Why 200 warm-up was short
The following is Part 4 in a series in response to an article written by former Amateur Athletic Association secretary Joyann Clarke in the SUNDAY SUN of August 19.
It is important to set the scene about my physical health at the time of the 2000 Olympic Games.
I mentioned before that I flew from Japan to Sydney for the Games. I was in Japan, competing at a meet ten days before the Games, in order for my coach and me to determine whether I was healthy enough to compete in Sydney.
This was because (as I have mentioned above, and recently in the series of Olympic retrospective articles by Sherrylyn Toppin, published by the DAILY NATION in early July 2012) I was battling a number of health problems going into the Games. I had missed most of the pre-season training due to a prolonged spate of immune problems and difficulties associated with my asthmatic condition.
I only began serious training in April (the Games were in September). I had also sustained a toe injury on the European circuit and not raced for six weeks. I was also feeling slight discomfort in my hamstring up to a few days before the 100 metres started, though my physiotherapist worked feverishly on me, and sought to assure me that all would be well.
Ms Clarke has claimed that I was the favourite to take the gold medal in the 200 metres at the Games.
“Everyone in Sydney believed that he would have gotten the gold medal,” she wrote.
This is news to me. I do not know how her survey was done or what globe she consulted to come to the conclusion that everyone had me as the favourite. I had certainly hoped to bring home the gold medal in that event, but I did not start the race as the favourite. That honour belonged to John Capel, of the United States, who had clocked 19.85 seconds in that event on July 23, 2000, as against my all-time best of 19.97 seconds in Japan on September 9, 2000.
Although she is correct that Ato was not having a stellar season, he had clocked the same time as myself during the year, he had an all-time best of 19.77 seconds and several times that were faster than mine, and he had just defeated me in the 100 metres final a few days before.
Up to the semi-finals, Capel also stood out as the favourite, with a time of 20.10 seconds, that is, nine-tenths of a second faster than Christian Malcolm, who had the second fastest time. I clocked 20.21 seconds in the semi-finals, while Ato clocked 20.20 seconds. The cold conditions during the Games made it quite difficult for any runner to produce faster performances.
Capel placed last in the final, because he apparently did not hear when the pistol went off or thought that a false start had taken place. (His reaction time was 0.348 of a second.) The race was won by Konstantinos Kenteris, who had clocked 20.20 seconds in the semi-finals and went on to clock 20.09 seconds (the fastest time for all rounds in that event), much faster than any time he had done before the Olympics and much to the consternation of nearly everyone watching the event.
Ms Clarke writes correctly about him that he “came to the world scene in 1999” and “was not even known to people.” However, by refusing to say anything more about him and his subsequent career she clearly implied that he held no mysteries about this performance and what subsequently transpired during his rather short international career.
To my mind, this is subterfuge. Kenteris’ performance during the next four years, leading to his being banned from the Olympics in Greece, his own country, are known to those who follow the sport diligently and therefore need not detain us here. It would perhaps repair her understanding of the man and his achievements by reading the article on the Internet by Tom Fordyce, entitled Kenteris – The Greek Enigma.
As regards my own performance, by the time I had completed the 100 metres my legs were very sore, though I felt encouraged after winning the second round of the 200 metres. However, after the semi-finals, I returned to the warm-up track and told Coach Pfaff that I was completely fatigued. I expressed these concerns to him just short of two hours before the final.
I could feel my body breaking down and I knew that my mind would soon follow. Therefore, after Mr Morin, my physiotherapist, gave me a brief “shake out” of lactic acid, I asked everyone to leave me alone for half-hour or so in order for me to pray, have a nap, clear my mind, and let my body recover.
I believe that it was during this time that Ms Clarke and Mr Lynch arrived. Apparently, as I later learned, they became incensed that my so-called “entourage” had dealt with them in a way that they regarded as snobbish. I am unsure what was communicated to them or how everything transpired outside the room.
When I emerged from the room, my coach and I discussed our approach to the final. The 100 metres and 200 metres are different events, and although there are similarities in the warm-up sequences, there are still significant differences. A 100 metres warm-up tends to be very dynamic, with a lot of short, aggressive runs, drills and block starts. The goal is to get the body ready for maximum velocity.
In contrast, a 200 metres warm-up tends to be less intense. The 200 metres is a longer race with less emphasis on absolute top speed and more on speed endurance – accelerating to a high but not maximal speed and maintaining that velocity for as long as possible. Generally, subsequent warm-ups become progressively shorter the more races that one runs in a day, because the muscles and central nervous system tend to be “fired up” already.
We decided on an abbreviated warm-up routine so that I could preserve my body and what little energy I had left. Part of that warm-up was to take place on the above ground warm-up track and the other part on the 60 metres underground track during the 45 minutes or so of processing that occurs before athletes compete in the main stadium.
Perhaps Ms Clarke and Mr Lynch did not understand what was happening, but it is laughable to believe that a coach of Mr Pfaff’s calibre would allow me to enter into an Olympic final, where I had an excellent chance of medalling, without any sort of warm-up. As it was, I trusted implicitly in his judgement on the matter.
Just before we parted company, Coach Pfaff encouraged me to run with all my heart and give it my best shot. As usual, I followed his direction about the final warm-up and went into the stadium, tired but still confident that I could emerge as the Olympic champion if my body would hold up. I was in a good position coming off the turn and I felt confident because I was ahead of Ato who was in the lane immediately outside of me. However, I soon felt fatigued and faded during the last 50 metres.
I crossed the line disappointed but happy that, according to my count of athletes who had passed me (Kenteris from Greece and Darren Campbell from Britain), I had won another bronze medal. I was surprised to see that Ato was awarded third place and I was given fourth. However, I was confident that my team officials would protest.
Ms Clarke wrote that both she and Mr Lynch went and viewed the tape to the thousandth of a second, and were convinced that Ato had come third and I fourth. She also expressed the view that if I really believed that I had come third I would have called one of them to protest the result.
Of course I was interested in having the results being officially reviewed, since the board displaying the result was showing Ato and me as clocking the same time. It is unfathomable for me to even imagine that anyone would think that I would not have been interested. I was the one who had trained and sacrificed very much for many years to compete in that event. I was the one who had done all the hard work to get there. It is unreasonable to expect me, or any other athlete, after such a gruelling schedule, to contact a team official about making an official protest within the 30-minute deadline. It is the official’s duty, not that of the athlete.
Ms Clarke also makes it seem as though it is simple to contact team officials after a competitor leaves the warm-up stadium. I am unsure if she ever competed at a major championship, but it simply does not work that way. From the time that an athlete checks in for an event and enters the call room that individual ceases to have contact with any of his/her human props (coaches, managers, physiotherapists, and so on), but only with the other athletes who are also checking in for their events and the meet officials.
Severe restrictions are usually placed on their movement and on what equipment they could wear or use. Athletes at that stage are forbidden to have electronic equipment such as cell phones or iPods. The call room is one of the toughest experiences that athletes undergo at any major championship. How one handles this process often plays a major role in how well one is likely to perform.
Moreover, when athletes finish races, they pass through what is known as the “mixed zone,” where they have to snake through lines of media on the way to retrieving their warm-up gear. By the time one reviews one’s performance during the replay of the race on the big screen, gets the energy to walk past the “mixed zone” (which could be a brutal experience if one underperforms), collects and puts on one’s warm-up clothes, and makes the five to ten minute trek back to the warm-up stadium, one could easily take 20 to 30 minutes. Ms Clarke greatly misrepresents what actually occurs on such occasions and the freedoms that athletes could exercise during this time.
Let me make it abundantly clear here that I was not suggesting that I should have been given third place and Ato fourth place. Rather, I am suggesting that both of us could/should have been given third place and bronze medals. The Olympic Committee leaves room for this eventuality and it has been done more than once, and even at the recent Olympic Games in London.
Ms Clarke asserts that “the photo finish that is available for all to see shows Oba fourth”.
The assertion is indeed accompanied by a photo “for all to see,” and at face value would seem to indicate that I am in fourth place. But wait a minute. If the photo in question was the one that the Olympic officials used it should have shown me clocking something like 20.22 seconds, that is, at least two-hundredths of a second slower than Ato. However, as we have stated already, the official readout on the poster board clocked us as doing the same time (20:20 seconds), and so the discrimination between us had to be made to the thousandth of a second, which cannot be seen by the naked eye. This indicates clearly that the angle from which the photo was taken was not (and could not be) the basis for determining the third and fourth positions – the official photo has to show a breakdown to the thousandths. Such a determination has to be done electronically, and even then often entails some guesswork.
Fortunately, we have a recent example from the women’s 100 metres final at the US Olympics trials in June 2012 to illustrate this point. I will go into a fair amount of detail here in order to dispel any myths that the camera which freezes the frame at the time that each athlete is believed to have crossed the line gives a foolproof result.
The photo finish of that race seems to show that Jeneba Tarmoh was clearly ahead of Allyson Felix by a margin of about two-hundredths of a second. However, when the printout of the time was made it initially showed Tarmoh as clocking 11.067 seconds and Allyson Felix as clocking 11.068 seconds, a difference of one-thousandth of a second.
It took Roger Jennings, the official responsible for posting the results, about 25 seconds before he could do so, a very long time by athletic standards, and even then he was uncertain of what he had posted. He confessed that his camera, which takes 3000 frames a second, still could not determine with infallibility the actual result because the athlete’s torso, on which the determination is made, is not always sufficiently visible to be read, and in the case of Tarmoh was not visible at all in any of the camera’s frames. He therefore had to make a determination of her torso partly on guesswork.
Out of extreme caution, he summoned officials at the meet to review the camera shots and they too, could not come to an exact determination on the matter. The decision was left to Bob Podkaminer, an experienced US track and field official, who ruled that the result was a tie. It took about 45 minutes before a final (but not a unanimous) decision was reached on the matter.
It is important to note that the cameras used in 2012 are far more sophisticated than those used in 2000, that Roger Jennings is one of the leading experts in his field and is the US representative on the IAAF panel of reviewers. I have included extracts in this article from the article that Tim Layden wrote after interviewing Jennings (see attached extracts), in order to give readers a better appreciation of the problems experts sometimes face in determining the positions in which competitors have finished.
What I have said here should make it clear why I maintain that our managers should have appealed the decision respecting the 200 metres race which excluded me from the medal podium.
I may add here that I have been involved personally in other photo finish reviews that led to changes of results. In 1998, for instance, at a DN Galan Golden League meet in Stockholm, Sweden, I was first adjudged to be in fifth position after running a time of 10.06 seconds in the 100 metres (one of the four Barbados records I set that season in that event) along with two other competitors. However, after Renaldo Nehemiah, my manager, protested the result the officials did a lengthy review of the photo finish with the result that I was bumped up to fourth, the originally determined fourth-place finisher moving up to third, and the originally adjudged third-place runner being given fifth place.
So, I was quite aware that reviews resulting from protests can result in significant changes.
• Obadele Thompson is Barbados’ first individual Olympic medallist, winning a bronze medal in the men’s 100 metres at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The fifth and final part of this series will appear in the SUNDAY SUN.