This piece from IPC Games is by Stuart Weir.
The universal relay, an innovation at this year’s IPC World Disability Athletics Championships did not quite get off to the start of the organizers were looking for! There were to be four heats with no automatic qualifying places but the four fastest teams progressing to the final. Heat one saw South Africa absent – DNS – then there were three. France finished first – but were disqualified – Britain finish second – but were also disqualified. Leaving Romania, who had finished third, the only one of the four entrants to post a legal time! Shame that the time was too slow to get them into the final – but it did give them a championship record. Think about it, the first time the race has been run in the world championship, the first team to finish must set a championship record. The championship record lasted all of 5 minutes – until Russia won the second heat in a faster time. Russia now had the championship record, which they in turn held for 5 minutes until USA not only broke the championship record but also the world record. The Americans too, had to be quick about a celebration as China won the fourth heat to claim the championship and world record in 46.35. Germany in heat three finished first in a time faster that the WR but – yes, you’ve guessed it – they were DQed. So by the end of the 4 heats we had two no shows and four DQs. And that was only the preliminaries.
Incidentally, I’m not sure what the protocol is. Do the authorities have to check, ratify and promulgate all four championship records? Or do they just ignore the first three and just check the last one?
The running order of the universal relay is visual impairment, amputee, cerebral palsy and wheelchair. The athletes must be two men and two women but the running order is open to the decision of each team. We did see several variations in the order with teams starting with two men to establish a lead, to others putting the women before the men in order to finish fastest. Libby Clegg on first leg for GB told me that she found it a little daunting to find herself running against two men on the first leg. There is no baton in the universal relay with athlete 1 touching the back of athlete 2 etc. Most of the DQs were for alleged failing to touch.
I spoke to the GB team – before they knew that they had been DQed.
Leadoff runner, Libby Clegg said: “It was so much fun and great to be part of a multi category team”.
Ola Abidogun: “It was difficult because it was my first relay. You can’t see everything going on around you so you need to have faith in the team”.
Sophie Hahn said: “It was a great team and I loved it”
Mickey Bushell: “I’ve done a wheelchair relay before but never with runners. The whole tagging thing seemed a bit strange to me but I really enjoyed it”.
In the final The USA team of Erik Hightower, Deja Young, Jaleen Roberts and Noah Malone took gold in 46.94 with China second and Russia third, with the time meaning that China retained the world record. I am pleased to be able to tell you that all four teams in the final finished without incurring the wrath of the officials.
Is an interdisciplinary relay better than the traditional single discipline relays? – is a question that people will have different answers to. The athletes certainly enjoyed it but the proportion of disqualifications was unacceptably high. Either the officials need to explain more clearly to athletes what is required or officials need to mix a bit of common sense into the zealous application of the rules.