Planning for relays in London
Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer
It's tough enough to get one relay team to a World or Olympic final, and even tougher to get a medal. So, when one country gets teams into all four relay finals and all of those teams win medals, as Jamaica did in the recent World Championships, it's time to celebrate.
Before we did it in Daegu, only the USA had ever won medals in all four of the relays at the World Championships. Only the USA and the now-defunct Soviet Union have managed this feat at the Olympics.
Jamaica's coaching staff and athletes did a great job in Daegu. The world-record-setting men's 4x100 team could hardly have done better. The women's 4x400 team set a national record and lost only to a super effort by the USA.
With Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson all not quite in top form, the women did well to set a national record and to take the silver. It seems clear, that with them all sharp and with better baton passing, the new national record - 41.70 seconds - will have a short life.
Finest curve runner
The coaches might also want to consider using Veronica Campbell-Brown (VCB) on the third leg, since she is clearly the world's finest curve runner.
She hasn't run that leg for Jamaica before, but VCB is so good that, with practice, she'd surely do a great job.
The bronze medal for the men's 4x400 team wasn't expected before the Daegu World Championships began. Yet most observers reserve their greatest concern for the layout of this team. National record holder Jermaine Gonzales, fourth in the individual 400, was placed on the second leg when conventional wisdom might have put him on anchor.
A review of 4x400 statistics from the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics and the 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009 World Championships show that it wasn't such a bad idea after all. In six of those eight finals, the team with the fastest second leg crossed the line first.
In Daegu, Gonzales ran that leg for Jamaica and burned the track with a 44.2 second effort that took the lead. Had he run anchor, he might have received the baton hopelessly adrift as his teammates Riker Hylton, 44.5/44.9, and Leford Green, 44.5/45.5, both ran slower in the final than they had in the heats. Perhaps the rigours of the long US college season had finally gotten to them.
They had one other option. The 2000-2009 relay data indicates that teams with the fastest first leg also won six of the eight finals in that period and missed the top three only once.
Using Gonzales on the first leg might have led to another change. Allodin Fothergill ran the first leg in 45.4 seconds in both the heats and finals, and Gonzales, who ran 44.69 before Daegu and 44.99 in Daegu, might reasonably have been expected to do better. Fothergill or Lansford Spence, who ran 44.8 for the third leg in the heats, would have been the choices for that leg in the final.
At the National Championships, Spence beat Fothergill, third to fifth, 45.46 to 45.88, in the 400-metre final. Spence ran fine relay legs for Jamaica at the 2005 World Championships, 44.5, and the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but was slow, 46.5, on the anchor leg at the 2008 Olympics.
Funnily enough, the USA used the fast-first-leg tactic to take command in both the men's and women's 4x400 relays in Daegu. Greg Nixon outran Fothergill 44.7 - 45.4 in the men's race and Sanya Richards zipped 49.5 to start the women's race with our Rosemarie Whyte at 50.1.
Looking forward to the 2012 London Olympics, the USA may be a little stronger with reigning champion Lashawn Merritt now eligible.
Jamaica could be better too. Hopefully 44.54-man Ricardo Chambers will be back. On top of that, the Olympic track and field schedule doesn't have the 200 metre/4x400 conflict built into the 2011 World Championships schedule, and the 4x400 relay is almost back to its usual place at the end of the meet.
According to www.iaaf.org, the 200 final is on day seven, with the 4x400 final on day eight. The Olympics end on the following day with the 4x100 for men.
That means Usain Bolt could run the event if that fits into his plans and if he is selected. Add his 44-flat leg from the 2010 Gibson Relays and you can see the possibilities.
People often ask why Gonz didn't anchor in Daegu. In London, with he and Bolt running early, Jamaica could crown another four relay - four medal performance with gold.
Hubert Lawrence has covered local and international athletics since 1987.