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Gatlin`s Good Byes

27 March 2007

By Conway Hill

No no, I didn't say goodbyes, I said good byes, as in the byes he has for this year's World Championships! Because as defending champion in both sprints from Helsinki, Justin Gatlin is awarded a bye in each event for this year's event in Osaka, Japan.

Unfortunately, due to the situation he finds himself in currently, there will be no way that he will be competing in this year's event. I feel, however, that even though HE will not be competing in Helsinki, the byes that he possesses should still be in use. And here is my rationale.

The IAAF began awarding byes initially to allow athletes that were not in a position to make their National teams to do injury, or illness, or other reasons, to still compete in the World Championships as long as they were the defending champion. Now, while I personally have ambivalent feelings towards that line of thinking, I do think that the byes serve an even better purpose - it opens up the door to have a least one more quality athlete competing in the event.

Especially in nations that are knee deep in depth in various areas. It presents the potential, for example, for one more high quality steeplechaser from Kenya, or another Russian Hammer Thrower, or in this case another American and Jamaican sprinter. This in turn brings the World Championships just that much closer to being a true world championship - the more top athletes at the table, the better the meet in terms of depth and competition.

Having said that, I see NO reason why this should not be the case still. We KNOW that Gatlin will not be able to fulfill his duties as Defending Champion in 2007, so why not accord that right to the first runner up - as so many other competitions with title holders do? Can't say it would be done to favor one country over another, because in this case the byes would be split among two different nations, as the 100 bye would go to Michael Frater from Jamaica, and the 200 bye would go to Wallace Spearmon of the United States. In turn, that would allow an extra sprinter from Jamaica in the 100, and an extra sprinter from the United States in the 200.

In the 100 this would allow Jamaica to send Frater, and a group of three from a potential group of Asafa Powell, Chris Williams, Dwight Thomas, Clement Campbell, and Ainsely Waugh - all athletes that ran 10.15 or better last year. Or even a new up and comer from their deep group of young talent waiting to emerge.

In the 200 it would allow the United States to send Spearman (19.65 last year) and a group of three from a potential list of Tyson Gay, Xavier Carter, Shawn Crawford, and Jordan Vaden. All of whom have sub20 bests. Or improving athletes like LaShawn Merritt, Walter Dix, and Jeremy Wariner.

Bottom line is this, regardless of which athletes these countries decide to send, BOTH events become deeper and richer as a result! And, as I have said about so many other issues related to this sport, these are the kinds of things that the leaders of the sport should be pushing and working towards - things that make the events better and lend themselves to positive marketing.

Now, I'm sure that the first reply is that that is not what the byes were intended to do and/or that they are non transferable. To wit I simply say, so what. There were no byes until someone asked for them (Michael Johnson if I remember correctly was the first). Nor was there even a World Championships until the first was held in 1983. The fact that something hasn't been done before should NOT be the basis for not doing it now - especially if it is something to benefit the sport!

I would also submit, that the sport should not suffer simply because one individual is suffering. I am saddened by what has transpired with Justin Gatlin. However, the sport goes on; we have a World Championships THIS year; and let's do all we can to ensure a great event. And this is one way to take the negative from this situation and turn it into a positive.

For once, I'd like to see the sport move gracefully away from a negative situation. And I think this would assist greatly in doing that. Let's move forward and do all we can to ensure a fantastic World Championships. Showcasing your BEST talent is always the RIGHT thing to do.

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