Rowbury survives rough and tumble 1500m
By Joe Battaglia / Universal Sports - BERLIN - Before the start of her race, Shannon Rowbury was a bundle of excitement and anticipation, bouncing up and down on the track.
Thirty seconds later, she was sprawled out on it.
Not even 200 meters into her heat of the 1500m, Rowbury was taken down in a sudden and violent spill that left the two-time U.S. champion scraped, disoriented and about 30 meters off the pace. Rowbury got back into the race but nowhere near the front.
She finished 11th in her heat in 4:10.30, well outside of the qualifying for the semifinals. The top six in each of the three heats moved on.
"I've been in some jostles before but I don't think I have ever gone down before," Rowbury, who sported large raspberries on her left hip and thigh from the spill, said. "Usually when I get tripped up, I have a chance to regain my footing and keep going. When you go down all of a sudden, you don't know how to react. It really felt like a bad dream."
But one with a happy ending.
Following the incident, USA Track and Field officials filed a protest of the race with the International Amateur Athletics Federation. About two hours later, it was announced that USATF won the appeal and Rowbury was reinstated.
The 24-year-old Californian will now get to compete with her U.S. teammates Anna Willard and Christin Wurth-Thomas, who both advanced out of their respective heats into Friday's semifinals.
"I just got word (of being reinstated) and obviously I'm happy," Rowbury said when reached by phone at the team hotel. "I'm grateful to USATF and the people who handle the appeals. To be given a second chance is pretty awesome. It really is the best you can expect in a case like this."
What happened to Rowbury, while unfortunate, is not atypical of the bump-and-grind nature of the middle distance races.
Perhaps the most memorable fall in track history occurred 25 years ago at the Los Angeles Olympics, where controversial South African-turned-Brit Zola Budd got tangled up with American Mary Decker during the 3000m final, sending Decker flying off the track while destroying the medal hopes of both runners.
Just two days ago here, Kenya's Janeth Jepkosgei, the reigning world champion, was tripped up by Caster Semenya of South Africa in the first round of the women's 800m. Semenya won the race with Jepkosgei finishing last. She, too, was also reinstated on appeal.
"The first round is always a challenge, but you never expect to go down," Rowbury said. "When something like this happens, you don't get the chance to show what you're capable of and that's disappointing."
Rowbury, who is coming off a seventh-place finish at the Beijing Olympics last summer, said she was eager to put her talents on display in her first Worlds appearance. "I don't think I could be more prepared," she said.
You could imagine her frustration when, after she established a sound position in the pack just outside of Lane 1, she was blatantly taken out by Meskerem Assefa of Ethiopia.
"It was pretty packed up and I kept getting tripped up by the same girl," Rowbury said, opting not to point blame Assefa's way. "I fell down at about the 200, got up, got back with the pack, and the same girl kept cutting me off, which is kind of frustrating.
"After I fell I tried to be smart about catching back up with the pack but I think I was a little timid obviously once I got going again. I tried to get back in there but I ended up spending a little extra energy going wide in lane two. I didn't really know where to put myself after that."
Rowbury ran wide for the remainder of the race, but which enabled her to avoid further contact but kept her from her making a push toward an automatic qualifying spot.
"Falling is not something you ever think about or practice for, ever," she said "I just tried to do the best I can. I'm hoping to get another shot at it in the semis. What happened today's definitely not all I'm capable of."
Rowbury's teammates were much more fortunate.
Willard, who ran in the heat immediately after Rowbury, said she didn't see what happened but knew there was trouble when Rowbury crossed the finish line with her bib number half torn off her jersey.
And she wasn't surprised.
"You come in expecting the physicality, especially in the first round," Willard said. "Everyone is super antsy, with all the waiting. It's already been a couple of days of the championship and everyone is excited to go. When you are running slower than your PR pace, everyone is ready to go and wants the perfect position, so that's going to happen."
And it did, in Willard's heat.
With the pack bunched tightly again, Irene Jelegat of Kenya collided with Hind Dehiba Chahyd of France. Both runners fell as those around them -- Willard included -- scrambled to avoid a pile-up.
"There was a lot of physical stuff early on, a lot of shoving," Willard, who finished fifth in her heat in 4:08.13, explained. "I was on the inside when the crash happened. I just went a little more to the inside and got around it. When I saw it, I said, 'Just stay within yourself and you'll be fine.'"
Wurth-Thomas said there was some early jostling in the third heat, but nothing that resulted in bodies hitting the deck.
But the potential for a crash may have been greater in that race than any other, given that its pace was the most pedestrian of the three and therefore the least likely to feature a strung-out pack.
In that situation, the best quality for a runner may be claustrophobia.
"I don't like to fell like everyone is there on top of me because at USA Trials I almost fell from that," Wurth-Thomas said. "At first I was kind of sitting back and I said, 'This is butt-slow! We go faster than this at USAs, so let's just go.' So I went."
Wurth-Thomas ran almost her entire race from the front, before easing up late and cruising across the line fourth in 4:08.23.
"I was kind of hoping it would go a little bit faster," Wurth-Thomas said. "But it's the prelims so you have to go with whatever happens."