Hubert Lawrence | A record for the ages
When Michael McDonald settled in the blocks, baton in hand, on August 10, 1997, he was on the cusp of history.
Two minutes and 56.75 seconds after the starter's pistol was fired, McDonald, Gregory Haughton, Danny McFarlane and Davian Clarke had set a national 4x400-metre record at the World Championships in Athens. It still sparkles today.
In just three seasons since his 1994 World Junior title, McDonald had established himself as Jamaica's first choice lead-off man. When the gun fired in Athens, the barrel-chested charger produced a dream start - 44.5 seconds. Haughton, that long legged cruiser, held strong with a 44.4, and McFarlane's steady 44.4 pace reeled in Jamie Baulch of Great Britain, who had gone out too hard.
That left Clarke with Tyree Washington of the United States of America and Britain's Mark Richardson to chase. He gave it all he had with a 43.5 anchor leg. That was the fastest 400m split by a baton bearer wearing black, green and gold.
Jamaica crossed the line in third, but got the silver medal years later when American Antonio Pettigrew was retroactively disqualified for a doping violation.
The time by McDonald, Haughton, McFarlane and Clarke made Jamaica the third-fastest nation of all time, a position maintained until The Bahamas edged past with an Olympic gold medal-winning mark of 2.56.71 seconds in 2012.
Even now, 20 years on, the Jamaican record is still a run for the ages. It was achieved with Haughton being the only member of the relay quartet to have reached the final of the individual 400 metres. It showed how valuable a good first leg can be when allied to strong and smart second, third, and fourth legs.
Jamaica has enjoyed a 4x400m renaissance, with medals at the 2013 World Championships and the 2016 Olympics. However, the speed and consistency of the teams from the McDonald-Haughton-McFarlane- Clarke era remains a thing apart. Aside from those four, Jamaica could call on Roxbert Martin and Michael Blackwood, Brandon Simpson and Sanjay Ayre. All of them were sub-45 second 400 metre runners.
DRAMATIC BRONZE-MEDAL RUN
Jamaica first broke the three-minute barrier in the 1995 World Championship heats, with McDonald, Clarke, stalwart Dennis Blake and McFarlane clocking 2.58.29. Martin whizzed through his second leg in the 1996 Olympic final, only to see Haughton fall at the exchange. Fortunately, he did a 'puppalick' roll and delivered the baton to Clarke who completed the bronze-medal run.
With parts of that fantastic four on duty, Jamaica kept winning medals at the Worlds, the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, and the Pan-American Games until 2004. They were oh so good!
The famed Helsinki quartet of Arthur Wint, Les Laing, Herb McKenley and George Rhoden did the one thing McDonald, Haughton, McFarlane and Clarke didn't do by winning the Olympics in 1952 in a world-record defeat of the mighty USA. Yet, the consistency of those men of the 1990s is equally impressive.
Perhaps, led by 2017 World Championships 400 metre finalists Nathon Allen and Demish Gaye, relay genius Javon Francis, and perhaps including others like Akeem Bloomfield and the last three World Youth champions in Martin Manley, Chris Taylor and Antonio Watson, the Jamaica record will be threatened one day. However, the 20-year-old national record is a monument to the speed, courage and quality of the squad led by McDonald, Haughton, McFarlane and Clarke. Don't be surprised if it stands for a quite a while longer.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.