By Hubert Lawrence
To say I was surprised by the big run by our women's sprint relay team at the World Championships would be an understatement. If the truth be told, I was shocked.
Weakened by the unavailability of Veronica Campbell-Brown and Sherone Simpson, the team didn't look capable of clocking a national record time of 41.29 seconds.
Yet, with Carrie Russell and Schillonie Calvert stepping like speedy veterans, Jamaica sped to gold and the second-fastest time ever run. Russell, 100-metre finalist Kerron Stewart, Calvert and super sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce all ran well, but the magic was in the baton passing.
Apparently, the first three made good use of the time after the 100 was contested. As a result, exchanges one and two were fast and fluid. The last change was a little more conservative, but Fraser-Pryce took off cleanly and powered home.
The run broke the old national record of 41.41 seconds set by the Big Four of Jamaican sprinting - Fraser-Pryce, Simpson, VCB and Stewart - last year and dismantled an unfortunate US team. The unlucky Americans lost Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix to injury. To add to their woes, their second exchange was a disaster.
Still, even if that USA pass had been done well, 41.29 is, as they say in Jamaican track and field circles, 'plenty running'.
In the heats, with 2006 Commonwealth 100 champion Sheri-Ann Brooks in for Fraser-Pryce, the team ran 41.88 seconds to win. A faster time in the final seemed likely.
After all, Fraser-Pryce and Brooks had run 10.71 and 11.32 seconds, respectively, in the 100. The difference was borne out by their unofficial anchor-leg split times, 10.3 for Brooks and 9.8 for the pink-braided pocket rocket.
If you're looking for a parallel for Shelly's anchor leg, look no further than the 1996 Olympic Games and a storming effort by the redoubtable Merlene Ottey. That was officially timed in 9.83 seconds.
Simpson is the slowest of the Big Four with sprint personal bests of 10.82 and 22.00 seconds. By contrast, Russell and Calvert both have personal bests just outside 11 seconds in the 100, and are both decidedly more modest at 200 metres.
The Big Four sadly failed to get the baton all the way around the track in the 2008 Olympics and produced low speed changes in the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics. That earned them silver medals in each case.
The 41.29 was a demonstration of how much difference great baton exchanges can make. The athletes and the relay coaches can take a bow. It's stunning to think that Russell, Stewart, Calvert and Fraser-Pryce are more or less six-tenths of a second faster than the 41.94 produced by Dahlia Duhaney, Juliet Cuthbert, Bev McDonald and Merlene Ottey to win the 1991 World Championships, and roughly four-tenths faster than the 41.74 set by Tayna Lawrence, Simpson, Aleen Bailey and VCB to win gold at the 2004 Olympics.
Fastest clockings ever
Add the 41.29 to last year's 41.41 and you'll find that Jamaica has two of the five fastest clockings ever run.
Last year, Tianna Madison, Felix, Bianca Knight and Jeter set a revolutionary world record of 40.82 seconds to win the Olympics. That's a long way from Jamaica's new national record. You have to respect a run like that, especially when it sliced through the 41-second barrier.
However, Russell, Stewart, Calvert and Fraser-Pryce proved that speed isn't the only contributor to relay success. Slick baton passing is just as important.
When these two elements come together, as they did for Jamaica in Moscow, the results can be shockingly good.
Hubert Lawrence has been making notes at trackside since 1980.