It was a disappointing end to a dramatic week for Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, who finished sixth in the men’s 200-meter sprint on Thursday at the IAAF World Championships in London.
That Makwala, who went into the race one of the favorites, even got to run, however, proved a triumph for the 30-year-old, whose week began with an illness.
A bout of vomiting, which IAAF medical staff chalked up to an outbreak of the norovirus that reportedly affected 30 athletes staying at the city’s Tower Hotel, led Makwala to withdraw from the 200 qualifiers Monday. But after he rebounded following a 48-hour quarantine, Botswana submitted a written request to the IAAF petitioning for Makwala to get the chance to qualify through an individual time trial.
IAAF officials agreed, noting in a statement that a followup medical examination “declared [Makwala] fit to compete” and that nothing in the rules forbids an individual time trial.
“We have agreed under our existing rules that assuming he makes the qualification time, he will run in the 200[-meter] semifinal round this evening,” the IAAF statement read.
Hours later on Wednesday, Makwala ran his time trial alone in Lane 7 under rainy conditions, and clocked a time of 20.20 seconds, well fast enough to beat the cutoff time of 20.53 seconds. It made for a surreal sight.
— Rohan Kallicharan (@ro_jito) August 9, 2017
Makwala celebrated by doing a few pushups on the track.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 9, 2017
Makwala’s day wasn’t over however, which may explain his less-than-stellar showing on Thursday. Unlike his other competitors, Makwala had to run twice on Wednesday. First for his time trial and then back with everyone else in the semifinals. Makwala finished in 20.14 seconds, just two-hundredths of a second behind heat winner Isiah Young of the United States.
“I wish to thank the IAAF to give me another chance,” Makwala said after the Wednesday’s semifinal (via the Guardian). “The crowd is so amazing.”
The rare opportunity to qualify via individual time trial came amid an unusual week in which Makwala was turned away at the stadium Tuesday when he showed up to run the 400-meter final. Although his health had rebounded, he was still under quarantine and security led him away. This time, unlike the 200 heats Monday, from which Makwala had voluntarily withdrawn, it was IAAF’s decision to withdraw Makwala from the 400.
Makwala, who was also a medal favorite in that event, wrote about the ordeal on his Facebook page, insinuating that, while he had fallen ill Monday, he did not believe it was because of the norovirus and therefore should not have been quarantined.
“I still maintain I am not sick and have never been tested by any doctor,” he wrote.
He later gave an interview to the BBC, insisting that if Mo Farah or Usain Bolt had been in his situation, the IAAF would’ve let them race.
“The way they [handled my situation], there’s something they don’t want to tell us,” he said. “There’s something fishy.”
Former Olympian Michael Johnson put forth a conspiracy theory to the Guardian: that IAAF somehow used norovirus as an excuse to rig the race to favor Makwala’s rival Wayde van Niekerk, who went on to win the 400.
“There’s a lot of inconsistency here and the elephant in the room is that Wayde van Nierkerk is an IAAF favorite, a fan favorite, a favorite of everyone, an Olympic champion, a world record holder, a world champion, and now the only challenger has been pulled,” Johnson said. “Conspiracy theories abound.”
IAAF strongly rebuked the allegations Wednesday, shortly after announcing Makwala’s time trial in the 200.
“There is nothing we want more than extraordinary competition at these championships,” the association said in a statement emailed to The Post. “We freed up the competition schedule here to allow this to happen between these two athletes over the 200 [meters] and 400 [meters]. To suggest otherwise is absurd.”
The IAAF insists it followed proper protocols regarding the outbreak of norovirus, which can live outside the body for up to 48 hours, and that Makwala was diagnosed properly, even if the illness was never confirmed by a stool sample, as it was for at least two of the other athletes afflicted.
“He had been vomiting since 10 p.m. the night before [the diagnosis] … so as far as we were concerned, he’s staying in the same hotel, has the same symptoms as the other athletes who have also been quarantined from mixing with other people,” Pam Venning, IAAF’s head of medical services, told the BBC. “We already had a confirmation from the public health laboratory in Cambridge as to what the organism was and my advice from Public Health England was that we didn’t need to take any more samples.”
IAAF said Makwala and his team were informed of the diagnosis as well as the quarantine parameters surrounding it.
“These procedures are recommended by Public Health England and were clearly explained to the teams in writing … and in person to the Botswanan delegation, a member of which was present with many other representatives of teams at a meeting that took place at the Guoman Tower Hotel on Sunday,” an IAAF statement read. “The [Botswanan] team doctor, team leader and team physio had been informed following the medical examination that the athlete should be quarantined for 48 hours and would therefore be missing the 400[-meter] final on Tuesday.”
On Wednesday, Makwala said he is “still running with the heart broken,” referring to his forced withdraw from the 400.
“That is the race I am training for,” he continued (via the Guardian). “[The] 200 is what I do sometimes. I am running with anger.”
Makwala, who ran the race in 20.44 seconds on Thursday, did not offer any comments immediately following the race, which was won by Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev in 20.09 seconds. Meanwhile, Makwala’s rival van Niekerk and Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago placed second and third, respectively, finishing the race just one-1,000th of a second apart.