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IAAF World Athletics Championships 2017: Isaac Makwala seeks 200M glory after withstanding illness, humiliation

The one conspiracy theory that wasn’t created and most probably the IAAF or even the Botswana team forgot, was that the new drug in town or the new testosterone called Gastroenteritis. No more is it an illness. And Botswana’s track star and legend, Isaac Makwala demonstrated that in front of the world and approximately 25,000 spectators, before the capacity crowd of 55,000 walked in.

The fans stood up and applauded Makwala, just as the stadium announced he would run the 200 metres, in a kind of time trial. It would be a lone sprint. Like the F1 time trial. Come within the limits and a place in the semi-final was guaranteed. In that kind of weather, it was difficult and coming from pulls and pressures over the last 24 hours, it seemed Makwala wouldn’t make it. But the Botswanans are hardy. And this was a challenge for Botswana. It was also to tell the world and the IAAF that stopping him from running the 400 metres when he wasn’t ill was wrong. After being told to leave the stadium, from the gates itself, Makwala had gone back to his hotel room and wept. The 400 metres was Makwala’s soul, and they had taken it away.

Botswana's Isaac Makwala reacts after crossing the finish line in the men's 200 meters semifinal of the World Athletics Championships in London. AP

Isaac Makwala reacts after crossing the finish line in the men's 200 meters semifinal of the World Athletics Championships. AP

On Monday night, he vomited before the 200 metres heats and they led him away, afraid that the norovirus stomach bug would be passed onto the others. Makwala went back, heart-broken. He returned for the 400 metres final, ready to renew his rivalry with the Olympic and world champion Wayde Van Nierkerk but the guards at the gate didn’t allow him in. The 48-hour quarantine period had not lapsed yet, said the stadium and medical officials. Makwala returned to the hotel room and watched in dismay as Wayde won the 400 metres gold without being pushed. The only man who could have taken Wayde to the finish line and ensured that the South African put in his best was sitting and watching the final on TV, sobbing.

Conspiracy theories hit London faster than the novirus bug. Most athletes in the final were from the Nike stable so it was alleged that Makwala was stopped because he wears Adidas. The Nike links to IAAF president Sebastian Coe were obvious. IAAF bungled it up when they sent Makwala away from the stadium gates. Coe, later said, "As a former athlete, I have enormous sympathy for Isaac Makwala and the other athletes to get to this point in the championships and to contract an illness like this. But our overriding guiding principle is that we have 2,000 athletes in London under our care and we have a responsibility to protect them in the best way we possibly can."

Matters went out of hand when the former 400 metres Olympic, world champion and world record holder Michael Johnson said to the BBC, "There is the elephant in the room – Wayde van Niekerk’s only challenger has been pulled out of both the 200M and 400M. The conspiracy theories will come out of the silence."

So as Makwala stood at the head of the 200 metres start, alone, he made a compelling figure. He wasn’t from an elite powerful nation. He stood as the singular figure against the might of the IAAF who had prevented him from running the 400 metres. For fans, it was a story, the underdog needed to win. The shadow had to be in the spotlight. So when the trial was announced that Makwala had to run in less than 20.53, it was as good as watching a high-voltage final. The fans got behind the legendary African runner and roared him on to the finish line in 20.20. Makwala did a series of push-ups and the medical authorities and IAAF looked the other way. The underdog had his place in the semi-final. Hollywood was closely looking at the unfolding story.

In the semi-finals, the fans were right behind Makwala. The draw gave him lane one, the worst in the present circumstances as standing water would be there because of the incessant rain. Makwala ran a strong bend and raised his hand at the end after finishing second behind Isiah Young in 20.14. The script had played out. What the fans couldn’t witness in the 400 metres final was now possible in the 200 metres final – Isaac Makwala vs Wayde van Niekerk.

Meanwhile, the South African, Niekerk, ambitious enough to try and match Michael Johnson’s 1995 achievement of winning both 200 and 400 metres golds, just about squeezed through to the 200 metres final as the slowest qualifier. Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, the 2011 world 100M champion was the biggest casualty.

Botswana would now look at the 200 metres final as the race of the World Championships, probably more than their star-studded 4x400 relay team. Makwala now has two days of forced rest more than Van Niekerk and if the semi-finals are any indication then the South African is tiring. Makwala is the favorite to win gold.

File image of Neeraj Chopra. AFP

File image of Neeraj Chopra. AFP

While the rest of the world gears up for the 200 metres final, Indian track fans will pray and hope that both Neeraj Chopra and Davinder Singh Kang make it to the javelin throw finals. On Thursday, they participate in the qualifying rounds and throws of 83 metres plus should be enough to see them through. Despite the chill in the weather, both are strong enough and understand the implications of two Indian javelin throwers reaching a World Championship final. In fact, never in the history of Olympic Games or in a World Championship, has India had two javelin throwers. India’s deputy chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair, said, "I am confident of both of them reaching the finals. Yes, the weather is a worry but that holds good for everyone in the field. Both Davinder and Neeraj have been throwing well and training has been on since the day we landed."

Neeraj Chopra, the 2016 IAAF U-20 world champion with a throw of 86.48 metres has this year thrown six times over the 80-metre mark. And twice gone over 85 metres – once at the Federation Cup in Patiala with a throw of 85.63 and then at the Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar with a throw of 85.23. In Bhubaneswar, Neeraj said, "I will give my best at the World Championships. It will help in my growth and confidence if I do well in London. The aim is to secure a Commonwealth and Asian Games Gold."

Nair is extremely confident about Neeraj. "You have seen what happened in Bhubaneswar. He was trailing and only had one throw left and he threw 85.23 to take the gold. He has the quality."
Kang has been claiming and that stems from his confidence itself that he feels he will be in the top six at London. "I am confident of doing well in London and should hit the top six, he said at Bhubaneswar and also before leaving for London. "Yes, the competition is tough but we have prepared and Neeraj has been going to the Diamond League for exposure," he added.

Neeraj flew into London straight from Monaco where he had a poor throw of 78.92. But Nair isn’t too concerned. "It does happen that in a given championship, a thrower might just go below his best. Check all the top six throwers and there will be championships where they have just failed. But I am confident that in London, they both will do well. Even the weather will not affect much. "Yes, the cotton grip would complicate things but as I said, the athletes will have to take care of those issues," Nair said.

If it rains at night in London, the javelins might get heavier by around 4 to 5 grams. But for both of them, throws of 83 plus have been quite common. Adversity, whether in life or on the field, sometimes does bring out the best in men. For both Neeraj Chopra and Davinder Singh Kang, adversity could be their strongest ally in qualification rounds.

Updated Date: Aug 10, 2017 16:15 PM

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