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News06 Mar 2004

The 200m finally loses the indoor lottery


Marlon Devonish (GBR) - 200m heats (© Getty Images)

Make the most of the lessthan-21 seconds of the men’s 200 metres final at the IAAF World Indoor Championships here in Budapest on Sunday afternoon, because it is the last time you will ever see the distance raced at an international championships indoors.

The indoor track’s one-lap sprint has provided numerous thrilling moments in the past. But whoever crosses the line in Budapest to take the men’s or women’s title will go down in the record books as the last World Indoor 200m champion.

For the 200m indoors is a victim of the athletes’ success. On the tight, banked indoor circuits, the sprinters, hitting speeds of more than 35kph, are often racing just too fast to hold the bends and stay in their lanes.

So much so, that 200m finals at major championships, even at national level, have now become a virtual lottery: get drawn in any lane other than five or six, and you may as well not bother turning up for the race, an increasingly common option for some sprinters faced with the impossibility of chopping their stride around the curve when they should be at full flow. The alternative has been to race and risk potentially long-term injury, which few athletes are willing to do in Olympic year.

“We took the decision to drop the 200m because, basically, the event had become unfair, and too predictable,” Nick Davies, the Director of Communications for the world governing body, says.

“You shouldn’t know the winners of an athletics event before the start.”

Even Marlon Devonish, the 2003 World Indoor champion, owes his title, to a degree, to the problems of racing the furlong. Last year in Birmingham was very much the final straw, when 25 men were disqualified from the heats of the 200m, usually for running outside their lanes. Among those eliminated in this way were two of the favourites, including the defending champion, Shawn Crawford, of the United States.

In an extraordinary feat that reversed all trends, Crawford had won the title from lane four in Lisbon in 2001, where the track was so tight that the two inside lanes were not used at all during the preliminary rounds. But the American’s disappointment last year was at least one reason he opted for the “easy life” of a straight, and flat, 60-metre dash here in Budapest this year.

Prior to Crawford’s 2001 victory, the three previous World titles had been won from lane six, while only once in the past decade has a world men’s 200m final started and finished with all six athletes standing.

“Of course, the end of the 200m is regrettable, because we want all our meetings to offer a full range of events, for spectators and competitors,” Davies says, “and regardless of the problems with the event, it is always a spectacle to see world-class competitors going at full throttle around the track.

“But we also have a responsibility to present competition which is fair to all, and unfortunately this was often no longer the case with the 200m.”