By Brian Homewood
LONDON (Reuters) – Botswana’s Isaac Makwala was cleared to run in the men’s 200 meters at the World Athletics Championships on Wednesday by the IAAF which had previously barred him for medical reasons and he celebrated his reprieve by reaching the final.
Makwala was prevented from running in Monday’s opening 200 meters heat and Tuesday’s 400m final after falling victim to an outbreak of sickness that has hit many competitors.
The 30-year-old, seen as a leading contender in both events, had insisted he was fit enough to race while the sport’s world governing body had said he had an infectious disease and needed to be quarantined.
But on Wednesday the IAAF said the quarantine period had ended and Makwala could run in the semi-finals in the evening – provided he first achieved the qualifying time of 20.53 seconds in an individual time trial before the main session.
“Following a medical examination which has declared him fit to compete, we have agreed under our existing rules that assuming he makes the qualification time, he will run in the 200m semi-final round this evening,” the IAAF said in a statement.
The IAAF said it made the decision following a written request from Botswana’s athletics federation. It said none of the athletes who had already qualified would be expelled to make way for him.
Makwala followed in the footsteps of the United States women’s 4 x 100 meters relay team who ran alone against the clock after successfully appealing against their semi-final elimination at last year’s Rio Olympics. They went on to win the gold medal.
Urged on by the crowd, he completed his solo attempt in 20.20 seconds, well inside the target, and finished second in his semi-final about two hours later despite running in the inside lane, widely regarded as the most difficult.
“I’m still running with my heart broken, I was ready to run the 400, that’s the race I’ve been training for, I don’t run the 200 very often,” he said.
Makwala’s saga began when he failed to appear for his opening 200 meters heat on Monday and the IAAF said shortly afterwards that he had been ordered to withdraw by its medical delegate.
On Tuesday, Makwala told the BBC he had been ready to race and was fit and well for the 400 meters final later in the day. Shortly afterwards, the IAAF withdrew him from that race as well.
Makwala still went to the stadium on Tuesday but when he attempted to go through the dedicated athletes’ entrance an official and security personnel barred his way and he was led away.
Botswana sports minister Thapelo Olopeng was among those unhappy at the treatment of Makwala, a national hero.
“The manner in which our athlete was treated has hurt us all, as there was no conclusive evidence of the disease,” he said. “Our officials have prepared a report and we have filed our concerns with IAAF.”
Several athletes from Botswana, Germany, Canada, Ireland and Puerto Rico have been taken ill over the last few days, with some quarantined and others forced to miss their events.
Competition organizers said on Monday that the illnesses were a result of gastroenteritis, but public health officials said on Tuesday that laboratory tests had confirmed two cases of norovirus among approximately 30 victims.
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in London and Brian Benza in Gaborone,; Editing by Ed Osmond)