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Sunday, August 01, 2021

Staggered start for 800m, skin-tight gloves: World Athletics studying possible safety options

"The immediate future of the sport will be behind closed doors and the need of the hour is 'ingenuity' to ensure athletes can compete without compromising on safety," said president Sebastian Coe.

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi |
Updated: May 16, 2020 7:52:37 am
The coronavirus pandemic might change the world of track and field. (Source: Reuters)

When baton exchanges are made in relay events of the future, athletes could look at wearing very light skin-tight gloves to prevent the spread of infection. There are suggestions to stagger the start of the 800 metres race, an event in which runners run boxed together as the race progresses. The 1,500 metres, with a bunched standing start, could see similar innovations. World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, however, added that no plan is finalised as these were only suggestions or thoughts from member federations on how track and field may change in a world affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The immediate future of the sport, however, will be behind closed doors and the need of the hour is ‘ingenuity’ and ‘creativity’ to ensure athletes can compete without compromising on safety, the 1,500m gold medallist at the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics said during a conference call on Friday.

“If we have to get relays back into competition, we will have to think of all these things. A baton going from hand to hand could clearly be a source of infection. I accept that a relay baton will cause a particular issue. But on the other hand, would it not be possible for the relay runners to be wearing very light skin-tight gloves? I don’t know. These are the sort of things… disposal type of gloves that we see a lot of our front-line healthcare workers wearing. I am sure there are ways around this. What I am absolutely convinced about… is the amount of ingenuity and creativity our sport is showing at the moment. I am sure if you get the right kind of people in the right room, with the right kind of medical background and street smarts, you will figure out how to do a relay,” the World Athletics president said when asked about baton exchanges.

The apex body for track and field has established a working group to help charter the course for return to competition with the guiding force being keeping ‘athletes and officials safe and sound’. Various federations around the world have also chipped in with ideas on how to safely restart the sport.

“The Italian Federation the other day sent me some very interesting ideas on how you could maintain (distance) in 800 or 1,500 competition. Not necessarily by all starting together but by starting maybe 5 seconds apart and timing individually. All these things are possible. They (Italian Federation) are an example of federations that are thinking creatively all the time about how we can get the competition back. Their thoughts were specifically around 800 metres and 1,500 metres, where clearly it is not like a 400 metres race where everybody stay in lanes, the 800 starts in lanes but everybody comes together. So, their thought was ‘you have a 800 metres race but you do it at staggered distances and you individually time…’ All I am saying is a lot of thought is going in from our federations and athletics family. As an individual sport, there are things which we can do. It is not going to look identical to traditional track and field for a few months. But there are things we can do to give an audience watching television some excitement that athletics is back and crucially give athletes the opportunity to go from training into specific demands of competition,” Coe added.

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World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has said that no plan is yet finalised as member federations are merely giving suggestions. (Source: Reuters)

How effective the staggered start will be is questionable because a bunch of athletes could still find themselves close together towards the end of a race as is typically seen in the 800m or the 1,500m.

Like most sports, including the German football league, which restarts on Saturday, Coe sees events without spectators taking place initially. “We also have to recognise that for the first few competitions, maybe, it will be done behind closed doors. Again, that is not a long-term solution but it is so important for the athletes to get back into competition. Some cities may be ok with bringing athletes in but they may not want large crowds and we need to be respectful of those demands. We have a working group at this moment particularly in endurance events that are leading the way on how you can create those types of events, particularly endurance and long-distance gatherings safely. If it is about equipment being sanitised like shot put, you can do this in an individual sport. Better than you can trying to get 20 people onto a pitch especially in contact sports like football and rugby. I think we can do this in a sensible way and already our federations are working very hard to figure out how to bring back competition but do it safely so it protects the athletes and it also protects the crowds,” Coe added.

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The first competition is the Bislett Games in Oslo on June 11, which will be held behind closed doors and will see some out-of-the-box competitions – in the men’s pole vault, Sweden’s world record-holder Mondo Duplantis will go up against Norwegian Sondre Guttormsen at the stadium, and the third competitor will be former world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie, who will vault his backyard in France. Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal will make a solo attempt to break the Norwegian 3,000m record with the help of wavelight technology (visual-time guidance aid). A 200 metre hurdles event, not usually part of the competition schedule, will be held. The Monaco Diamond League will be held on August 14 followed by 10 more, but there will be no final or series points.

“Sports has to make some decisions and it is important. Of course, we have to listen to what governments are saying and we, of course, need to understand the nature of the virology and we can listen to all the advice, but sports must also have a say about when is the right time for the sport to come back. We cannot be entirely guided by what everybody else is saying to us. We need to be forceful if we think it is the right time for athletics and sport to come back. It is not just a matter of politicians telling us when is the right time.”

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