Running at the highest level is incredible technical, but even the top athletes make basic misjudgements that effectively cost them medals.
Some athletes tense up and fail to relax in the heat of battle, others make sluggish starts or – worse still – bolt from the blocks too early and are disqualified altogether.
But one of the most agonising sights in the sport remains seeing an athlete dominate a race, put themselves in a perfect position to clinch glory, only to chuck it all away by failing to dip at the line.
While there is some difficulty in timing the lunge towards the line perfectly, failing to do so altogether can be fairly regarded as negligent when it comes to performing at the highest level.
There have been numerous examples already at the World Championships in Moscow of athletes losing out on gold, silver or bronze by simply running through the line and not dipping.
As Britain’s victorious Christine Ohuruogu proved in the women’s 400m final, a strong finish with a well-timed dip can be the crucial difference between glory and the intense frustration of a near-but-not-quite second place.
Ohuruogu beat defending champion Amantle Montsho in a photo finish. Both finished in 49.41 seconds, but the Brit’s late dip saw her triumph by four thousandths of a second.
The 2007 world champion also broke Kathy Cook’s long-standing British record by two hundredths of a second, but none of it would have been achieved had she not dipped desperately at the line.
A distraught Montsho was left utterly stunned after Ohuruogu was announced as the winner and, as former GB athlete Colin Jackson told BBC after the race, “she will never forgive herself for not winning that race”. It was almost tragic, but entirely her fault.
Montsho had victory well within her grasp until she failed to dip at the line, which saw her finish in 49.408 with Ohuruogu’s last-gasp lunge seeing her home in 49.408.
The apparent absurdity of a top-level, finely-tuned athlete – who in this case came into the race as the overwhelming favourite and the fastest in the world this year – not dipping at the line is entirely baffling.
“I always have a bad finish,” Montsho admitted. “I don’t know how to dip in a race. If I saw her I could maybe have put my chest out and made it.”
Sometimes dipping at the line is as important as making a good start. It is a fundamental aspect of a race: a key element coached at the grassroots of the sport.
It seems frankly bewildering that an elite, professional athlete can possibly admit to ‘not knowing how to dip in a race’.
There have been other examples in this Championship too.
Sprinter James Dasaolu, who became the second-quickest Briton of all time as he recorded a 9.91-second 100m last month, almost failed to make it past the heats of the event after he eased off at the line.
The hugely-talented 25-year-old could only manage a time of 10.20 as he finished fourth in his heat, scraping through as a fastest loser, after he coasted through the line while other athletes dipped around him.
With his campaign almost ended in embarrassing fashion, Dasaolu at least conceded that he had “learned a lesson”. He is unlikely to do the same thing again. Like Ohuruogu, Trinidad and Tobago’s 400m hurdler Jehue Gordon credited a whole-hearted finish with the gold medal that was only his country’s second in the 30-year history of the World Championships.
Coming off the final turn in the men’s 400m hurdles final, Gordon trailed American Michael Tinsley but, recalling advice from his mother and coach, he claimed a dramatic victory by ensuring that he was the athlete who successfully dipped at the line.
“On the last hurdle, I just remember my coach telling me it’s going to be a foot race coming home… and I remember my mom telling me to ‘push your head, Jehue, just remember to push your head!’ – so I did.
“My head actually left my body and went over the line, and my body went behind it. I just throw my frame – as Trinidadians would say – I throw my frame over the line.” And he won gold as a result.
Looking back over other major championships, there are countless examples of athletes stealing victory in the final yards courtesy of committed finishes, and still more of inconsolable runners pipped at the line with a lifetime regret of not completing the race properly.
Athletes give their all to train – day in, day out – in preparation for a major championship, giving everything in working on every conceivable minutiae to get an edge in demanding events with their coaches, yet somehow often a basic element of a race is neglected.
Sport can be extremely cruel sometimes, but every individual knows whether they could have given that tiny bit more when it mattered the most.