Arthur Abele opens his eyes wide. They reflect the horror. The 36-year-old decathlete is at the start of the 110-meter hurdles and points his hands at himself in surprise and amazement, as if to say: “What? I? That can’t be the case.” But his sporting nightmare came true at that moment.
It is the second day of competition for the decathletes at the European Championships in Munich, the last in the sporting life of 36-year-old Arthur Abele. But he will not reach the goal of his 110-meter hurdles. After the first false start by the Swiss Simon Ehammer, he fabricated the second – not recognizable for the spectators. It’s the end, the disqualification for the defending champion.
for now. Because what looked like the most bitter day in Arthur Abele’s career turns into what is probably the most grueling day with the most emotional rollercoaster ride about an hour later. He is allowed to return and make up his run. Protest successful, disqualification overturned.
Abele has had many ups and downs in his career, but this career finale tops it all. The hour in which everything seemed to be over in such an undignified way was probably the most bitter of his career. Because as if a disqualification at home European Championships, and then also as defending champion, wasn’t frustrating enough, this competition should finally be his farewell. After giving up his Olympic hopes for Tokyo 2021 due to injury, the European Championships in Munich were his last big goal.
But instead of being able to say goodbye to his long-time competitors and the audience after the 1500-meter run on Tuesday evening, he left the Munich Olympic Stadium in tears early in the morning on the last day of his career.
“Highly dramatic. Incredibly sad for Arthur”
“My mood is in the basement,” said ARD expert Frank Busemann shortly afterwards. “Actually, you can take me out. Pure drama, mainly because the viewer doesn’t quite understand it. highly dramatic. Incredibly sad for Arthur.”
The rules are clear: the first false start – in this case that of the Swiss – is a personal one. Whoever makes the following false start is eliminated. There is nothing to interpret. Rules are rules. It was still dramatic – especially with Abele’s story.
In addition, it was almost impossible to understand with the naked eye. “In the slow motion you can see that the Swiss comes out of the block much earlier,” says Busemann. But that’s not what matters at this moment. If pressure is applied to the pressure pads on the starting block earlier than 0.1 seconds after the shot, it is considered a false start.
Loud boos can be heard from the audience
On this Tuesday morning, the referees stood in front of a small machine, waiting for the result. The athletes stayed next to their starting blocks. Then a referee took the microphone and said what Abele’s premature farewell meant: “False start lane three.” Loud boos were heard from the spectator stands. Because at first they couldn’t understand it. And certainly also because they wished Abele a dignified farewell.
“Something must have been triggered, a gentle pressure,” explained Busemann. “But it didn’t give him any advantage. The old rule, according to which decisions are not only based on numbers, but also on the eye, does not apply here.”
Abele had the data shown to him. And they were clear. Then he left the interior to the applause of the spectators. He stopped in a corner, propped himself up on his thighs and cried. It was about 9:30 a.m.
Less than two hours later, his tears had dried and he held his discus in his hand. Abele was back in the stadium, the disqualification was being reviewed at the time. Regardless of the outcome of the jury’s verdict, he took part in the discus throw.
Meanwhile he could breathe a sigh of relief: the protest was decided in his favour. In the end, it wasn’t just the reaction time and the pressure on the measuring plates that counted, but also the movement that was initiated. The jury recognized that he had made a normal starting move and not a false start move. It’s complicated.
Abele’s one-man show about the hurdles
Finally, at 11:34 a.m., after his three attempts at discus throwing, he is back at the start of the 110-meter hurdles. All alone this time. His personal one-man show. When Abele crosses the finish line after 14:50 seconds, he throws his arms up and smiles.
The time is secondary. His parents, friends and coaches cheer in the stands. The audience claps and screams. And Abele? He enjoys the moment, thanks the spectators and says into the stadium microphone: “I’m exhausted. My nerves are totally wrecked.” Then he has to quickly move on to the pole vault.
The ugly end of a long career averted. In 2005 Abele won silver at the U20 European Championships, in 2013 he was crowned German champion, in 2015 he celebrated silver at the European Championships indoors and in 2018 in Berlin he won gold at the European Championships. But then he suffered from pain in his ankle, so he had to take a break in 2019. Later, a shoulder operation stopped his hopes of starting the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. This home EM was his last big goal. “It’s supposed to be the icing on the cake of my career,” he said. After that it’s definitely over. Now he can finish it.