Drop or not to drop, that is the question

COLUMBUS – The empty space in a 400-, 800-, 1,600- or 3,200-meter race is quite noticeable. Other competitors see it and so do the spectators.

Why didn’t said athlete run? Why is there an empty space?

Was it a disqualification? Was it an injury? Was it a family emergency?

No to the three previous queries.

State meets and regionals have seen this over the years, it’s nothing new – athletes choosing not to run a race at the biggest events of the year.

But why does it go on? Why is it up to the specific runner to dictate if they are or are not going to run in a race?

One example is that maybe a middle distance runner has excelled in the 400 and 800 all year then all of a sudden they drop the 400 at state because they want to concentrate on the 800.

For a longer distance runner, the weather becomes more of a factor. This time of the year, the heat plays a bigger role into a runner’s decision.

Let’s use another example. A runner qualifies for state in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. They have a shot to win both the 1,600 and 3,200, but placed fourth in regionals in the 800. The top four in each regional event advance to state. It’s the same going from districts to regionals.

The runner decides to drop the 800 and the 3,200 to focus on the 1,600. The thought going in was he or she is going to finish next-to-last in the 800, and the chances of successfully pulling off the double (1,600 and 3,200) at state with a 90-degree temperature and heavy humidity would be near impossible. So, the runner sticks with the 1,600.

That leaves two empty spots in the 800 and 3,200 – ones that should be filled by other competitors – alternates if you will.

Relay teams from the 4×100 to the 4×800 always bring alternates to the state and regional levels. In these races, why shouldn’t they be allowed for middle and distance races as well?

Say you take the next four fastest times from all of the four regions around the state in each of the races, those who didn’t automatically qualify in the top four of each race.

For regionals, do the same and take the top four fastest from the other districts, those who didn’t make top four in those races, and put them up to regionals.

Those, in both instances, would be your alternates at both levels.

A good example to base an “alternate” system on would be swimming and diving – which also is an individual sport very similar to track and field. To advance to the state tournament in swimming, the district takes the top two times as automatic qualifiers, then the next 16 fastest times in the state get at-large bids. That is your state swimming field.

Now, for track and field, you can take a larger “at-large” group – maybe say 30 for example – to round out your field. That would be your basis to solve the empty-lane syndrome that has plagued high school track and field for many years.

Another individual sport that uses alternates is wrestling. It’s being done around the state already. It should be done in track and field.

I fully understand why people drop races. Running in the heat, especially in heavy humidity, makes the half-mile, mile or 2-mile run seem like a jaunt on a burning bed of hot coals. I’m not for penalizing them at the high school level.

Just make this right. Give the alternates a chance.