No one could have expected a worse scenario to unfold during the morning’s heats of what has been billed as the highlight event of the 12th World Indoor Championships, the men’s 60m Hurdles.
World leader Dayron Robles who clocked eight of the ten fastest times this winter failed to advance past the first round after erroneously thinking that World record holder Liu Xiang, running on his inside, had jumped the gun.
Liu Xiang - I can't believe it
With the two fastest men from last year’s outdoor season Liu and Robles drawn in the same heat; it was expected that both would do just as little as needed to secure one of the four automatic qualifying positions.
Unfortunately this morning’s experience proved that nothing is ever for granted in athletics and the Cuban 21-year-old was the one to pay the price. Liu’s reaction time of 0.105 left Robles doubtful but instead of keeping on running he stopped.
Robles eventually finished the race but it was too late, the damage was done.
“I feel really sorry for Dayron,” said World and Olympic champion Liu. “It is a shame because I wanted to run against him, he is my reference in the 60m Hurdles. Sincerely it is a real shame that we are not together in the semi finals.”
Liu and Robles are known for being close friends despite the language barrier and no later than two days ago at the IAAF Official Press Conference, they both praised each other’s careers and achievements.
Unlike Robles who has had an extremely busy schedule this winter, this morning’s was Liu’s first outing of the season and as announced the Chinese wanted to “concentrate on taking a great start.”
And that’s just what he achieved this morning, a feat which ironically may have been the cause for Robles’ fatal mistake.
“I got a really fast start and I feel that this put him off. I think that it has been a lack of experience on his part because in the case of doubt it is better to continue running until you hear the second pistol.”
After the incident Liu was the first one to try and show some support to his Cuban arch rival.
“I went up to him and patted him on the back,” said Liu. “I said a few words to him but no matter what I was going to say it was never going to be enough.”
“I’m very surprised by what happened. I was just trying to do a good job on my start; I think that was my best reaction time ever. I just can’t believe he’s not going to be in the semi final.”
Allen Johnson - I know exactly what he's feeling
Three-time World Indoor champion Allen Johnson who raced just minutes after Robles’ incident was equally disappointed.
“I really feel for him because I can relate to him. I fell at the Athens Olympics and know exactly what he must be feeling like,” said Johnson who also won four World titles outdoors.
“It’s always a pity when the best guys don’t make it to the final and this year he’s the best by far. His absence is certainly going to take a little bit away from the final.”
Johnson who could not see Robles’ mistake as he was in the call room tried to analyze the situation.
“You always have to continue running especially when it’s the first round and they take the top four. But he’s young and it’s just a mistake that can happen.”
“If I see him I will tell him that’s it’s just an indoor race and that he should concentrate on getting ready for the outdoors.”
At 37, Johnson is running for a fourth World Indoor title, a feat previously achieved by the Cuban legendary pair of Javier Sotomayor and Ivan Pedroso, Haile Gebrselassie, Sergey Bubka and Mikhail Shchennikov in the men’s events.
“It was an okay race,” said the American. “I’m happy with the way I ran towards the end of the race. It will be important to run a good semi-final. I will be happy if I finish in the top 2.”
Understandably Robles was devastated and refused to make any comment. Last summer, the 1.92m tall Cuban experienced a similar disappointment when he failed to win a medal at the World Championships in Osaka where he was expected to be Liu’s main challenger only to come back and set an Area record 12.92 three weeks later in Stuttgart.
All we can hope for is that Valencia’s mishap can be a stepping stone towards a brighter performance at Beijing’s Olympic Games.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF