Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Bizarre solo relay in Rio puts power of US on full display

By Li Yang (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-20 09:38

Bizarre solo relay in Rio puts power of US on full display

English Gardner (L) and Allyson Felix (R), from the United States, drop the baton in a women's 4x100-meter relay heat at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 18, 2016. [Photo/IC]

When the US' Tianna Bartoletta stood at the starting line of the 4x100 meters solo women's relay in the Maracana Stadiumon Thursday evening, she added another color to the already colorful Rio Olympic Games: strangeness. The US quartet was to run a solo relay-without challengers.

During the heat in the morning, the US' Allyson Felix was jostled by a Brazilian rival as she tried to hand over the baton to the third runner English Gardener, knocking her off balance and sending the baton flying. The US team lodged a protest against the incident and won the right for a solo re-run.

For the first time in Olympics' history, a relay team ran all by itself. Free of rivals, the American runners did not drop the baton again, as their predecessors had done at the Athens 2004 and 2008 Beijing Olympics. They clocked 41.77 seconds, the second-fastest this season and the fastest among all qualifiers. Since relay finals must be limited to eight teams, the Americans eliminated the Chinese team which had clocked 42.70 seconds in the morning heats.

The tumultuous hiss of the spectators in the stadium said it all: none seemed convinced with the bizarre decision of the Jury of Appeal of the International Association of Athletics Federations, which also rejected China's protests without giving any clarification.

Although Felix described the solo re-run as "weird" and "strange", she called the spectators' hiss "cheer" in an interview after the drama. "When we walked out and people were cheering for us, it encouraged us. We're just grateful." A perfect example of patting one's own back.

But some disgusted spectators and athletes left the stadium before the "weird" re-relay started, according to China Central Television, because they considered the race against the Olympic spirit.

The US team is made up of some of the world's best sprinters, making it the most competitive contender this year. Although uncertainties and upsets add to the charm of sports, every individual and team has to abide by the rules of fair play.

And fair play demands IAAF clarify the reasons why it allowed the "weird" re-run. For instance, the world athletics governing body could have ordered a re-run with all the teams.

The baton hand-over technique is a crucial part of relays. Athletes practice for years to master the best way to execute it. Despite the US being a sports powerhouse, its men's 4x100m relay team has failed to hand over the baton or has been disqualified eight times at the Olympics

Many teams file protests against rivals after dropping the baton, but few win a second chance, let alone a solo re-run.

The US team has benefited from the controversial decision, and China is the victim. The Chinese team was "eliminated" because of a difference of 0.006 second with Canada which was immediately ahead in the heats. A quick online survey in China shows 50 percent of the respondents saying that they are angry with the IAAF's deicision, but as high as 40 percent stating that the decision is understandable given the US' influence.

Considering the overpowering influence of the US, the other seven teams in the relay final should be careful not to give a chance to the Americans to file another appeal against some other runner. The world doesn't want to see a solo-re-run in the final of an athletic event at the Olympics. It wants competition, but fair competition.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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