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Dafne Schippers flies out of her blocks to 200m gold

by Marie van der Donk, AIPS Young Reporter, The Netherlands

LONDON – August 11th, 2017 - Dafne Schippers defended her 200m title on Friday in London and became world champion for the second time. The Dutchwoman’s 22.05 run saw her clock in a new personal best and just edge past the Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josée Ta Lou (22.08), while Shaunae Miller-Uibo from the Bahamas took bronze with 22.15.

The new athletics season saw Schippers make a lot of changes to her training schedule and focus more on her start with new American coach Rana Reider.

The start is one of the most important parts the 200m race. A starting block, is the only attribute a sprinter needs. At a World Championships, every thousandth of a second can make the difference between gold or silver. According to a number of sprinters in London however, the blocks have not been up to standard.

Muscular athletes who put more pressure on the blocks at the start, such as Usain Bolt and Dafne Schippers seem to have a disadvantage.

The slew of complaints started on the first night, when Usain Bolt ran his last individual race in the 100 meters. He did not hold back with his criticism on the quality of the blocks, telling the BBC that these were the worst he ever had. ‘’At the warming-up, I pushed the shaky block away. I must get this together,” Bolt said. Schippers said much of the same to Dutch media followingthe 200m heats.

The world athletics federation (IAAF) was quick to answer the complaints of the world’s best athletes, explaining that the blocks were the exact same as those used at the World Championships in Beijing in 2015. Criticism aside, it would seem that the blocks brought Schippers luck, as the both times that she has used them she has become world champion.

On Friday night she showed no sign of annoyance in her start or her finish, as she lead the entire race.

“Normally I have someone with a better start in front of me, where I run to, and pass them right before the finish. I’m not used to be hare in the race, but it was fun for once.”

The reason that nobody had a better start than Daphne, who like Bolt is not known for going in strong, may be that her biggest rivals were not there to challenger her on it. Both Michelle-Lee Ahye from Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson missed out on the 200m final, while 100m champion Tori Bowie pulled out of the race after her fall on the track at the finish line.

Left: starting blocks of London 2017, right: starting blocks London 2012

Left: starting blocks of London 2017, right: starting blocks London 2012

The physics of the starting block

A normal starting block is made out of one part. The ‘new’ blocks London has chosen these championships are divided in two different parts. In this case the spikes of the shoe rest on the track, also after rising at ‘set’. This causes that athletes to have less grip. Because there Is more play in the blocks, the ‘bigger’ athletes have more trouble sitting comfortable still.

It comes as no surprise that Schippers and Bolt complained about the blocks. They both have a long history of difficulties in their first seconds of the race. Bolt is not into that mentally yet. At the end of the week he will have to deal with the starting blocks one more time.

Tonight, after the women's 200m final, Schippers agreed with the earlier complaints of Bolt. ‘’My feet are not used to these kinds of starting blocks.’’ Although the blocks is the hot topic at the warming-up track, Schippers don’t want to focus on it too much.

With her Dutch mindset of ‘Don’t think too much, just go there and do it’ she started. And with good and comfortable starting blocks, she was the fastest woman. "Becoming world champion once is a good thing, but becoming it twice is showing the world that you can fight, and so I did.’’

She did indeed - from starting blocks to ending gold.

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