PREETI LALA WINS 24 HOUR MUMBAI STADIUM RUN

Preeti Lala (Photo: courtesy Preeti)

Deepak Bandbe wins in 100 km category

Preeti’s mileage is the second best by an Indian woman in the 24-hour category so far

Preeti Lala emerged the overall winner of the Ageas Federal Life Insurance 24-hour Stadium Run held in Mumbai over February 6-7, 2021.

Thane-based Preeti, the sole woman running the 24-hour race category at the Mumbai event, finished way ahead of the rest of the field, covering a distance of 193.60 kilometers during the allotted time of 24 hours. It is the second best by an Indian woman in the race category so far. It was also the maximum distance covered across both genders in the given race category, at the Mumbai stadium run. 

Apoorva Chaudhary holds the national best of 202.212 km, set during the 2019 IAU 24-hour World Championships held in Albi, France. During the same event, Priyanka Bhatt had finished with a distance of 192.845 km. It is this mark that Preeti has bettered.

In the 24-hour category at the Mumbai event, Parwinder Singh was the winner among men with 154 km covered. Buddhi Saini finished second (151.60 km) and Munir Kulavoor third (150 km).

Deepak Bandbe, running in the 100 km category at the Mumbai event, finished the race in seven hours, 57 minutes and 47 seconds. It is the third best finish so far for Indian men in the 100 km category.

Sandeep Kumar had set the national best in 100 km – 7:56:22 – at the Bengaluru Stadium Run held on January 23 and 24, 2021. At the same meet, Abhinav Jha had secured the second best male performance in the same category with a timing of 7:57:35.

In the 100 km category for men in Mumbai, Nilesh Yadav finished second with timing of 8:27:28. Aaditya Dattaram Badavate placed third with 9:24:20. In the 12 hour-category, Sandel Kisan Nipane (120.80 km) was the winner among men. He was followed by Raman Baisla (119.60 km) and Ankur Lakhera (112.80 km). From among women, the winner was Reena Maru (98.40 km). She was followed by Mahek Makhija (95.60 km) and Corina Van Dam and Pooja Varma (both 82.80 km). The Mumbai event was organized by NEB Sports.

Preeti started her run at 6PM on February 6, 2021. “ I did not have any target except that I wanted to be on my feet for the entire 24 hours,” she said.

Deepak Bandbe (Photo: courtesy NEB Sports)

Participants were few as there was uncertainty about the event taking place, she said. Training could have been better but the uncertainty affected it. Still, she had moderately good training sessions for three months with average mileage of 100-120 kilometers per week.

Over 2020, training for most runners was impeded by the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Preeti’s last run before the lockdown was in the 50 km category at Tata Ultra of February 2020.

Getting back to training after the lockdown induced-break, Preeti chose to run the Run to the Moon challenge organised by NEB Sports. “ The challenge required us to run a distance of 2 km to 10 km daily. This helped me get back into rhythm,” she said. She also participated in TCS 10k virtual run.

“ I am happy that the event (Mumbai Stadium Run) took place finally. The weather was mostly humid especially during the night but early mornings were quite cool. We had several hours of scorching sun,” Preeti said.

“ The excellent arrangements at the venue with volunteers and runners supporting me during the race, helped immensely,” she said.

Apeksha Shah and her husband, both runners, provided substantial support to Preeti. “ Also, Pranaya Mohanty, ultra-runner from Bengaluru, ran with me for the last 20 km,” she said.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / JANUARY 2021

Jim Walmsley (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page)

100K / Walmsley misses world record by 11 seconds

Ultramarathon runner, Jim Walmsley of the US, broke the American record but narrowly missed setting a new world mark in the 100k at the Project Carbon X 2 event organized by Hoka One One in Chandler, Arizona on January 23, 2021.

Walmsley covered the distance in 6:09:25. The world record of 6:09:14 set in 2018 is held by Japan’s Nao Kazami. The previous American record was 6:27:44, set by Max King in 2014, Runner’s World said in their report on Walmsley’s performance.

At the Chandler event, the runner finishing second behind Walmsley was Rajpaul Pannu. He finished in 6:28:31. According to an article in Runner’s World dated June 4, 2019, Pannu made his marathon debut in a timing of 2:17:06 at the 2017 California International Marathon; it gained him a berth for the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials. At the subsequent trials, he finished 63rd, the magazine’s report on the Chandler event, said. For more on Pannu, please click on this link to access the Runner’s World article: https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a27632323/rajpaul-pannu-olympic-marathon-trials-qualifier/

The women’s race was won by Audrey Tanguy of France; her timing was 7:40:36 (source: Athletics Weekly).

Indian runners dominate SAAF elite category of 2021 Dhaka Marathon

Indian long distance runners dominated the SAAF (South Asian Athletics Federation) elite category of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Dhaka Marathon held on January 10, 2021. The said category covers runners from SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries.

In the women’s section of the SAAF elite category, Jyoti Gawate of India secured second position covering the distance in 3:00:16 hours. Fellow Indians Divyanka Chaudhary (3:07:41) placed third and Jigmet Dolma (3:09:41), fourth. The category was won by Nepal’s Puspa Bhandari in 2:59:41. 

In the men’s segment of the SAAF elite category, the top three positions were swept by Indian runners. India’s Bahadur Singh Dhouni (2:21:40) topped the segment. Second place went to Rashpal Singh (2:21:41). Het Ram (2:25:23) finished third while Manvendra Singh (2:36:48), also of India, finished fifth. Fourth place in the category went to Kiran Singh Bogati Rajwar (2:26:13) of Nepal.

According to a report in the Dhaka Tribune, the overall winner of the elite category was Hicham Laqouahi of Morocco; the winner in the women’s elite category was Angela Jemesunde of Kenya. Thirty five international runners including 23 elites from France, Kenya, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Belarus, Lesotho, Ukraine, Spain and Morocco and 12 from Maldives, Nepal and India, participated in the marathon.  Around 200 runners participated in the event organized by the Bangladesh Army, the report said.

Swimming pools permitted for use by all

In its latest guidelines for relaxing the lockdown triggered by COVID-19 last year, the central government has said that swimming pools will soon be accessible to all users.

Currently the use of pools is restricted to competition swimmers.

“ Swimming pools have already been permitted for use of sports persons. Now these will be permitted for use of all, for which a revised SOP will be issued by Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in consultation with MHA,” a Press Trust of India (PTI) report on the latest guidelines, published January 27, 2021 and available on leading news websites, said.

According to it, the new guidelines will be effective from February 1, 2021.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / DECEMBER 2020

2020 World Athletes of the Year: Mondo Duplantis and Yulimar Rojas

Mondo Duplantis. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Mondo Duplantis of Sweden and Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela have been named the male and female World Athletes of the Year at the World Athletics Awards 2020, a report on the website of World Athletics said. The ceremony was held virtually on December 5.

“ Duplantis broke the world record in the pole vault twice, topping 6.17m and 6.18m on back-to-back weekends in February just a few weeks before the global coronavirus pandemic ground the sporting world to a halt. When competition finally resumed, Duplantis capped his season and produced the highest outdoor vault of all time (6.15m) and finished the year undefeated in 16 competitions. Duplantis, who celebrated his 21st birthday last month, is the youngest athlete ever named World Athlete of the Year,’’ the report said.

Yulimar Rojas. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

On Yulimar Rojas, it said, “ Rojas broke the South American indoor triple jump record in her first competition of the year, reaching 15.03m in Metz, France. In her next competition, at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Madrid, she leaped 15.43m in the final round of the competition to break the world indoor record by seven centimetres. She competed just twice outdoors, winning the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco and again in Castellon, Spain, where she sailed 14.71m, the farthest leap in the world outdoors this year.’’

Incidentally, the Coaching Achievement Award was won by Helena and Greg Duplantis, the parents and coaching team behind the success of Male World Athlete of the Year Mondo Duplantis. “ While the pair take on many roles, Helena, a former heptathlete, mainly helps with her son’s conditioning while Greg, a 5.80m pole vaulter in his prime, assists with technique,’’ the report said.

World Athletics approves a change to shoe rules

World Athletics has approved a change to its rules governing development (prototype) shoes following requests by all major shoe manufacturers and the industry body that represents them, the World Federation of the Sports Goods Industry (‘WFSGI’).

According to press release available on the website of World Athletics, “the amendment to the rule will allow development shoes to be worn in international competitions and competitions sanctioned by Member Federations where World Athletics rules are applied, prior to their availability to other athletes, upon approval of the shoe specifications by World Athletics. These shoes will have to meet the same technical specifications as all other approved shoes.

“ Development shoes can continue to be worn in any competition where World Athletics’ competition and technical rules are not applied. The amendment, approved by World Athletics’ Council on 4 December, applies with immediate effect, to competitions sanctioned by World Athletics, Area Associations or Member Federations at which World Athletics’ Competition Rules and Technical Rules are enforced, but will not be permitted to be worn at the World Athletics Series or the Olympic Games. The development shoe can only be worn for a 12 month ‘development’ period.

“ A list of approved development shoes will be posted on the World Athletics website stating the date from which the development shoe can be worn and the expiry date for approval. To date there is a list of 200 (spikes and non-spikes) approved shoes listed and published on the World Athletics website.

“ This new proposal will be complemented by an athletic shoe availability scheme for shoes which is being developed by a Working Group on Athletic Shoes with representatives from shoe manufacturers and the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI).’’

The attached summary of notes explained, “ “Development shoe” means a shoe (i.e. spike or road shoes) which has never been available for purchase but which a sports manufacturer is developing to bring to market and would like to conduct tests with their sponsored athletes (who agree to test the shoe) on issues such as safety and performance before the shoe is available for purchase.’’

According to it, development shoes are not required to be made available for purchase or subject to the availability scheme provided that, prior to being worn for the first time, the development shoe meets the following conditions:

  • The athlete (or their representative) must submit the specification to World Athletics and, where requested, provide a sample of the development shoe for further examination which includes, if necessary, cutting up the shoe, and provide the date and event of the first competition at which the athlete wishes to compete in a development shoe
  • Confirm the latest date upon which the sports manufacturer will make the final version of the development shoe available for purchase which must be not be later than 12 months after the first time the development shoe is worn in a competition.
  • The athlete (or their representative) submits to World Athletics a list containing the date and event of the first and all subsequent competitions at which the athlete proposes to wear a development shoe within the 12 month period. The athlete (or their representative) must notify World Athletics of any changes to that list.
  • The athlete (or their representative) has received prior written approval from World Athletics that the development shoe complies with the requirements of Rule 5 of the Technical Rules and is approved for use in competitions.
  • Subject to compliance with all rules and regulations (including this Rule 5 of the Technical Rules and these notes), performances achieved by an athlete wearing a development shoe will be valid. After the conclusion of a competition a development shoe must be handed over by the athlete on request by World Athletics for further investigation by World Athletics which includes, if necessary, cutting up the development shoe.
  • World Athletics will publish from time to time on its website a list of approved development shoes stating the date starting from which the development shoe can be worn and the expiry date for approval. No technical or proprietary information belonging to a sports manufacturer will be published.
  • After the expiry date specified the shoe no longer qualifies as a development shoe and can no longer be used in competitions. The shoe will be removed from the approved list after its expiry date and, subject to compliance with all rules and regulations (including this Rule 5 of the Technical Rules and these notes), results achieved by an athlete wearing the development shoe will remain valid.
  • In accordance with the rules and regulations, World Athletics reserves the right to classify a result as ‘Uncertified’ (‘UNC TR5.5’) or declare the athlete’s performance as invalid for non-compliance with Technical Rule 5.

Asha Singh (Photo: courtesy Asha)

Asha Singh wins 100 km Lucknow stadium run event

Asha Singh, 55, won the woman’s race in the 100 kilometers stadium run held at Lucknow on December 6, 2020. She completed the distance in 12 hours and 33 seconds.

Among men, Amar Shivdev was winner in the same category. The event was organized by Wellness Lucknow.

Asha had only recently recovered from shoulder dislocation caused by a vehicular accident in the US. Her tryst with recreational running started in 2016 when she participated in a 10 kilometer-run in Pune, where she was residing with her husband, Bajrang Singh, now a retired army officer. Bajrang is also a recreational runner.

Though bereft of exposure to sports in the preceding years, Asha took to long-distance running enthusiastically. Over the past four years, she has participated in 19 full marathons and secured podium finishes in her age category in 14 of them, she said.

For the stadium run, her training was inadequate. “ I was in Delhi with my daughter, who had given birth to a child. I did some 10-kilometer and 20-kilometer runs,” she said.

Asha was keen to do the 100 kilometer-race. “My husband told me I am not ready for it. But having enrolled I just decided to go and run and see how far I will sustain,” she said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / NOVEMBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020 World Athlete of the Year: nominations announced

The nominees for the 2020 World Athlete of the Year (male and female) have been announced.

According to two press releases dated November 2, 2020 and November 3, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, ten male athletes and ten female athletes have been nominated in their respective gender categories. “ The nominations reflect the remarkable range of exceptional performances that the sport has witnessed this year, despite the challenges that the global Covid-19 pandemic presented,’’ the releases said.

The nominees for the Male World Athlete of the Year are:

Donavan Brazier, USA – ran world-leading 800m times indoors (1:44.22, North American indoor record) and outdoors (1:43.15) – won all seven of his races over all distances;  Joshua Cheptegei, Uganda – broke world records at 5000m (12:35.36), 10,000m (26:11.00) and 5km on the roads (12:51) – was fourth at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships on his debut over the distance, Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya – ran world-leading 3:28.45 over 1500m – undefeated in three 1500m races, Ryan Crouser, USA – undefeated in 10 shot put competitions – his 22.91m world-leading performance moved him to equal third on the world all-time list, Mondo Duplantis, Sweden – broke the world record in the pole vault twice (6.17m and 6.18m) and produced the highest outdoor vault of all time (6.15m) – undefeated in 16 competitions, Jacob Kiplimo, Uganda – won world half marathon title in a championship record of 58:49 – ran a world-leading 7:26.64 over 3000m, the fastest time in the world since 2007, Noah Lyles, USA – undefeated in five finals – ran a world-leading 19.76 over 200m, Daniel Stahl, Sweden – won 17 of his 19 discus competitions – threw a world-leading 71.37m, Johannes Vetter, Germany – won eight of his nine javelin competitions – threw a world-leading 97.76m, the second farthest throw in history and Karsten Warholm, Norway – ran a world-leading 46.87 in the 400m hurdles, the second fastest performance in history – undefeated in nine 400m/400m hurdles races and set world best of 33.78 in 300m hurdles.

The nominees for 2020 Female World Athlete of the Year are:

Femke Bol, Netherlands – undefeated in six 400m hurdles races – ran a world-leading 53.79 in the 400m hurdles; Letesenbet Gidey, Ethiopia – set a world record of 14:06.62 over 5000m – was second in the Monaco Diamond League over 5000m, Sifan Hassan, Netherlands – set a world record of 18,930m in the one hour run – set a European record of 29:36.67 over 10,000m, the fourth fastest performance in history, Peres Jepchirchir, Kenya – won the world half marathon title – twice broke the world half marathon record for a women-only race (1:05:34 and 1:05:16),  Faith Kipyegon, Kenya – undefeated in five races over all distances – ran world-leading performances over 800m (1:57.68) and 1000m (2:29.15), Laura Muir, Great Britain and Northern Ireland – undefeated in three 1500m races – ran a world-leading 3:57.40 over 1500m, Hellen Obiri, Kenya – undefeated in three races over 3000m and 5000m – ran a world-leading 8:22.54 over 3000m, Yulimar Rojas, Venezuela – undefeated in four triple jump competitions indoors and outdoors – broke the world indoor triple jump record with 15.43m, Elaine Thompson-Herah, Jamaica – undefeated in seven 100m races – ran world-leading 10.85 over 100m and Ababel Yeshaneh, Ethiopia – broke the world record in the half marathon with 1:04:31 – finished fifth at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships.

“ A three-way voting process will determine the finalists. The World Athletics Council and the World Athletics Family will cast their votes by email, while fans can vote online via the World Athletics’ social media platforms. Individual graphics for each nominee will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram this week; a ‘like’ on Facebook and Instagram or a retweet on Twitter will count as one vote. The World Athletics Council’s vote will count for 50% of the result, while the World Athletics Family’s votes and the public votes will each count for 25% of the final result. Voting for the World Athletes of the Year closes at midnight on Sunday 15 November. At the conclusion of the voting process, five men and five women finalists will be announced by World Athletics. The male and female World Athletes of the Year will be announced live at the World Athletics Awards 2020 on Saturday 5 December,’’ the first of the two press releases said. The male nominees were announced on November 2 and the female nominees, on November 3.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / OCTOBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

New world records ratified

The new world records set in early September by Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya), Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) and Mo Farah (UK), have been ratified, World Athletics informed in a statement dated October 12, 2020, available on their website.

“ Jepchirchir’s 1:05:34 women-only world half marathon record and the one-hour world records from Hassan (18,930m) and Mo Farah (21,330m) are now official,’’ the statement said. Jepchirchir had produced her record-breaking run on September 5, 2020 at the Prague 21.1KM, an invitational-only elite half marathon held on a 16.5-lap course in Letna Park in the Czech capital. Hassan and Farah stormed into the record books at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels on September 4, the night before Jepchirchir’s race in Prague.

These records fall in the category of sterling performances reported amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that cancelled mass participation events and upset the staging schedule of competitions worldwide. The first major world record in athletics, in this context, was Joshua Cheptegei’s new mark in the 5000 meters track race for men, set on August 14, 2020. The Ugandan athlete covered the distance in 12:35:36. In October, Cheptegei rewrote the time taken for the track based-10,000 meters, when he set a new world record of 26:11:00. At the same event in Valencia, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey set a new world record in the 5000 meters for women, completing the race in 14:06:62.

Adille Sumariwalla is AFI president for a third time, Anju Bobby George is senior vice president

Adille J. Sumariwalla was elected president of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) for a third time at its annual general meeting, a press release dated October 31, 2020, available on the website of AFI, said.  Anju Bobby George, India’s only medalist in the World Athletics Championships, was elected as senior vice president. Ravinder Chaudhary and Madhukant Pathak were elected secretary and treasurer of the organization respectively.

In response to claims by some non-members about the legality of Sumariwalla’s nomination for his third term, AFI has clarified that he filed nomination not only as president of Maharashtra Athletics Association but also as outgoing AFI president, as allowed by AFI Constitution (Clause XXVIII.A.e) which specifies the president does not require representation either to sit in meetings or to contest election for the next tenure.

All positions in the AFI Executive Committee were elected unopposed, the release said.

According to it, Sumariwalla, who said that the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has had a cascading effect on a lot of areas in the sport, including the mental health of athletes and the earnings of the federation, has encouraged state associations to actively seek the help of their respective state governments to ensure that athletics competitions can resume sooner than later.

“ On the first day of the two-day annual general meeting, some key issues including age-fraud, doping and over-training were taken up. The house agreed that while AFI has taken many steps to curb age-fraud, state and district associations needed to be more proactive in ending the scourge of age-fraud that leaves athletes,’’ the release added.

Pocket Outdoor Media Acquires Big Stone Publishing

Outdoor enthusiasts, climbers and those into endurance sports in India would be familiar with publications like Climbing, Rock and Ice, Backpacker, Trail Runner and VeloNews. A recent acquisition in the publishing world has brought these titles under one roof.

Early October 2020, Pocket Outdoor Media (POM) announced its takeover of Big Stone Publishing (BSP). Both companies are based in the US. POM has in its fold titles like Climbing, Backpacker, Women’s Running, Triathlete, Yoga Journal, Clean Eating, VeloNews and SKI. BSP’s list of publications included Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, ASCENT, Gym Climber and Dirt.

In a related statement available on the website of POM, its CEO Robin Thurston has said, “ this acquisition significantly strengthens our ability to engage with outdoor enthusiasts across all of the seasons and sports that live at the intersection of adrenaline and adventure. By merging Rock & Ice into Climbing, we’ll be better positioned to deliver exceptional content and cover all of the sport’s disciplines—trad, sport, gym, and alpine climbing—in ways not possible before. Similarly, Trail Runner broadens our running portfolio, adding the dominant title in the sport’s fastest-growing discipline.”

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / SEPTEMBER 2020

Caster Semenya (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose only. No copyright infringement intended)

Caster Semenya case: Swiss apex court supports earlier CAS ruling

South African Olympic champion Caster Semenya, saw her options shrink further as Switzerland’s top court ruled in favor of the regulations that bar her from continued participation in certain race categories for women. The ruling, early September 2020, may have shut the doors on her defending her title in the 800 meters at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Semenya has a rare genetic condition that significantly elevates her testosterone level. It made her participation in the female category at races, controversial. World Athletics had decided in 2018 that intersex athletes with disorder in sexual development and having both X and Y chromosomes would require lowering their testosterone levels to compete in women’s events ranging from quarter mile to a mile, distances demanding both speed and endurance. Semenya had challenged such reduction requiring intake of medicines. In 2019 after the Switzerland based-Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in favor of the restrictions, Semenya had approached the Swiss Supreme Court.  Early September, 2020 the Court said that CAS had the right to rule as it did.

In a press release dated September 8, 2020, available on its website, World Athletics said, “ for the last five years World Athletics (formerly IAAF) has fought for and defended equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls in our sport today and in the future. We therefore welcome today’s decision by the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) to uphold our DSD Regulations as a legitimate and proportionate means of protecting the right of all female athletes to participate in our sport on fair and meaningful terms.’’

It added, “ World Athletics fully respects each individual’s personal dignity and supports the social movement to have people accepted in society based on their chosen legal sex and/or gender identity. As the SFT specifically recognised, however, the DSD Regulations are not about challenging an individual’s gender identity, but rather about protecting fair competition for all female athletes. The Swiss Federal Tribunal acknowledged that innate characteristics can distort the fairness of competitions, noted that in sport several categories (such as weight categories) have been created based on biometric data, and confirmed that ‘It is above all up to the sports federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is likely to distort competition and, if necessary, to introduce legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs.’

“ The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) agreed with World Athletics in its 30 April 2019 award and now the SFT has also agreed that ‘In some contexts, such as competitive sport, biological characteristics may, exceptionally and for the purposes of fairness and equal opportunity, trump a person’s legal sex or gender identity’.

“ The SFT concluded: “Based on these findings, the CAS decision cannot be challenged. Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based. The European Court of Human Rights also attaches particular importance to the aspect of fair competition. In addition to this significant public interest, the CAS rightly considered the other relevant interests, namely the private interests of the female athletes running in the ‘women’ category.’’

Semenya has said that she will continue to fight against the restrictions. In a statement from her published in the report by New York Times (dated September 8, 2020) on the latest update to her case, Semenya says, “ I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am. Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.”  The report in the New York Times pointed out that Semenya’s supporters include the World Medical Association (WMA), which has requested doctors not to implement the World Athletics regulations. WMA has questioned the ethics and potential harm in requiring athletes to take hormone therapy not based on medical need.“  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also called for the regulations to be revoked. Human Rights Watch has called the regulations “stigmatizing, stereotyping and discriminatory,” saying they amount to “policing of women’s bodies on the basis of arbitrary definitions of femininity and racial stereotypes,” – the report said.

AFI seeks priority for Olympics-bound athletes in vaccination plan

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has sought priority for Olympics-bound athletes in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

According to a report from Press Trust of India, published September 16, 2020 in leading dailies, discussions in this regard have already happened. “ We have already discussed this with the government and told them we will need it (vaccine) for our athletes going to the Olympics,” AFI President Adille Sumariwalla was quoted as saying in the report “ We need to make sure once the vaccine comes out, they (Olympic-bound athletes) should be amongst the first batches to get it and the discussion regarding that has already happened,” he added. The AFI chief was speaking at a webinar.

Duplantis vaults past Bubka’s record

Swedish athlete Armand Duplantis has broken Sergey Bubka’s longstanding outdoor world record in the pole vault.

A report dated September 18, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said that he cleared 6.15 meters at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Rome, a day earlier.

According to it, in February this year, Duplantis had set world records of 6.17m and 6.18m on the World Indoor Tour. “ But no one had ever jumped higher than 6.14m in an outdoor stadium. Sergey Bubka’s 6.14m monument from 1994 had stood inviolate for 26 years, but it has been under siege from Duplantis this season,’’ the report said, adding, “ before last night, he had taken 13 attempts at 6.15m after cutting a swathe through the world’s best pole vaulters in this short, sharp competition season.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Boston Marathon organizers postpone registrations for 2021

Boston Athletic Association (BAA), organizers of the Boston Marathon, has announced that registration for the 2021 Boston Marathon will not take place in September.  The registration process has been postponed, BAA said in a statement dated September 3, 2020, available on its website.

Every year, registrations for Boston Marathon open in September of the previous year. According to Tom Grilk, CEO, BAA, COVID-19 has affected mass participation road races in ways that could never have been imagined. “ September is usually a time for the BAA to begin opening registration for April’s Boston Marathon and planning for an already established field size. We know, however, that we cannot open registration until we have a better understanding of where the virus may be in the spring,” he was quoted as saying.

To guide it on the path ahead, BAA has formed a COVID-19 Medical & Event Operations Advisory Group consisting of medical, public safety, and race operations experts, as well as city and state officials.

“ The Medical & Event Operations Advisory Group will recommend strategies that address the health and safety of participants, volunteers, staff, and community members. Recommendations will be developed in accordance with the most current guidelines issued for large-scale events by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control. The group will develop framework for the B.A.A. that addresses risk factors specific to the Boston Marathon including size and other local and international considerations for the pandemic. Outcomes, including an updated registration timeline for the 125th Boston Marathon, will be shared,’’ the related statement available on the race website said.

“ We seek to determine with some specificity how and when large-scale road running events organized by the B.A.A. may be able to reasonably resume, while also providing input on which operational aspects will change as events are organized and managed,” Dr. Aaron Baggish, Co-Medical Director for the BAA and Boston Marathon, Director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, and co-chair of the advisory group, was quoted as saying.

Boston Marathon is usually held on Patriots’ Day, which falls on April 19 in 2021.

This year’s, Boston Marathon was cancelled owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be held in virtual format.

World Athletics road running season restarts

World Athletics’ 2020 road running season will recommence this month backed by a strong anti-doping program. However, the race calendar is subject to changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a press release dated September 1, 2020, available on the website of the apex body overseeing athletics globally, “ the schedule begins with the Vidovdanska Trka 10km (Bronze Label) on 6 September and still features the Virgin Money London Marathon (Platinum Label) on 4 October, the same day as the venerable Kosice Peace Marathon (Silver Label) in Slovakia, as well as a host of other Gold, Silver and Bronze events in various countries. This schedule does remain subject to change, due to the ongoing uncertainty created by the progress of the Coronavirus pandemic around the world.’’

The calendar for the rest of the year will be supported by a strong anti-doping program. “ Road athletes will be able to register Olympic qualifying entry standards from 1 September to 30 November, but only in preidentified, advertised and authorized races being staged on World Athletics certified courses, with in-competition drug testing on site. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) has confirmed it will have appropriate anti-doping systems in place for all qualifying races,” the release said.

In late July, World Athletics had agreed to lift the suspension on the Tokyo Olympic qualifying process for the marathon and race walk events from 1 September 2020, due to concerns over the lack of qualifying opportunities that may be available for road athletes before the qualification period finishes on 31 May 2021. The original suspension period, from 6 April to 30 November 2020, was introduced due to the competition and training disruption caused by the global pandemic, and remains in place for all other track and field events. The accrual of points for world rankings and the automatic qualification through Gold label marathons / Platinum Label marathons remains suspended until 30 November 2020.

Last year, the AIU had reached an agreement with the Abbott World Marathon Majors wherein the organization agreed to provide additional funding for intelligence-led anti-doping investigation and testing program, which would allow the AIU to monitor a larger pool of elite road runners. The said program has been expanded this year with contributions from other key stakeholders of the road running community – the organizers of all Label races, athlete representatives and shoe companies. Three major shoe companies – ASICS, Adidas and Nike – have agreed to contribute to the AIU’s Road Running Integrity Programme, the release said.

The ongoing commitment of all these key stakeholders means that more than 300 Platinum and Gold Label athletes will be monitored and tested during the coming season. The AIU expects to be able to create individual intelligence profiles for all of these athletes this year, establishing baseline parameters for each athlete’s biological passport, ahead of target testing in 2021.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / AUGUST 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Sports functions of up to 100 persons allowed from September 21

Under guidelines for further relaxation of lockdown in areas outside containment zones, the central government in its order dated August 29, 2020 has allowed sports functions involving up to 100 persons, from September 21, 2020 onward.

“ Social / academic / sports / entertainment / cultural / religious / political functions and other congregations with a ceiling of 100 persons, will be permitted with effect from 21st September, 2020 with mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing, provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitizer,’’  one of the sub sections of the order said.

Swimming pools will however continue to remain closed.

AFI defers start of national competitions

The competition committee of Athletics Federation of India (AFI), at its meeting of August 28, 2020, decided to defer the start of national competitions.

According to a related press release, AFI had been hoping to resume competitions on September 12, 2020 with an AFI Grand Prix in Patiala. “ It would be advisable if the coaches redraw the training schedules of athletes. We are now looking at October end or early November for some competitions for seniors and late November for juniors,” AFI president, Adille J. Sumariwalla was quoted as saying. The National Open Athletics Championships, slated for September 20 to 24 and the Federation Cup, due from October 5 to 9, have also been postponed, the statement said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Mumbai Ultra takes a break, organizes blood donation drive for Independence Day

Under normal circumstances, Independence Day would be the time for Mumbai’s annual rendezvous with the Mumbai Ultra. This year, the 12-hour run is taking a break due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and has organized instead a blood donation camp.

The camp will be held on August 15, 2020 at Veer Savarkar Smarak Bhavan, Shivaji Park, Mumbai, for a period of 12 hours from 8AM to 8PM.

“ We had to cancel this year’s ultra-running event because of the pandemic. As we have been associated with Tata Memorial Hospital for the past few years, I decided to call them and inform them about the cancellation. The director of the hospital spoke about the shortage of blood and asked us if we can organize a blood donation camp,” Naveen Hegde, one of the organizers of Mumbai Ultra, said.

The event’s organizing team then set about working on the logistics for the blood donation drive. Naveen expects around 500 people to come forward for donating blood. At the time of writing, over 450 people had registered to donate blood. Those seeking to register can get the relevant details on the event’s Facebook page.

If held, the 2020 edition of Mumbai Ultra would have been the seventh edition of the event.

Cancellation of the 2020 Ladakh Marathon now spans all race categories

The organizers of the Ladakh Marathon have confirmed that the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the event now spans all race categories.  On July 2, they had informed that the main Ladakh Marathon had been cancelled owing to COVID-19 but the two elite races in its fold – Khardung La Challenge and Silk Route Ultra – were under “ review” with a final decision expected by end-July.

A statement dated August 10, 2020, now available on the event’s website says that the cancellation includes Khardung La Challenge and Silk Route Ultra. “ The 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon scheduled for 10 – 13 September has been cancelled because of the COVID-19. All six races – Marathon, Half Marathon, 10 km, 5 km, 72 km ultra Khardungla Challenge and 122 km Silk Route Ultra stand cancelled for the year 2020.’’

It attributed the cancellation to the situation around COVID-19 and the India-China border tensions of the past few months. Ladakh is close to the international border. “ After undertaking a risk-assessment exercise a collective decision was taken to cancel the 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon as the well-being of our runners, the residents of Ladakh, our volunteers and staff remains our top priority,’’ the statement said, adding, “ all confirmed registrations for the 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon have been automatically transferred for a period of two years to 2021-2022.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020 Paris Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris has been cancelled.

“ After having tried everything to maintain the event, we, alongside the Ville de Paris, feel obliged to cancel the 2020 edition of the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris and the Paris Breakfast Run. Faced with the difficulty that many runners, especially those coming from abroad, had in making themselves available for the 14th / 15th November, it was decided that it would be better and simpler for those concerned if we organised the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris in 2021,’’ an official statement dated August 12, 2020, available on the event website, said.

“ Those who were signed up for this year’s edition are, if they wish, already signed up for the 2021 edition. If not, they will benefit from a voucher, the value of which being equal to however much was spent on the bib and extra options or a reimbursement after a period of 18 months,’’ the statement said adding, “ we will be working side-by-side with the Ville de Paris to put on a 2021 edition that brings together the most passionate runners on the most beautiful streets in the world.’’

Reminder from World Athletics on the need to stick to shoe regulations

World Athletics has reminded that the recently introduced Rule 5 pertaining to the sole height of shoes will need to be adhered to if the results at national championships and domestic competitions are to be recognized by it.

“ As more athletes around the world return to the track for national championships, one-day meetings and other record-breaking attempts, World Athletics has issued a reminder to Area Associations and Member Federations today about the recently introduced Rule 5, governing competition shoes. The amended rule, which puts a sole height limit of 25mm on all shoes worn in track events of 800m and above in distance (including Steeplechase), came into force on 28 July 2020, when it was published. The rule does not prevent a road running shoe from being worn on the track but a 30mm or 40mm road running shoe cannot be worn for track events because of the 25mm limit. As this is a transition period, all results currently in the World Athletics database will be processed, but any result of an individual athlete who has worn non-compliant shoes for the race will be marked “Uncertified” (“TR5.5”). In the case of National Championships and other domestic competitions, for results to be validated and recognised by World Athletics for statistics purposes, such competitions must be held under World Athletics Technical Rules and Competition Rules. This means that Rule 5 of the Technical Rules must be applied in full for the competition results to be recognised by World Athletics as valid. To preserve the integrity of national records and statistics, the responsibility lies with the Member Federation to ensure that all athletes, officials and competition organisers are fully aware that Rule 5 of the Technical Rules will be applied in full. If a Member Federation or competition organiser permits an athlete to compete in non-compliant shoes, then the athlete’s individual results from the competition will be marked in World Athletics’ records and statistics as ‘Uncertified (‘TR5.5’) i.e. invalid. In some cases, this may apply to the entire race. Results achieved before 28 July, where an athlete has worn a shoe above the current track limits, are valid provided the results were achieved in shoes that complied with the sole thicknesses in the previous rule. For example, if an athlete wore 40mm non-spike shoe on the track or 30mm spike between 31 January 2020 and the notification and publication of change of rules on 28 July 2020, then the competition result is valid. The list of shoes that were submitted to World Athletics by manufacturers for assessment, and have been approved, will be published on World Athletics’ website shortly to assist Athletes, Member Federations, Technical Officials and meeting organisers,’’ a statement dated August 10, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

World Athletics publishes list of approved competition shoes

World Athletics has published the list of approved competition shoes, following the amendments to Rule 5 of the Technical Rules announced on 28 July 2020.

The list has been compiled following introduction of the requirement on 31 January 2020 that any new shoe an athlete proposes to wear in international competitions needs to be assessed by World Athletics.

According to a press release dated August 13, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, “ the list does not contain every shoe ever worn by an athlete but it does include some older models of shoes that manufacturers sent to World Athletics for assessment by its independent expert. The position with older shoes that are not on the list is that they still need to comply with the rule going forward. The athlete, or their representative, will need to ensure their older shoe complies with Rule 5.13 in terms of the maximum sole thicknesses for their specified event and any inserted plate or blade, including spike plates if relevant.

“ Under Rule 5 of the Technical Rules, athletes (or their representative) have the responsibility to provide World Athletics with specifications of the new shoes the athlete proposes to wear in competition. World Athletics accepts shoe specification and samples submitted by manufacturers for further examination. If there is doubt about a shoe (particularly shoes that no other athlete has) then athletes, officials and meeting organisers should first refer to the approved list.

“ If the competition referee has a reasonable suspicion that a shoe worn by an athlete might not comply with the rules then at the conclusion of the competition the referee may request the shoe be handed over for further investigation by World Athletics.

“The list of approved shoes will be updated regularly to reflect any new information received.’’

The list of approved shoes (as of August 13, 2020) is available as a link on the above cited press release, on the website of World Athletics.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / JULY 2020

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Chicago Marathon. It is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

2020 Chicago Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon has been cancelled.

A statement available on the event’s website said, “ On Monday, July 13, event organizers and the City of Chicago announced the decision to cancel the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon and all race weekend activities in response to the ongoing public health concerns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“ In regard to the unique set of circumstances surrounding the decision to cancel the 2020 race, the event has put into place an exception to our standard event policies. Each registered participant will have the option to receive a refund for their 2020 race entry or to defer their place and entry fee to a future edition of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (2021, 2022 or 2023).

“ 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon registered participants will be contacted via email with additional information and the opportunity to select one of the following options,’’ the statement said.

More details are available on the race website.

2020 Ladakh Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Ladakh Marathon has been cancelled.

A press release dated July 2, 2020, available on the event’s website said, “ Ladakh Marathon which had been scheduled for 13th September 2020, has been cancelled because of COVID-19.

“ This year, the Ladakh Marathon would have been holding its 9th edition. Like previous editions, this small community of ours was greatly looking forward to welcoming runners from around the world. This 9th Edition was even more special as Ladakh Marathon had become a Qualifying Event of Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group. However, we also cannot simply ignore a global crisis of such proportion.

“ In India, even as we exit from the nationwide lockdown, we are witnessing a peak in positive COVID-19 cases. The border areas of Ladakh are also currently facing a tense situation, so we are looking at the coming months with great uncertainty.

“ As per the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for holding events involving mass participation, we have undertaken a risk assessment exercise and have taken the collective decision to cancel the four races of the 9th edition of Ladakh Marathon so as to not endanger our runners, the residents of Ladakh, our volunteers and staff.

“ All registrations for these 4 races (Marathon, Half Marathon, 10 km and 5 km) which were to be held Sunday 13th September 2020 have been automatically transferred for a period of two years to 2021-2022,’’ the statement said.

However, it added that the status of the two elite races – the 72 km Khardungla Challenge (17,618ft) and the 122 km Silk Route Ultra – is “ under review’’ as the number of participants is restricted to 200. A final decision on these two races is expected by 30th of July. “ Until then, we request all registered runners of these two races to NOT reserve any flights,’’ the press release said.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe becomes a member of IOC

The president of World Athletics, Sebastian Coe, has been elected a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), news reports said on July 17.

Coe was nominated in June. But to be admitted, he needed to first step down from other private business responsibilities he held which constituted potential conflict of interest. World Athletics wasn’t having a member on the IOC since 2015.

A statement dated July 17, available on the website of World Athletics said, “ World Athletics is honoured to have regained its International Federation membership of the IOC today. World Athletics would like to thank all IOC Members for their trust in our sport.” The IOC too had a statement on its website confirming the development. According to it, the 136th session of the IOC elected two vice presidents, two executive board members and five new members.

World Athletics revises its shoe technology rules again

World Athletics has revised further its rules governing shoe technology.

“ These amendments, approved by the World Athletics Council and introduced with immediate effect, are based on significant ongoing discussions with the Working Group on Athletic Shoes, established this year, and with the shoe manufacturers,’’ a press release dated July 28, 2020 available on the website of World Athletics said.

They alterations include changes to the maximum height of spiked shoes for track and field events and the establishment of an ‘Athletic Shoe Availability Scheme’ for unsponsored elite athletes. The maximum height for road shoes (40mm) remains unchanged.

“ The purpose of these amendments is to maintain the current technology status quo until the Olympic Games in Tokyo across all events until a newly formed Working Group on Athletic Shoes, which includes representatives from shoe manufacturers and the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI), have had the opportunity to set the parameters for achieving the right balance between innovation, competitive advantage and universality and availability,’’ the statement said.

Details are available on the website of World Athletics.

According to World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon, the previous rule changes, announced in late January, were designed to give the athletes clarity before the Tokyo Olympic Games, which were originally due to take place in July-August this year. However the later postponement of the Olympic Games for a full year, due to the global pandemic, gave the governing body more time to consult with stakeholders and experts and develop amended rules that will guide the sport through until late 2021.

Meanwhile the new Working Group on Athletic Shoes (WGAS) met for their first meeting on July 22. It is tasked with scoping and overseeing studies around shoe technology, exploring definitions to provide clarity to athletes about the shoes they are able to compete in, creating a robust certification and control process and providing expert advice and recommendations to the World Athletics Competition Commission on the future direction of World Athletics’ Rules and Regulations concerning elite athlete shoes for the long-term which may or may not be different to the current rules, the statement said.

World Athletics Council resolves to expel RusAF if payments not received by August 15

The World Athletics Council has decided to expel the Russian Federation (RusAF) from membership of World Athletics if it does not make the outstanding payments of five million dollars in fine and 1.31 million dollars in costs before August 15.

According to a press release dated July 30, 2020 available on the website of World Athletics, the Council, meeting by teleconference due to the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic, agreed to follow the recommendations of the Taskforce, delivered by chairperson Rune Andersen in his report. Addressing the Council, Andersen expressed his disappointment that the Taskforce had seen “ very little in terms of changing the culture of Russian athletics” in the past five years.

He said the Taskforce had spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to help RusAF reform itself and Russian athletics, for the benefit of all clean Russian athletes but the response from RusAF had been inadequate.

According to the press release, in the light of a letter sent to World Athletics by the Russian Minister of Sport Oleg Matytsin, which promised payment of the overdue amounts by August 15, the Council decided to recommend to Congress to expel RusAF from membership of World Athletics, but to suspend the decision.

However this decision will come into effect immediately and automatically if RusAF does not meet the following conditions:

  • Payment in full of the two outstanding RusAF invoices to be received on or before close of business in Monaco on 15 August 2020.
  • The RusAF Reinstatement Commission to provide the draft plan referenced in the third paragraph of Council’s decision of 12 March 2020 – of suitable scope and depth, with an implementation plan and progress indicators – to the Taskforce on or before 31 August 2020.
  • Any changes required by the Taskforce to the draft plan to be incorporated to the Taskforce’s satisfaction on or before 30 September 2020.
  • The plan to be brought into effect and satisfactory progress achieved against the plan (as determined by the Taskforce, based on the input of the international experts appointed by World Athletics), as reported by the Taskforce to Council at each of its subsequent meetings.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / JUNE 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

With swimming pools still shut, top swimmer says he may have to consider retirement

In what is a clear sign of the quandary competition swimmers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown, Virdhawal Khade, among top swimmers in India has said that he may have to consider retirement.

Khade is one of six swimmers from the country, who secured the lower (B) Olympic qualification mark, for the now postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He achieved it ahead of the lockdown. In India, lockdown started on March 24. Among other things, it resulted in sports facilities – including swimming pools – being shut.  Close to three months later, in recent relaxation to lockdown rules, the freedom to exercise, cycle and be out jogging – have all been restored and assigned specific hours. However swimming pools and gyms are still shut.

Activities like cycling and running have also adapted in part to using virtual reality as alternative to the absence of races. Swimming has no such option. In the early half of the lockdown, long distance swimmers this blog spoke to were all into strength training at home, which they admitted is a poor alternative to being in water. It was the best one could do under the circumstances.

Khade is the current national record holder in the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle and 50m butterfly events. He picked up a bronze medal in the 50m butterfly event at the 2010 Asian Games.

According to a Reuters report on Khade’s predicament, dated June 15, 2020 (since published in the general news media), secretary-general of the Swimming Federation of India (SFI), Monal Chokshi, said that of the six swimmers who made the earlier mentioned Olympic qualifying mark, only Sajan Prakash, who is training in Thailand, has managed to get back to the pool.

The SFI has approached the sports ministry for a solution, the report said.

Ironman 70.3 Goa postponed

Ironman 70.3 Goa scheduled to be held on November 8, 2020 has been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“ We are working diligently to secure a new race date for the second half of 2021,” the organizer of the event said on the event’s Instagram page.

“ In what has been a continually evolving and challenging time globally, we recognize that this may come as a disappointment but look forward to providing athletes with an exceptional race experience in the future,” the statement said.

Ironman 70.3 Goa made its debut in 2019. The triathlon saw huge participation from Indian amateur triathletes.

2020 TCS New York City Marathon cancelled

The 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, set to take place on November 1, has been cancelled. New York Road Runners (NYRR), the event organizer, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of the City of New York, have made the decision to cancel the world’s largest marathon due to coronavirus-related health and safety concerns for runners, spectators, volunteers, staff, and the many partners and communities that support the event, a press statement dated June 24, available on the website of New York Road Runners said.

“ While the marathon is an iconic and beloved event in our city, I applaud New York Road Runners for putting the health and safety of both spectators and runners first,” Mayor Bill de Blasio was quoted as saying. “ We look forward to hosting the 50th running of the marathon in November of 2021.”

“ Canceling this year’s TCS New York City Marathon is incredibly disappointing for everyone involved, but it was clearly the course we needed to follow from a health and safety perspective,” said Michael Capiraso, president and CEO of New York Road Runners.  “ Marathon Day and the many related events and activities during race week are part of the heart and soul of New York City and the global running community, and we look forward to coming together next year.”

According to the statement, NYRR will be connecting directly with runners registered for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon by July 15 with more information regarding the cancellation resolution details, including the option to receive a full refund of their entry fee or a guaranteed complimentary entry in 2021, 2022, or 2023. Runners who gained entry through a charity or tour operator should reach out beginning July 1 to that organization for the options available to them.

This year’s marathon was set to be the 50th running of the event, which began in 1970 and has grown to become the world’s largest marathon with 53,640 finishers in 2019.

“ Runners registered for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon and others from around the world will be invited to participate in the third annual TCS New York City Marathon – Virtual 26.2M taking place from October 17 through November 1. Further details on the virtual marathon will be shared in July. In addition to the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, the 2020 Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K on October 31 has also been canceled,’’ the statement said, adding, “ The 50th running of the TCS New York City Marathon will take place on November 7, 2021.’’

2020 Berlin Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Berlin Marathon has been cancelled.

The event was earlier suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic; city authorities decided that all events with more than 5000 persons would be prohibited till October 24, 2020. The Berlin Marathon was originally slated to take place in September.

On June 24, the race organizers announced its cancellation.

“ As hard as we have tried, it is currently not possible to organize the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON with its usual Berlin charm. Fun, joy, health and success are attributes that characterize the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON, but we are not able to guarantee all of this at the moment. Your health, as well as all of our health, is our first priority. Therefore, taking into account the Containment Measures Ordinance due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its latest update on June 17, 2020, the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON 2020 will not be able to take place on September 26-27, 2020. Furthermore, it will also not be possible – after extensive examination and various discussions, also with the authorities – to hold the event at a later date this year,’’ an official statement on the race website said.

Among countries in Europe affected by COVID-19, Germany was perceived as the most efficient in dealing with the disease. It managed the first wave well and the national lockdown was subsequently relaxed. However in recent weeks the country has been tackling new clusters of infection.

Badwater 135 cancelled

The 2020 Badwater 135 has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ultra-running event, promoted as the world’s toughest foot race, covers a distance of 135 miles (217.26 kilometers) from Death Valley to Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney, in California, USA.

The 43rd edition of the foot race was to take place over July 6-8, 2020.

Four ultra-runners from India – Ashish Kasodekar, Mandeep Doon, Munish Dev and Praveen Sharma – had been invited to participate in the race. When contacted, Ashish said that the runners from India withdrew in May given the cancellation of flights between India and the US due to COVID-19. The formal cancellation of the event was communicated to participants through email, media reports on the subject said.

During the 2019 edition of Badwater 135, Japan’s Yoshihiko Ishikawa had set a new course record of 21 hours, 33 minutes and one second.

With real race cancelled, UTMB offers virtual alternatives

The organizers of UTMB Mont Blanc plan to launch UTMB for the Planet, a digital sporting event, which will include four virtual races.

The four virtual races will be based on the main distances of the event, the race organizers have informed in a communication to the running community posted on the race’s website. The said four virtual races will be UTMB Virtual 50, UTMB Virtual 100, UTMB Virtual 170 and UTMB Virtual 240.

The 2020 edition of UTMB Mont Blanc was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entry into UTMB for the Planet virtual races is free, the statement said, adding “ all participants are invited to donate the amount of their choice when they register to support WWF France projects. ‘’ The virtual races will be officially launched on July 20 and will be accessible to runners from around the world. The virtual races will be live from July 20 to August 30 and will be hosted on a new UTMB for the Planet digital platform.

According to the statement, to encourage the greatest number of runners to take part, participants will be able to complete their chosen distance over several runs or in one go. The classification will also take into account the kilometre-effort (for any gain of 100m in elevation, one kilometre is added to the distance of the route) for people who cannot integrate elevation gain in their run. “ In addition to the virtual races, original and exclusive challenges will be organised with our partners and will be available on the digital platform. These challenges will offer different sporting formats such as night races, team events or challenges based on elevation,’’ it said.

193 athletes to benefit from welfare fund for pandemic hit times

World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation (IAF) have announced that 193 athletes from 58 member federations will be offered one-time grants of US$3000 through an Athlete Welfare Fund announced in April to help support professional athletes experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“ The IAF expects to begin making payments to athletes as early as the end of this week,’’ a press release dated June 21, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said.

According to it, the IAF received 261 eligible applications by the 31 May deadline. These applications were evaluated by the IAF to ensure they met the eligibility criteria, under the oversight of an expert working group, chaired by World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. To be eligible athletes had to be qualified for selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (by entry standard), had to be able to demonstrate a justifiable welfare need through significant loss of income in 2020 compared to 2019, and must never have had an anti-doping violation.

Athletes ranked in the top six on the World Rankings, those who finished in the top six in any Gold Label Road race in 2019, and those who earned more than US$6000 in prize money from the 2019 Diamond League were not eligible to apply in order to help focus support to those most in need.

Initially totaling US$500,000 when its creation was announced on 28 April, generous contributions have since made US$600,000 ultimately available to athletes in need, the statement added.

2020 London Marathon: hopeful still

The recent cancellation of the Great North Run in the UK, needn’t imply that the same fate awaits the 2020 edition of the London Marathon, the organizers of the latter event have said.

In an open letter dated June 19, 2020, available on the website of the London Marathon, Event Director, Hugh Brasher said, “ I am sure earlier this week you will have seen the news that the Great North Run was sadly, but understandably, cancelled. There has been much speculation that this means the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon will also be cancelled. However, it doesn’t.

“ All road races have unique challenges. These might be transporting people to the start; transporting them from the finish; the density of runners on the course; the density and movement of spectators; providing runners with appropriate medical care and facilities such as loos and drinks; dealing with the logistics of road closures and reopenings – the challenges are always different for every race. The team at London Marathon Events has been looking at the logistics of the Virgin Money London Marathon and coming up with innovative ways to socially distance the event. We have also been working with other mass participation event organisers in the UK, including the Great Run Company and Human Race, to make recommendations to the UK Government on how mass participation events can return,’’ he said.

Brasher pointed out that there are currently just over 15 weeks before the planned date of the 40th London Marathon on October 4, 2020. On the usual timescale for the event, it would be the equivalent of the first week of January. “ That means there is still plenty of time to train and there is neither a need, nor should there be a desire, to be at your peak fitness yet. We still don’t know whether we will be able run together, walk together and be together on that journey of 26.2 miles on 4 October. Almost every day we hear hopeful news from other countries and we hear tales of despair. However, what we do know is that we have hope, desire and ingenuity. Hope that the world will have found a way through Covid-19 by October,’’ he said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

World Athletics publishes safety guidelines for in-stadium outdoor competitions

World Athletics has published a set of health and safety guidelines to assist competition organisers to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus when staging in-stadium outdoor events during the current pandemic, a press statement dated June 11, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

The guidelines, drafted by World Athletics’ Health and Science Department, also address the post-peak period, as described by the World Health Organization (WHO) and are based on scientific and medical knowledge of the virus responsible for COVID-19. The document offers guidance for professional athletes, support staff, technical officials, workforce, volunteers, medical staff and media. Although it doesn’t include guidelines regarding spectators, the WHO has produced a document and risk-assessment tools for mass gatherings.

“ Competition organisers are advised to undertake a four-point risk assessment for all accredited attendants. If an individual scores two or higher, it is recommended that they should undergo a medical clearance protocol before the event,’’ the statement said.

Other recommendations include:

Pre-event

  • Welcome desks organised by local organising committees (LOC) at airports or railway stations should provide each arrival with a welcome bag that includes single-use masks (three per day, minimum), bottles of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and a leaflet to explain the health and safety protocols for that particular event.
  • When being transported from an airport or railway station to competition hotels, all passengers and drivers should wear a mask and be seated at an appropriate distance away from one another. One-way flows should also be implemented to avoid mixing of people.
  • LOCs are also strongly recommended to organise and use a medical encounter registry, recorded on an electronic system, to facilitate identification and further contact of potentially infected individuals.

At the stadium

  • Spectators and accredited personnel should have two completely separate entrances and the flows should not cross. Accredited personnel should only be granted access to the competition venue if wearing a face mask and with their personal hand sanitizer.
  • Face masks should be worn by everyone in the stadium, with the exception of athletes when warming up or competing in their event.
  • Warm-up zones should be large open-air areas within a short walking distance of the competition stadium, and access to it should be strictly controlled. Athletes should be invited to enter the warm-up area following a specific timetable. All accredited personnel should wear a mask and wash their hands before entering warm-up zones or dedicated toilets.
  • Masks should also be worn in call rooms, which should be arranged in an outdoor location. It is also mandatory to disinfect chairs between each use.

In competition

  • The number of people on the field of play should be kept to a minimum, and officials who will be coming into close contact with athletes should wear protective glasses or a plastic face shield, in addition to their mask.
  • Once athletes have crossed the finish line, they should try to keep their distance from the public and officials, where possible, until they collect their belongings from the call room.

Specific guidelines for individual disciplines:

  • Starting blocks should be cleaned between each race.
  • Chlorine should be added to the water jump for the steeplechase.
  • Relay batons should be cleaned between each use, and relay teams should be discouraged from gathering or hugging after a race.
  • The use of hand sanitizer should be recommended before each attempt in vertical jumps.
  • Officials should clean the landing mat between each jump, using a mop and virucidal solution or use a thin layer of recyclable plastic or tissue that can be placed on the jumping mat.
  • Sand in jumping pits should be mixed with a solution that contains biodegradable and non-skin-aggressive virucide agent.
  • Officials who handle throwing implements should clean their hands or use disposable gloves after each handling.
  • In combined events, the room used by athletes to recover between disciplines should be open-air, if possible. Coaches should be encouraged to interact with their athletes using electronic devices.

After competition

  • Media mixed zones should also be outside, if possible, and the number of people in the area should be kept to a minimum. A plexiglass screen should be placed between the athletes and the media, and cleaned after each interview, and separate interview boxes should be used if there are multiple positions. Without screens, a safety dead zone of three metres should be adopted when journalists interview athletes, and masks should be used by both parties.
  • To keep the number of people on the field of play to a minimum, live award ceremonies are not recommended, but alternative digital solutions are encouraged.
  • Once the competition has concluded, a thorough disinfection procedure should be undertaken.

The guidelines in full are available for downloading on the World Athletics website. “ The document is dynamic and will be updated as and when more evidence and scientific-based knowledge becomes available,’’ the statement said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Over 43,000 participate in virtual Comrades Marathon

Over 43,000 runners from 103 countries participated in the first virtual Comrades Marathon – Race the Comrades Legends – on Sunday, June 14, 2020.

From India, 316 runners registered for the virtual run. Compared to registrations for the virtual event, paticipation for the last edition of the race in its physical form – 2019 Comrades Marathon – was capped at 25,000 (source: Wikipedia).

The 2020 edition of Comrades Marathon, held annually in South Africa, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual race, held in its place, offered various distance options – five kilometers, 10 km, 21.1 km, 45 km and 90 km. At the end of the run, participating runners had to upload their race data.

News reports said Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) may consider organizing more virtual races as the response to its first event has been overwhelming.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / MAY 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Tokyo Games may have to be cancelled if it can’t be held next summer

President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach has indicated that the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games may have to be cancelled if the new dates of next summer cannot be met owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking on the situation, he told BBC Sport that neither can the Games organizers keep their staff permanently employed nor can athletes remain in uncertainty.

According to the report dated May 20, 2020, available on the BBC website, Bach also said that the event would be focused on essentials and while holding it behind closed doors isn’t his preference, he requires more time to consider the option.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe has said that staging the rescheduled Games would be difficult if the country does not contain the virus in time. Top medical officials in Japan have also pointed to the relevance of a vaccine in this regard. BBC said that when asked of this angle, Bach responded the IOC was counting on advice from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Recent news reports have pointed out that while there are several vaccine candidates in various stages of study, not only will they take between 12-18 months to be properly approved but top scientists have also cautioned, a successful vaccine may not emerge anytime soon.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games was originally slated for July 24-August 9, 2020. It was rescheduled to July 23-August 8, 2021 (retaining 2020 in the event name) following the outbreak of COVID-19 and its spread worldwide.

Sports Ministry approves resumption of training at its sports complexes and stadiums

The Sports Ministry has given its go ahead to the resumption of training at its complexes and stadiums after the government permitted their reopening in the fourth phase of the lockdown caused by COVID-19, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported, May 15, 2020.

According to the report published in national media, India’s sports minister Kiren Rijiju said activities will be conducted in sports complexes and stadiums strictly in accordance with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). “ I’m happy to inform sportspersons and all concerned that sports activities will be conducted in sports complexes and stadia strictly in accordance with MHA guidelines and that of the States in which they are situated,” Rijiju tweeted. The minister however reminded that the use of gyms and swimming pools are still prohibited.

2020 Comrades Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Comrades Marathon, which was postponed earlier due to concerns over COVID-19, has now been officially cancelled.

An official statement available on the website of the event said, “ Following long discussion with the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) Board and KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA), Athletics South Africa has announced the cancellation of the 2020 Comrades Marathon.’’

It quoted CMA Chairperson Cheryl Winn as saying, “ It is with profound sadness and regret that the CMA Board, in conjunction with ASA and KZNA, had to make this decision. We do so with the knowledge that it will come as a great disappointment to thousands of Comrades runners, who together with us at CMA, have been holding out hope that the race would somehow proceed.

“ We had hoped to postpone The Ultimate Human Race to a date not later than end of September (owing to climatic conditions), but alas with the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating and anticipated to peak in the coming months, there is no telling what is yet to come. As CMA, it is incumbent upon us to prioritise the health, safety and well-being of our athletes, volunteers and stakeholders and therefore lamentably we will not be staging this year’s edition of the country’s leading road running event.”

According to the statement, exactly 80 years ago, Comrades Marathon organizers had faced a similar dilemma in deciding whether to stage the 20th Comrades Marathon some eight months into the conflagration of World War II.  At the last moment it was decided to go ahead with just 23 starters, following the withdrawal of many runners who had been mobilized for the war effort.  Only ten runners completed the 1940 Comrades Marathon.  The following year the race was cancelled and remained so for the duration of the war (1941 – 1945), as the organizers, runners and supporters stood in solidarity with all those who suffered the horrors and atrocities of war, similar to that of the World War 1 which had inspired the Comrades Marathon’s humble beginnings.

Registration opens for professional athletes facing funds crunch due to pandemic

Professional athletes who are experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic will be able to register for a one-off welfare grant from the welfare fund set up by World Athletics and International Athletics Foundation (IAF). The registration window is from May 15 until May 31, an official statement dated May 15, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

It was two weeks ago that the two organizations announced that a US$ 500,000 welfare fund had been created to support professional athletes who have lost a substantial part of their income due to the suspension of international competition this year. A working group was formed to oversee the distribution of the funds and it has now finalized the eligibility criteria and application process.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who chairs the working group, said it had been a challenging and complicated task to define the eligibility criteria to ensure that grants from the fund were delivered to the athletes most in need.

According to the statement, the fund will support athletes who have met the Tokyo Olympic Games entry standard and will provide welfare grants to be used to cover basic living expenses. The level of grant will be dependent on the number of approved applications and up to a maximum of US$4000. It is anticipated that the grants will be distributed directly to athletes from June. Only athletes who have been impacted financially to the extent that they are unable to maintain their basic standard of living should apply. All applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Must be qualified (by meeting the entry standard) for selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
  • Must have never had an anti-doping rule violation
  • Must be able to demonstrate a justifiable welfare need through significant loss of income in 2020 compared to 2019.

To help ensure the fund goes to those most in need, the following athletes will not be eligible to apply:

  • Those ranked in the Top 6 in their event in the World Athletics World Rankings
  • Those who have finished in the Top 6 positions of any Gold Label Road Race in 2019
  • Those who have earned more than USD 6,000 in prize money from the Diamond League in 2019

Athletes who, throughout the covid-19 pandemic, continue to receive an annual grant from their government, national olympic committee, member federation or sponsors are not expected to apply unless they can demonstrate a justifiable welfare need as detailed above.

The first phase of the application process is for the IAF to assess eligibility and for athletes to describe the need for grant support and their proposed use of the grant. More detailed financial information will be requested in the second phase prior to confirmation of any grant award, the statement said.

Sports Authority of India to prepare SOP for resuming training post lockdown

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) has formed a committee to prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for phased resumption of training across sporting disciplines at all its centers once the lockdown due to COVID-19 is lifted.

According to a report from the Press Trust of India (PTI), published in the media on May 10, 2020, the six-member panel will be headed by SAI secretary Rohit Bharadwaj and will have as members, CEO Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) Rajesh Rajagopalan, Executive Director (Operations) SS Roy, SS Sarla, Col BK Nayak and Assistant Director TOPS Sachin K. All training had been suspended across SAI centers in view of the on-going pandemic.

The proposed SOP will describe protocols and preventive measures to be observed by all stakeholders, including trainees, coaches, technical and non-technical support staff, NSFs, administrators, mess and hostel staff and visitors, once training resumes.

It will include the guidelines to be followed on entry norms, sanitization and precautions to be taken in common areas and by athletes while travelling to and from the center. A separate committee has been formed to prepare a SOP for swimming, since the sport requires athletes to train in water and may have a different set of health risks to address. The committee for swimming will be headed by Executive Director, TEAMS Division of SAI, Radhica Sreeman, and will include Monal Choksi, secretary general of the Swimming Federation of India, senior coaches and doctors, the PTI report said.

The recommendations of the committees are being made in consultation with respective National Sporting Federations and other stakeholders and will be sent to the Sports Ministry for final approval.

IOC foresees costs of up to $ 800 million as its share in organizing Tokyo Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) anticipates that it will have to bear costs of up to USD 800 million for its share of responsibilities in organizing the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, its own extended operations and the support for the wider Olympic Movement. This amount will be covered by the IOC itself, including any funding from the Olympic Foundation, an official statement dated May 14, 2020, available on the IOC website said.

This number includes the cost for the organization of the postponed Games of up to USD 650 million for the IOC and an aid package of up to USD 150 million for the Olympic Movement, including the International Federations (IFs), the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the IOC-Recognized Organizations, to enable them to continue their sports, their activities and their support to their athletes. Today, the IOC Executive Board (EB) approved this financial plan.

“ At the moment, the IOC is undergoing a deep analysis process to evaluate and assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on all of its operations. This is a complex exercise because of the constantly changing factors which have to be considered in the current environment,’’ the statement said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)