The sun lotion is packed, the crash course in local culture has been taken – The Bahamas, I’ve learned, comprises 700 islands, with a grand total of just 319,000 residents – and all that’s left is to turn our attention to the track for the second edition of the IAAF World Relays, which take place this weekend in the Thomas A. Robinson national stadium in Nassau.
Robinson, by the way, was for many years the the sole Bahamian sprinter to compete on the world stage, running in four consecutive Olympic Games from 1956 to 1968. These days, things are very different for Caribbean nation; it is one of the world’s leading sprint factories, and boasts the reigning Olympic 4x400m champions to boot.
This weekend, many of their biggest stars such as Chris Brown and Demetrius Pinder will be trying to once again do their country proud against the world’s track superpowers. With Olympic qualification and $1.4 million in prize money at stake, the biggest names in the sport are flocking to the Bahamas. Here are five races you won’t want to miss.
Bolt versus Gatlin; men’s 4x100m relay final: Saturday, 9:52pm (Local time/Eastern Standard Time)
We could say this race boils down to Jamaica versus USA which, short of any baton-passing mishaps, it should, but the real narrative which will underscore it is the rivalry between the sprint king and the pretender to his throne: Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin.
The American team is loaded – in addition to Gatlin, they have Tyson Gay, Ryan Bailey, Mike Rodgers and Isiah Young – and they got one over on arch rivals Jamaica at last weekend’s Penn Relays. However, Jamaica is… Jamaica. World champions, Olympic champions, world record holders – at their best they just don’t lose the 4x100m, but they will have to rely heavily on Bolt’s brilliance to get the win here, given Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake are both absent.
Because Gatlin is likely to run the second leg for the US, an actual head-to-head clash between the two will probably not happen, but still, this is as close as we’ll get to seeing them square off before August’s world championships. Bragging rights, and an early-season psychological edge, are at stake.
USA vs. the clock? women’s distance medley relay; Saturday, 9:02pm
The world best for the distance medley relay outdoors, set all the way back in 1988, is currently held by Villanova University at 10:48.38. Earlier this year, an American team comprising Sarah Brown, Mahogany Jones, Megan Krumpoch and Brenda Martinez zipped around the tight turns of the indoor track in Boston to establish an indoor best of 10:42.57.
On Saturday night, the strength of the US team suggests that they may be racing against the clock. With Gabrielle Grunewald, Treniere Moser, Shannon Rowbury and Ajee Wilson slated to run, it appears the other nations may be racing for second. Kenya, Australia, Poland and Bahrain look the strongest of the other contenders but realistically, one of the American quartet would have to massively underperform for an upset to occur.
Sprinters and milers unite; men’s distance medley relay; Sunday, 8:31pm
The track and field world is finally catching on to what they seem to have known in America for years – that the distance medley relay is one of the most exciting, and the most underrated, of events.
This year, the distance medley replaces the 4x1500m, which ended up being the only dull event on last year’s schedule as Kenya ran riot and raced away with both men’s and women’s events.
Given the mile is of such paramount importance in a distance medley relay, the Kenyan team has been weakened substantially by the absence of Asbel Kiprop, who said earlier this week he would skip the event due to injury. The United States look favoured as a result, with Ben Blankenship, Will Leer, Brandon Johnson and Kyle Merber among their ranks. The Australian team also looks strong, with Collis Birmingham, Ryan Gregson and Jordan Williamsz – who starred for Villanova at the Penn Relays last weekend – in their squad.
Speed Queens: women’s 4x100m; Sunday, 9:30pm
A race so loaded with talent it’s hard to know where to look first. Let’s start with the United States, who blazed to victory here a year ago with a 41.88-second performance to win the inaugural World Relays. This year, their squad is just as loaded and features Tianna Bartoletta, Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter and Jeneba Tarmoh. If they get the baton around with no mishaps, they will set a formidable standard at the front at the front of the race for the others to match.
As always, it’s Jamaica who has the best chance of dethroning the US, and their team will be spearheaded by Veronica Campbell-Brown. Crucially, though, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce will not be in action for the reigning world champions, choosing to focus on the 4x200m, a loss that may prove critical.
Of the other teams, Great Britain & NI look most capable of springing a surprise. Their team may be young, but it is also loaded with talent, featuring Ashleigh Nelson, Jodie Williams, Asha Philip and the experienced Anyika Onuora. Trinidad and Tobago look the other team most likely to cause an upset, with Michelle-Lee Ahye and Kelly-Ann Baptiste among their ranks.
Baha Men try to break America; men’s 4x400m final; Sunday, 9:46pm
There was a time, before Usain Bolt came along, when every championship would finish with the men’s 4x400m – that tradition has thankfully been restored at the World Relays. The fact it will feature the team which is the pride of the host nation versus the historically superior United States will make for a fitting, David-versus-Goliath finale to the event.
The US took a narrow win over Bahamas last year, Lashawn Merrit edging them to victory in 2:57.25, but this year, it’s all to play for once again. Bahamas will be led by their long-time best quarter-miler, Chris Brown, and he’ll be backed up by athletes like Michael Mathieu, Ramon Miller and Latoy Williams.
The United States, though, look almost impossible to beat, with Lashawn Merritt, Brycen Spratling, Tony McQuay and Jeremy Wariner in their squad. Then again, we said the same thing before London 2012, and on that occasion, the tiny Caribbean island somehow did the unimaginable. It couldn’t happen again, could it?