I ask that question because over the past few days I’ve read many, many complaints about sprinters receiving a “bye” from the first round of the Olympics – based upon the changes to be instituted at this year’s World Championships in Daegu.
I raise the question not because I am opposed to the scheduling change as it will apply in Daegu, because I stated in my previous post that I am definitely in favor of that change. Instead I raise the issue because I AM opposed to the change for the Olympics – but NOT for the standard reasons that have been given.
First off, let me clarify what I feel is a mistake on the part of many that also oppose this change for the Olympics. That mistake is in calling this scheduling change a “bye” – because apparently the reason for most of the vehemence on the part of many athletes and fans that do oppose this move is because they are against these sprinters getting a “bye” in the Games. I’ve even some make statements as ridiculous as "It's pretty much hanging medals around people's necks before they've started." . Really? I mean we are talking about 100 sprinters that won’t be running four rounds – they will be running THREE. I don’t think that qualifies as a “bye”. And unless they’re handing out medals to 100 participants per event, I’m not sure how that statement is remotely on track.
What IS happening is that there will be a first round of athletes that have NOT made the “A” or “B” STANDARDS that will be given an opportunity to move on to those three rounds in spite of not making the standard. So there is no “bye” but rather the “opportunity” to run in a race that you did not qualify for! A very important distinction.
Because having said that, there is “theoretically” a major philosophical difference between the Olympics and the World Championships – a difference that I feel is the tipping point between “opportunity” and “qualification”!
The Olympics is the world’s quadrennial celebration of world wide brotherhood. It’s a time when the nations of the world come together in what has become the planet’s biggest “Kumbaya” moment – performed under the banner of athletic competition. Under the Olympics' five ring banner, every nation is invited to send at least one participant in every event to compete. Under that banner representation is the right of all – regardless of how good the athlete is. Because under the Olympic ideal it is participation, not performance that is the goal of the Games.
Now we all know that the “perception” of the Olympics has changed from one of participation to that of the world’s greatest sporting event. Regardless of perception however, as long as the tenets of the Games remain as they have been since it’s modern inception by Pierre de Coupertin, the ideal that every nation has the right to participate means from the beginning of the competition until they are eliminated. Which in my book means that everyone starts at the same line – and in the sprints or whatever event that would mean from the first round until elimination! So there should not be a round where some participate for the “privilege” of competing against the rest. Ergo no adoption of the IAAF rule for the World Championships.
The World Championships, on the other hand, has established no pretext that it is anything other than a Championships competition. It was established with the sole purpose of determining the champions of track and field! The problem with respect to this conversation, is that the World Championships are patterned after the Olympic Games – and so people have come to look at them as “the same” but with different names. As a matter of fact most consider the Olympics to be of higher prestige. Which is why I have said for a long time that the World Championships needs to develop an identity of it’s own. Personally I would like to see the World Championships move to inviting only the top athletes to participate – moving it to more of a championships event than the Olympics’ Kumbaya event. Until that happens, I think that having the top 100 run three rounds and having a “run in” round for those that DO NOT MEET THE STANDARD is a compromise that is moving in the right direction. So I support this format for the World Championships.
For me it is not about how many times I see a particular athlete on the track, or if we are giving “byes” to 100 athletes in a particular event. It is about maintaining the highest level of competition that can be assembled under each format. For Kumbaya that means allowing one athlete per event regardless of ability and send him/her out there to take their shot against the rest of the world. For a pure Championship it means getting the best available together and let them go at it. Unfortunately we have a somewhat “hybrid” championship event, which requires us to adopt a somewhat “hybrid” rounds system for the sprints.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. A thumbs up for the schedule change for Worlds as it’s a move in the right direction towards a pure championship. Thumbs down for the change for the Games because it is counter to the Kumbaya moment that has become the Olympic Games. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander.