Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Summer

Lap counting error costs Bairu Olympic standard

Simon Bairu's Canadian record time of 27:30.90 in Saturday's 10,000-metre event in Belgium was erased Sunday after it came to light that track officials miscalculated the number of laps the runner had completed.

Simon Bairu went to Europe last week intent on achieving the Olympic A+ standard in the men’s 10,000m event.

The initial results of the invitational meet in Neerpelt, Belgium, showed he had run inside the standard with a spectacular Canadian record of 27:30.90.

But it has now come to light that officials miscalculated the number of laps he had completed, but the results posted on the meet website Sunday  night still credited Bairu with the Canadian record time. If it were only so.

"We ran a lap too short," a disappointed Bairu admitted from Philadelphia Sunday after an overseas flight from Brussels. "There were so many people in the race, I guess they were unprepared to handle it."

There are very few opportunities for 10,000m runners to get inside the Olympic "A+" standard which is 27:47.31. The Canadian Olympic trials for the 10,000m are held this week, separate and well in advance of the Olympic trials for all other events. But it would be next to impossible to achieve this without a strong field.

For the third year in a row, the small Belgian town of Neerpelt held an evening meet which attracted athletes from around the world all with the same target.

Bairu bowed out of the MDS Nordion 10-km road race in Ottawa a week earlier, a race he had won a year ago, in order to as he says "put all my eggs in one basket."

His personal best time recorded at the 2007 Stanford Invitational is 27:50.71. His agent Boston-based Tom Ratcliffe was assured the organizers had lined up competent pacemakers to help achieve the mark. But they put 32 runners on the track which is asking for trouble. By comparison, 22 runners started the world championships 10,000m in Osaka. Bairu was disappointed with the pacemaking.

"There were supposed to be two rabbits, one to take the pace out at 27:06 and another for the ‘A' standard of 27:45," Bairu said. "I don't know if our rabbit was unhealthy, if he has food poisoning or something, but he took us four laps and dropped out.

"We were pretty much left on our own. That is no way to run  the ‘A’ standard. We took turns pacing. I led a few laps, Fasil Bizuneh (USA) led a few, Mark Carroll of Ireland also led. And when we came through 5,000m in 14:05 and we saw that time, well, it was like a punch to the gut. I tried to keep going maybe a little delusional in thinking I could still do it. Mark Carroll dropped out."

A major cock-up like this is not unprecedented in distance running. At the 1987 IAAF World Championships in Rome, some of the runners in the 10,000m final ran a lap short as officials scrambled to keep track of athletes being lapped.

Bairu represented Canada at the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka but dropped out early in the race because of a calf injury.

"It’s every kid’s dream to run in the Olympics," Bairu says. "After my injuries lingered from last year, I never really started to train full-time until March of this year. I never got to put in the 100 miles a week that you need to run that fast."

Bairu says he intends to take a few days off to recover emotionally from the disappointment before resuming training. He will run some road races this summer with an eye to running a half marathon in the fall.

"I will be back next year even stronger," he declares. "That’s my goal I just need a few days to unwind."