World Athletics on Monday announced that they were set to introduce a repechage round in individual track events from 200m to 1500m races for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. The World Athletics Council ratified the decision and also made the repechage applicable for hurdles events.
“In the new repechage format, athletes who do not qualify by place in round one heats will have a second chance to qualify for the semi-finals by participating in repechage heats,” World Athletics said.
What is repechage?
Repechage essentially means a second chance. If a sport has repechage, it means that the athlete will get one more chance to compete and move into further rounds and possibly the final, even if they have lost once in the initial rounds.
In athletics, the repechage round would mean that every individual event track athlete from 200m to 1500m would race twice at the Olympics. According to World Athletics, the events at the Olympics would now consist of a round one, repechage round, semi-finals and finals. Repechage for the 100m race was not included because the event already has preliminary heats in place.
What are the current rules?
According to the current rules, athletes qualify when they place at the top of their heats or post the fastest times in their heat.
What is the need for repechage in athletics?
As it happens, sometimes the best athletes – for plenty of reasons – are not able to reach the final. In some cases, the sheer quality differential in certain heats would mean that an athlete could have qualified for further rounds, had they been among other athletes in their category, in a different heat.
In some cases, rankings or conditions can all take their toll and derail the qualification process of an athlete. The repechage gives a second chance to those athletes. It allows the best quality on display at the final event.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said, “After consulting with our athletes and broadcasters, we believe this is an innovation which will make progression in these events more straightforward for athletes and will build anticipation for fans and broadcasters. The repechage rounds will give more exposure to our sport during the peak Olympic period and will be carefully scheduled to ensure that every event on our Olympic programme retains its share of the spotlight.”
Are there any possible problems that come with this change?
A couple of immediate issues come to mind, particularly with regards to the 1500m race. There are some elite athletes who will run an extra race in the repechage round and the advantage will likely fall upon their competitors in the final as the recovery time for athletes who take part in both races will be different. The recovery time for someone participating in the 1500m race is strenuous in comparison to a participant in the 200m sprint.
There is also the question of a trial run. Usually, when such a landmark change is made, there are multiple events that are used as trials to see whether the changes stick or not. Shooting, for example, trialled a new scoring system, but rather than implement it directly onto a major tournament, used the President’s Cup in Poland as their starting point before the ISSF 2022 season began.
In athletics, the repechage rounds are set to be introduced from the Paris Olympics as of now, therefore not allowing organisers, athletes, and coaches a chance to gauge how to perform, or strategize during each round. In the faster races, it’s unclear how things would now go, since athletes in tougher heats now have an incentive to run a slower race and face a lighter field in the repechage round to reach the latter stages of their individual events.
Which event is it a part of currently?
Repechage is currently part of wrestling and taekwondo at the Olympics in a similar fashion. For both events, if a participant loses in the first round and their opponent reaches the final, then that participant would need to wrestle against the finalists’ second-round opponent and move up to the bronze medal position. The bronze medal is the upper limit of the repechage in wrestling with finalists from both brackets facing each other for a gold medal match.
In judo, which is also an Olympic sport, four of the quarterfinal losers are made to face each other with the winners then facing the losers of the semi-final bout. Whoever wins that match, wins the bronze – and like wrestling, there are two bronze medals up for grabs. Other sports like rowing and track cycling also have repechage rounds.