Algerian runner reinstated to Olympics after being booted for not trying hard enough

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Taoufik Makhloufi sits on the track in the Men's 1500m Semi Final (Getty Images)
Taoufik Makhloufi sits on the track in the Men's 1500m Semi Final (Getty Images)

LONDON – Algerian middle distance runner Taoufik Makhloufi has been reinstated after being tossed from the Olympics early Monday for a lack of effort in his 800-meter race.

In a bizarre incident at Olympic Stadium on Monday morning, Makhloufi slowed to a jog after crossing the 200-meter mark of his 800-meter heat, eventually stopped, then walked across the infield and quit his event. That prompted officials in the games to toss Makhloufi for a lack of effort because they thought he was saving his energy for a 1,500 final on Tuesday night. The Algerians responded by having a medical officer from the Games sign off on Makhloufi having a legitimate injury issue that forced him out of the race.

"After reviewing evidence provided by a LOCOG [London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games] medical officer, the disqualification of [Makhloufi] from further participation has been revoked," the International Association of Athletics Federations said in a statement. "Consequently, Mr. Makhloufi is able to compete in the men’s 1,500-meter final."

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Makhloufi had already won a semifinal heat in the 1,500 meters Sunday night and is considered a potential gold medalist in Tuesday's finals. That was before his surprising dismissal Monday morning from the Games for appearing to give up in the 800.

What at first looked like a simple disqualification became a far larger issue after it appeared Makhloufi hadn’t suffered any kind of injury. The IAAF later said a referee determined Makhloufi purposely refused to give effort.

"The referee considered that he had not provided a bona fide effort and decided to exclude him from participation in all further events in the competition," the IAAF statement said.

Makhloufi had to run the 800 when an Algerian team oversight failed to withdraw him from the race by Sunday’s deadline. Because he hadn't been officially withdrawn, he needed to show up for the 800 or face being scratched from the 1,500. Running from lane five, Makhloufi initially appeared ready to race, smiling and engaging in some prerace mugging for the cameras. But knowing he had a chance to win the 1,500 meters on Tuesday, his effort in the 800 was expected to be a question from the start.

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What wasn’t expected was Makhloufi stopping running altogether, which he did after getting off to a start that was so lackadaisical that BBC broadcasters chided him almost immediately.

"Makhloufi almost took a step backwards at the start there," a BBC commentator jabbed as the runners broke from their blocks.

During the slow start, Makhloufi fell behind the pack, jogged beyond the 200-meter mark, slowed to a walk, and then stepped off the track completely. He then cut through the infield, wandered the edge of the track near the final 100 meters of the race, and could be seen clapping for the remaining runners as they went into the homestretch. After the last runner passed a clapping Makhloufi on the final straightaway, the Algerian crossed the track and retreated into the bowels of the stadium.

Makhloufi does have a recent medal history in both the 800 and 1,500 meters. Makhloufi took bronze in the 1,500 and gold in the 800 in the All Africa track meet in Maputo, Mozambique, in September 2011. He ran particularly well in his 1,500 semifinal heat and appeared poised to capture his first Olympic medal before Monday’s incident in the 800. It was a slight surprise Algeria chose to keep Makhloufi in the 800 meters after he surfaced as a potential gold-medal hopeful in the 1,500.

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Makhloufi would have been the ninth athlete expelled from the Games for lack of effort. Eight badminton competitors were booted last week after attempting to lose their matches to draw more advantageous matchups.

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