Some track athletes will get a second chance at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
World Athletics will introduce a “repechage” round for all individual track events from 200 meters to 1,500 meters, plus the 100/110 hurdles and 400 hurdles.
This is a significant innovation to the competition format of the sport.
In the past, some athletes were “one and done” after a first-round elimination, with many spending less than a minute in action.
One bad start or a misstep could be the end of an Olympic dream.
For example, at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, which concluded Sunday, there were 46 men and 44 women in the 200 meters. The men had seven heats, with the first three finishers in each heat and the next three fastest qualifying for the 24-person semifinals. The women had six heats, with the first three finishers in each heat and the next six fastest advancing.
Beth Dobbin of Great Britain ran 23.04 seconds and missed the semifinal by .05.
Under the repechage format, athletes who do not qualify by place in the heats will have a second chance to qualify for semifinals by competing in a repechage round. This guarantees them of two Olympic races.
The format will replace the current system in which athletes advance through placement as well as the next fastest times across all of the heats.
There will be four rounds in these events: round one, repechage round, semifinals and finals.
“After consulting with our athletes and broadcasters, we believe this is an innovation which will make progression in these events more straightforward for athletes and will build anticipation for fans and broadcasters,” said Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics. “The repechage rounds will give more exposure to our sport during the peak Olympic period and will be carefully scheduled to ensure that every event on our Olympic program retains its share of the spotlight.”
The 100 meters is not included because it already has preliminary heats before round one. Athletes running distances longer than 1,500 meters will not have a repechage round because of the need for proper recovery between rounds, according to World Athletics.
It is perhaps fitting that “repechage” is a French word since it will come into play in Paris. It comes from repercher, and means “fish out” or “rescue.”
Other sports already have repechage formats, including cycling, judo, rowing, taekwondo and wrestling.
In cycling and rowing, an athlete can get back into gold medal contention, which will be the approach taken by World Athletics on the track. But in judo, taekwondo and wrestling, the athlete can do no better than a bronze medal.
In 2009, the IAAF (now World Athletics) Council decreed that there should be no more than three rounds for any event except for the 100 meters, where countries could enter athletes who had not met the qualifying standard as a way to achieve universality. They are placed in that preliminary round.
World Athletics has not revealed all of the rules regarding the repechage, such as if an athlete who false starts or crashes out of a hurdles race will be eligible for another race.
According to World Athletics, “The final regulations of the format, including the timetable as well as system of advancement in each event, will be announced well in advance of the Olympic Games.”
But with two years to go, athletes in these events will know that everything will no longer ride on just one race.