By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published August 11, 2016
For various reasons, several of Track and Field’s superstars, including world record holders and Olympic champions, will be absent from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. For the fans, their absences are both profoundly sad and unimaginable.
The exhilarating track and field events at the Rio Olympics kicks off on Friday, and fans, far and wide, are looking forward to seeing the sport’s biggest stars shine brightly at this its biggest stage. Naturally, Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Ashton Eaton, and others are expected to thrill the crowd in the Maracanã Stadium with several superlative performances. Conversely, due to injury, doping suspensions and qualification failures, regrettably, a few of track and field’s superstars will be absent from this edition of the Olympic Games.
The IAAF, the world governing body for athletics, has banned thirty-four-year-old Russian pole vaulter, Yelena Isinbayeva, along with all Russian track and field athletes, from participating in the 2016 Rio Olympics. This is due to allegations of a four-year state-sponsored doping program by the Russian authorities spanning from 2011 to 2015. Isinbayeva, the three-time world champion and 17-time world record holder in the pole vault, pleaded with the governing body to allow clean Russian athletes, including herself, to participate in Rio.
Isinbayeva said, “Let’s be clear: doping is a global issue that has cast a shadow over athletics in many countries. So, if some Russian athletes have failed doping tests, why must Russia’s clean athletes face a ban? Why shouldn’t we be able to compete in Rio against the clean athletes from other countries in Rio?”
Unfortunately, the IAAF snubbed her plea and a last ditched appeal by a caucus of Russian athletes to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was dismissed a few weeks ago. This decision by CAS proved to be the final stake that killed her dreams of a third Olympic title. She replied, “Thank you all for this funeral for athletics.”
Reigning Olympic Champion and world record holder in the 110-metre hurdles, Aries Merritt failed to qualify for the American Olympic team for Rio. Merritt, who developed an uncommon congenital kidney disease in 2013 and required a kidney transplant in 2015, finished fourth and outside of the three automatic spots at the US Olympic Trials. Heroically, he won the bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships, just days before eventually receiving a transplant from his sister. Though he competed at the 2016 US Olympic Trials, he wasn’t back to full fitness. Still, he only narrowly missed making the Olympic team by a single hundredth of a second (0.01s).
A gracious Merritt remarked after his failed bid, “To be where I am is a miracle, but it’s a pity because in six weeks I’ll be in much better shape.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Australian Sally Pearson’s non-participation at the Olympics is a major track and field casualty. The reigning world championship record holder, Commonwealth champion, and Olympic champion tore her hamstring two months before the Olympics. Immediately, the much-anticipated clash with American Kendra Harrison in the 100m hurdles was extinguished. Like her fans, Pearson was extremely disappointed with the turn of events that ruled her out of the Olympics.
She said, “Unfortunately, it is the biggest sporting event in the world that I am going to be missing out on. It’s devastating that I can’t be at Rio as the Olympic champ.”
Kenenisa Bekele, the world record-holder and Olympic record holder in the 5,000m and 10,000m, was left off the 2016 Ethiopian Olympic team. Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) president Alebachew Nigusse remarked at a press conference, “He (Bekele) has a big place in our athletics history, but he has failed to qualify as per our requirements.”
Ethiopian distance running great Haile Gebrselassie and others strongly objected to Bekele’s omission. However, Bekele’s injury plagued 2015 season and failure to produce spellbinding performances over the distance races since, forced the EAF’s hand. The three-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion will, therefore, be absent from the 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon fields this year. The true travesty for fans is that they may never see one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all-time perform at another Olympics.
Kendra Harrison, more popularly called Keni Harrison, is the current world record holder in the 100-metre hurdles at 12.20s. She broke the 28-year-old world record, which was held by Bulgarian Yordanka Donkova, two weeks before the start of the Olympics. Harrison has been dominant all season and has won all major races, with the exception of the 100 metres hurdles final at the US Olympic Trials. Inexplicably, she placed sixth in that final and missed the opportunity to perform before the world on the biggest stage.
As she said, “The US team is the hardest to make, our country wants the top three from the trials and I was not that person. The pressure got to me on the day. I wish I could re-do that day.”
Track and field fans will be deeply saddened by the absence of these superstars from the 2016 Olympics. Hopefully, new stars will emerge to fill the cataclysmic void.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
This blog article was also published in the Jamaica Observer on August 11, 2016.