Dayron Robles was well ahead of everyone when the gun fired.Towards the latter parts of the race, Liu Xiang 刘翔 caught up, with Jason Richardson trailing closely behind. As the fast-finishing Liu cleared the penultimate hurdle, Robles’ lead arm (right) accidentally swiped Liu’s trail arm (left). The Chinese gets off-balanced because of the contact, causing him to lose his rhythm in between the barriers (a crucial mistake since Liu was gaining!). Then it happened again over the tenth hurdler.
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The Cuban (13.14s) padded his lead over Liu (13.27s) as Richardson (13.16s) overtook the Chinese for silver. As Liu sprinted the last 14.02m to the finish line, he was glaring at Robles. The contact visibly irked the 2004 Athens Olympic Gold medalist.
Having been a keen observer of Liu Xiang’s technique since 2002, I’ve noticed that he tends hug at the left-most section of his lane (never veering off the designated lane of course). Never since 2002 have I seen Liu hit another hurdler because of the aforesaid preference. As Liu closed the gap between him and Robles, some contact was bound to occur in an event like this. (since a sprint hurdler’s lead arm swings widely, as the lead leg snaps down). Contact between sprint hurdlers is common.
Initially, I was defending Robles, saying that the contact was accidental. Come to think of it, would a sprint hurdler hurtling at full speed over 1.067m high barriers even bother to grab a competitor’s arm? The high hurdles entail an uncanny level of concentration. Such a deplorable action would surely break one’s rhythm. This merited a closer examination of the slo-mo clips.
Liu and Robles were almost abreast when they cleared the eighth hurdle (which Robles clipped. Take note in the photo below that Robles right arm swings normally.
With Liu breathing down Robles’ neck, the Cuban’s lead arm swung a little higher, hitting Liu’s arm in the process. Was this deliberate? I don’t think so (Liu and Oliver also opine that the contact was unintentional. See the quotes below). Perhaps the pressure of a head-to-head duel somehow tensed up Robles (he did clip the seventh hurdle). Like I said, grabbing someone’s arm was probably the last thing on Robles’ mind at this point.
Both athletes lost their balance, as a result. The sideways movement was more apparent in Liu. With Robles veering into the right side of his lane, a more forceful contact was made between Robles’ widely swinging right arm and Liu’s trail arm, impeding the latter.
China then filed a protest, with Robles getting disqualified to obstruction. Cuba reacted with its own counter-protest, but this apparently was also thumbed down by the officials. With this development, Richardson and Liu were elevated to gold and silver, respectively. Briton Andy Turner (13.44s) climbed to bronze.
In my opinion, it wasn’t so much because of the clash of arms that got Robles disqualified. hell, hurdlers do this all the time (especially the ones with the flailing arms). The fact that his arms veered into Liu’s lane as it made contact was the most probable cause.
I’d rather wait for these emotions to die down – and for the official reports to get published. Although I’m a hardcore Liu Xiang fan, a disqualification is a harsh move, in light of the nature of the discipline. I’d love to hear the official statements of both Liu and Robles to put some light into the controversy.
As an athlete myself, I’d hate to win by a technicality. I’d rather win on the merits of my running, not because of a rule book.
I’ve watched the clips countless of times the past hour. Robles’ actions after the race imply that the contact was unintentional. As Robles crossed the finish line, he put his hand to his forehead in an apparent act of frustration or regret. He slowed down abruptly (instead of running all the way to the curve as victors of the 110m usually do) to hug Liu, in an apparent gesture of apology.
David Oliver: “People who think Robles did it on purpose are crazy and haven’t seen his races, late in races he’s been getting wide with his arms. Hitting that 8th hurdle just made it worse and why would you do something intentionally that us going to mess you up as well.”
Andy Turner: “‘I want to cry, but I don’t want to cry – I didn’t want to win a medal by default, but I have won a World Championship bronze medal and I’m over the moon with that.”
Liu Xiang: “Robles hit me twice, at the ninth hurdle he pulled at me but I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. I lost my balance when I came to the 10th hurdle because of the bump. If not for the incident, I would have been the gold medallist.”
Jason Richardson: “Whatever reward I get from doing my best, I will accept. If it’s gold, silver or bronze, it doesn’t matter.”