Watching the epic performances out there today has inspired me to write something as I sit at Brisbane airport about to head home. I’m not going to write an analysis of the race as others will do that better than myself, but I wanted to give my thoughts on a few debates I’ve seen flying around on Twitter and online regarding race tactics and competition ‘ethics’. I’m in awe of what Callum Hawkins tried to do today and it was sickening to see him in such distress and clearly desperate to continue, even once his body had given up on him. I’m also in awe (although not QUITE as much) of Mike Shelley’s run today – his Games record is a massive achievement and yet again he was Mr. Consistent with a fantastic run. Mike was clearly on the edge also and for a while at 40-41km I thought he would be going the same way as Callum as he looked a little wobbly. For anyone who didn’t see the footage, Callum essentially collapsed at 39.5km, got up after a few failed efforts, struggled on for another 800m and then collapsed again at the 40km mark, losing his 2 minute advantage on Mike Shelley in 2nd. I’m sure it’s on YouTube.
Debate 1: Should Mike Shelley have stopped to help when he passed Callum?
When Mike passed Callum, lying prone on the floor, there was an official with him, although admittedly not doing much. Mike ran past him and has had some stick for not being ‘sportsmanlike’ and offering support. My view is he did the right thing. If Callum was in the middle of nowhere and Mike had seen him collapse then that’s a different matter but remember that Mike has no idea why he’s on the floor. He hasn’t seen the distressing scenes we all saw. Callum is also being attended to – what on earth can Mike do to help? Also, Mike looked pretty shaky himself and probably was battling on just getting the last 2km over with – stopping could have finished him and I’ve been in that state before – you barely take in what’s going on around you but to get to the finish. Just keep the strides moving. What if Mike stops and still no ambulance arrives – should Robbie Simpson in 3rd stop too? Should all Athletes just gather round until Callum has enough attention and then race the last 2km? It makes no sense.
Debate 2: Did Callum go too hard too soon?
Callum was always looking to make a move and got a 41sec lead between 25-30km with a 15.20 5km split. Mike Shelley and others hung back, and Callum then extended his lead by another minute at 30-35km with a similar split. It’s very easy to say he went too hard too soon in hindsight but what’s interesting is that he never slowed (until he came to a hard stop!). He didn’t seem to be tiring – even his 35-40km split was the fastest in the field and that included nearly a minute on the floor and then 500m or so of running afterwards. His pace judgment seemed spot on, but the heat (I assume) just zapped him and must have come from nowhere. Usually when someone goes too hard or misjudges pace in a marathon you slow gradually over several kilometres, but this never happened to Callum. I think it’s fair to say he wouldn’t have suffered as much if he’d have made his move later and he probably should have been more cautious seeing as the heat was always going to be a factor – but I imagine he felt incredibly comfortable and the pace was fine for him. It’s hard to predict a massive collapse at 40km when you feel fine at 38km, and if he was to have gradually faded, then having a 2minute lead is quite a handy thing to have should he have started to slow…. Actually collapsing and being unable to move is pretty rare! I would say he made the right decisions not having the benefit of hindsight.
Debate 3: Was the race badly organised?
There are two debates here – why did it start so late and why did it take so long for Callum to get medical attention? The first is (I suspect) due to TV broadcasting demands – the men started at 8.30am and it was 28C by 10.30am and with the heat off the road, it felt way hotter. I don’t want to see a race where conditions drive the result more than athletic ability and I do believe it should have started earlier. I don’t buy into the “it’s about being tough – make it as hard as possible” argument. It’s about who can run the fastest over 42.2km, not who can cope with heat the best.
As for the medical attention – it’s clearly very hard to monitor every athlete and be immediate when an athlete collapses over 42.2km, but Callum collapsed at 39.5km, got up, carried on for 2 more minutes and then went down again. Medics should have been flagged when he collapsed the first time and alongside. I understand an athlete will be DQ’d should he be given any assistance, but they just weren’t there fast enough to even ask the question. Given the heat, they should have anticipated issues in 30-42.2.km and it would have been pretty easy to have mobile medics ready to go and on alert in vehicles at this point. He was very lucky not to knock himself out when he went down the second time.
It was an amazing race to watch and Callum is exceptionally talented and one of the gutsiest runners I know – I’m sure he’ll be back. Huge kudos to all who ran – was a tough day out there.