Uncorrected lane infringement issues come back to haunt Caitlyn Bobb
Headstrong children are often warned by their parents that they may have to learn the hard way, and so it proved with Caitlyn Bobb at the World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, yesterday.
The 18-year-old, who was disqualified from her 400 metres heat for a lane infringement and deprived a place in the final on Saturday as a fastest loser, admitted to being no stranger to pushing the lines close — so much so that her parents had intervened to provide words of caution.
Which, crucially on the biggest day of her athletics career to date, went unheeded.
“My disqualification in the 400 is disappointing because I had the fourth-fastest time,” a composed Bobb told The Royal Gazette.
“I would have liked to end my high school career with a 51-second 400 time and/or top three in Under-20 World Championships, but the Lord has His own plans.
“My dad and mom warned me about running too near the line during previous indoor seasons, but during this race I was so focused on qualifying, I was unconscious of the lane line. It is unfortunate that my first DQ is at a big international meet.
“It was definitely a learning experience. All I can do is reflect, make adjustments in areas of concern and plan for the future. I appreciate the love, support and encouragement I’ve received.”
The heartbreaking nature of the development for the teenager is that her finishing time of 53.62sec, a season’s best had it been ratified, would have guaranteed her a better lane assignment in the final and marked her out as a genuine medal contender.
As it was, she began yesterday with the handicap of being drawn out in lane eight, which meant she had to go out extra hard for the first half of the race before getting a feel for what those inside her were doing — most notably the favourite, Imaobong Nse Uko, of Nigeria, who was in lane four and possessed the only sub-52 400 in the 21-strong field.
Bobb’s first infraction came on the 200 bend and then she ventured repeatedly into lane seven down the finishing straight while briefly contesting the lead with Uko before tightening up in the last 20 metres and conceding second place to Sylvia Chelangat, of Kenya, who clocked a personal-best 53.49.
Uko won in 52.33, comfortably the fastest of all qualifiers.
The ruling against Bobb added to the drama of the last of three heats, which had been already subjected to a restart after Nikola Bisova, of the Czech Republic, was disqualified for leaving her blocks early.
Bobb’s third place and nomination as fastest loser instead went to a fast-closing Priya Habbathanahalli Mohan, of India, in 53.79 with the second fastest-loser slot going to Tetyana Kharashchuk, of Ukraine, who was third in heat one in 54.65.
Bobb is accompanied in Nairobi by her mother, the former Dawnnette Douglas, who com peted in the 100 and 200 metres for Bermuda at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
They were not made immediately aware of the disqualification and were then told they had missed the 30-minute cut-off to appeal when they belatedly attempted to do so.
However, mother and manager was philosophical about this most painful of lessons, which she hopes will sink in so that this 15,000-mile round trip from Baltimore does not prove a fruitless exercise.
“My husband and I prepare our daughters for whatever comes next in life,” Dawnnette Bobb said. “Caitlyn had been prepared spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically and socially for this meet. Unfortunately, she did not absorb the repeated lesson on running near the lane lines, so she had to experience disappointment to solidify the concept.
“The positive side of this is that Caitlyn will be more determined, focused, experienced and a better listener as she moves on to her first year of college at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.”
These biennial championships were originally scheduled for last year in July but were postponed because of the global pandemic. As a result, Bobb will remain eligible to qualify for the next instalment in Cali, Colombia, in 2022.
Donna Raynor, the president of the Bermuda National Athletics Association, spoke of her admiration for mother and daughter as the country’s lone representatives in Nairobi and emphasised her organisation’s commitment to them.
“We know she can compete with the best in the world in her age group, so she will have our support in getting her to that next level,” Raynor said.
“Of course we, the BNAA, are very disappointed as she ran so well. I was up at 5am to watch the race and was so excited knowing that she had made the finals.
“We are so proud of Caitlyn as she knew what she had to do to qualify and went for that first two places with a bad lane eight draw, so she had to get out hard. This is all part of the learning process and Caitlyn has many years ahead of her.”
Raynor also absolved the manager of any wrongdoing in relation to missing the appeal cut-off time.
“Dawnnette would not have won the appeal,” she said. “I rewatched the race and Caitlyn stepped on the line near the 200, so after I watched it I knew it would not be overturned — even if Dawnnette had been on time.”
However, Raynor does have concerns about the rules on lane infringement and says high-level talks are under way so that athletes do not see their dreams crushed for offences that appear as inconsequential when set in juxtaposition with the perpetually vexing issue of drug cheats.
“There is discussion at World Athletics level regarding the disqualification of an athlete when stepping on the line, and that will be out in the next few months,” Raynor said.