World Athletics Will Require Tokyo Olympic Track to Install a “Ring of Fire” to Prevent Lane Violations
By Jonathan Gault
April 1, 2021
Citing the neverending onslaught of lane violation disqualifications at major championships in recent years, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe announced Thursday that this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo will feature a drastic new countermeasure to discourage stepping on the infield: a literal ring of fire.
“Look, I’m as tired as you all are about this ticky-tack DQs,” Coe said. “Someone like Ezekiel Kemboi or Colleen Quigley puts a toenail on the lane line and they’re disqualified. But a big star like Mo Farah or Jakob Ingebrigtsen can dance around on the infield and get away scot-free. It’s a double standard and it needs to stop.”
At the Japan National Stadium, which will host this summer’s Olympic track & field competition, the traditional rail will be replaced by a controlled flame lining the entirety of the 400-meter circumference of the inside of lane 1. At the start of each day’s competition, there will be a “lighting of the ring” ceremony in which the ring will be ignited with fire from the Olympic flame.
The ring of fire, which can be totally extinguished within five seconds, will reach a height of three inches during distance races, but can be adjusted to go as high as three feet, which is the plan for the 100-meter finals.
“Name me one picture that wasn’t improved with fire in the background,” Coe said. “The fire marshal was less than enthusiastic about the idea, but I won him over by describing what it would look like to see Noah Lyles storming down the home straight next to a wall of flame.”
The ring of fire concept originated at the famed Tulirengas meet in Finland, which Coe himself competed at in the 1970s. Finns, through the practices of sauna and walking on hot coals, are taught to embrace fire and heat from an early age. Tuhkaa, a plate of smoldering ashes, is considered a delicacy in Finnish cuisine.
“When I competed at Tulirengas, the ring of fire wasn’t actually meant as a deterrent,” Coe said. “The local Finns weren’t afraid of the fire. But I bloody well was! I was chatting about one of my races there with a friend recently, and that’s when it hit me: this would work at the Olympics.”
Moving forward, Coe said, it will no longer be illegal to step on the infield, but anyone who does runs the risk of a burn — or worse.
“Our internal testing has shown that, in addition to being extraordinarily springy, the Nike Dragonflys are the most flammable spikes ever created,” Coe says. “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
In response to the news, coach Jerry Schumacher has decided to relocate Bowerman Track Club’s pre-Olympic training camp from Saint Moritz to the Fijian island of Beqa, where the group will study the firewalking methods of the Sawau clan to prepare for the possibility of racing 5,000 meters with shoes that are on fire.