals. He had a clear lead at 200 metres, which he maintained through 300 metres. He began to tread water both literally and figuratively in the final straight. Though they made some inroads, his rivals ran out of track, and the photogenic Warholm held on to win in 48.35sec, a tenth outside his personal best.
As for Farah, he duly qualified for Saturday evening’s final of the 5000 metres, a title he has won on the three previous championships. After winning the 10,000 metres last Friday, the 34 year old Briton nominated the silver medallist, 20 year old Ugandan Joseph Cheptegei as his likely inheritor and an even bigger threat at this distance. But Cheptegei pulled out, claiming fatigue.
So Farah remains an outstanding favourite to win his fourth consecutive 5000 metres title, although the omni-present Ethiopians might have something to say about that. A second gold medal for Farah might help defray some of the criticism of a British team which performed so well collectively at London 2012, but may be subjected to the ignominy of relying on an Somali-born immigrant to win their only medals this week, and spare their blushes at London 2017.