By Brian Homewood
LONDON (Reuters) – Botswana’s Isaac Makwala reached the World Championship 200 meters final against all the odds on Wednesday, negotiating a solo heat before coming through his semi-final via the difficult inside lane after gaining a reprieve from the IAAF.
South African Wayde van Niekerk, bidding for a double after his 400 meters gold, sneaked into the final as second of the two fastest losers after edging third place in his heat from Christophe Lemaitre by two hundredths of a second.
Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, double Olympic silver medalist on the same London Stadium track five years ago, failed to qualify after finishing third in his heat in 20.52.
Makwala, one of the leading contenders for a race left wide open by Usain Bolt’s absence, was pulled out of Monday’s heats by the IAAF for medical reasons after he was struck down with a stomach virus.
Having also been barred from Tuesday’s 400 meters final, he was given an unexpected reprieve on Wednesday when the IAAF said he was fit to run as he no longer considered an infection risk. But he still had a lot to do.
First, he had to run alone in the rain inside 20.53 seconds – the slowest of Monday’s qualifiers – to reach the semi-finals.
Although conditions were much worse than the competitors had in the first round two days ago with the rain teeming down in the London Stadium, Makwala sped round the wet track in 20.20 seconds.
Barely two hours later, he had to run again in the semi-finals where he was given the inside lane, made even more difficult than usual by the accumulation of rain water.
But he still managed to finish second in 20.14 seconds, two hundredths of a second behind American Isiah Young who was the fastest qualifier.
“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,” Makwala said.
“The crowd was amazing, they helped me to believe.”
Van Niekerk was sprawled on the track after finishing behind Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev (20.17) and American Ameer Webb.
“It was tougher than I thought it would be, (I) had to dig quite deep,” he said.
The impressive Young said: “To you guys it looks fast, but when I was in the blocks I just wanted to get up and out.
“It felt slow to me but I just wanted to make sure I focused on my lane. I knew those guys behind me would be coming. It felt slow but I’m happy to be through to the finals. I’m confident and ready.”
Blake finished behind Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago and Japan’s Abdul Hakim Sani Brown in his race. Britain’s Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake completed the line-up as the other fastest loser.
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Mitch Phillips and Ed Osmond)