Justin Gatlin ran the most impressive leg of the weekend
He wasn’t the person most fans wanted to see excel, and it certainly wasn’t the finishing position such a performance warranted, but Justin Gatlin’s anchor leg on the 4x200m – taking the Americans from last to third, before they were disqualified for a changeover infringement – was the performance of the championships.
The calamitous second baton change from the Americans between Isiah Young and Curtis Mitchell had seen them relegated from second to last, and when Justin Gatlin took the baton, that was where the US team looked set to finish. Once Gatlin hit the home straight, though, he produced a jaw-dropping turn of speed and moved past a clutch of world class sprinters as if they were standing still. His past is his past, and that will never, should never, be forgotten, but make no mistake – Justin Gatlin is in phenomenal shape right now, and when he opens his individual season at Doha in the coming weeks, the evidence should be there for all to see.
Usain Bolt is fit, but not that fast
The Jamaican came to the Bahamas as the star draw of the weekend, and noted beforehand that he was pleased with how his training had progressed since his return from injury. He had a clean bill of health, he said, which had track fans around the world salivating about a clash between him and Justin Gatlin later this summer.
On Saturday night, Bolt took the baton four metres down on the US’s Ryan Bailey and, though he closed the gap slightly, it wasn’t enough to overhaul the American, Jamaica’s 37.68-second finishing time well behind the US’s 37.38. Bolt, though wasn’t unduly worried about the loss, and why would he? The big event of the season, the only one he truly cares about, is over three months away. The fact he’s healthy means he’s on course to retain his titles, and really, that’s all that matters right now.
Tyson Gay has questions to answer
Having returned from a one-year drug ban, the former world champion played a key part in the United States’ dismissal of Jamaica in the 4x100m relay on Saturday night, but it was his performance afterwards that raised pertinent questions. Gay was swiftly ushered through the mixed zone and, when Weldon Johnson of Letsrun.com asked him in the press conference what he had to say to kids who think they can compete clean, his answer was far from satisfactory, saying that his situation was understood by three organisations, and that he had believed the supplements he was taking before getting caught weren’t illegal.
Just how a sprinter of Gay’s stature, whose career earnings at the time were in the millions, could fail to see that a cream reportedly labelled as “Testosterone/DHEA CrÃ¨me” was illegal is where his story becomes, at the very least questionable, if not scarcely believable. Gay may point out that three organisations have been satisfied with his explanation but when, you wonder, will the public get to read what was said behind closed doors?
Until they do, Gay can expect a frosty reception from the fans he deceived, which is exactly what he got in the Bahamas, as some of the crowd shouted their disapproval at the American immediately after his race.
What Ryan Bailey did was good for the sport
After the United States toppled Jamaica in the 4x100m, Ryan Bailey faced the camera, adopted Usain Bolt’s signature ‘to de world’ pose, then turned it into a throat-slashing gesture to signify their apparent slaying of the beast that is Bolt. It was bold, brash, arrogant, but it was also brilliant for the sport.
To truly generate interest outside of the closeted world of track and field, things like this are essential. The creation of rivalries loaded with animosity – whether real or fictional – ahead of August’s World Championships will make for an infinitely more exciting build-up.
Just look at UFC, and how it makes a very ordinary sporting fare into big business through its use of slick marketing, exuberant characters, and fictionalised hate between its leading contenders. Like it or not, that may be the route athletics needs to go down to generate sufficient public interest to remain relevant. Bailey’s gesture, whether you love it or hate it, was one step towards that.
The US ruled the distance races
It perhaps came as little surprise that the Americans were so dominant from the 4×400 upwards, given that they sent full-strength teams to the neighbouring Bahamas, while other top middle distance nations such as Kenya had most of their top athletes opting out of the World Relays.
The US won both the men’s and women’s 4x400m, the men’s and women’s 4x800m – taking the latter with a winning margin of 11 seconds – as well as winning both distance medley relays. It was a show of utter dominance from a nation that can no longer just considered solely a sprint superpower.
Sanya Richards-Ross is ready for a big year
Two relays, two gold medals, one world record and one 48.79-second 400m split, it was quite the weekend for Sanya Richards-Ross.
On Saturday, the reigning Olympic 400m champion blew off the cobwebs with a 50.12-second leg to help the American distance medley relay team to a world record. She returned to more familiar territory on Sunday night, the 4x400m, and rocketed around the track on the second leg to open a big lead for her teammates, running 48.79. She’s 30 now, but looks better than ever. With three months to go until the World Championships, she’s already the one to beat.
Belgium’s investment is paying off
One of the forgotten performances on Sunday night – lost in the battle between the US and the Bahamas – was the national record run by Belgium back in third. Three quarters of the team was made up of Borlees – Dylan, Jonathan and Kevin – and with Julien Watrin thrown in, the large investment made by Belgian athletics into their 4x400m squad came to fruition as they broke new ground with a 2:59.33 performance.
On the third leg, Jonathan split a 44.39-second 400 and handed over to twin brother Kevin, who ran his anchor leg in 44.01. With the Americans looking below their best, despite getting the win on Sunday, the Belgians are likely to be a contender for gold come the World Championships in Beijing.
The distance medley relay will go global
Though the event has been an almost-exclusively American one in the sport’s history, there are signs that the distance medley relay – which sees legs of 1200m, 400m, 800m, mile – is likely to grow in popularity after this weekend.
It has been a mainstay in American track for decades, but this was its debut at world level, replacing the 4x1500m race of last year, a race which proved too dull and too long for most fans’ tastes. The distance medley relays here saw two world records (no great surprises there), with two American teams setting them (none there, either).
The women’s was smashed by six seconds, the men’s marginally shaved by just .06 of a second. The women’s race was a procession for the Americans, but the men’s saw a captivating last-leg shootout between Ben Blankenship and Ferguson Cheruiyot, with Blankenship outsmarting and outlasting his Kenyan rival. It was a great finish for a great relay event that should, and more than likely will, be held more often around the world.
The 4×400 should always finish a championships
In recent years, many major championships have favoured the 4x100m to close proceedings, but the Bahamas reverted to traditional ways and had the men’s 4x400m as the finale – featuring its home-grown Olympic heroes, the so-called Golden Knights.
It was always going to be a challenge for them, going up against the might of the Americans, a team which had a 44.00-second leg from Tony McQuay and had Lashawn Merritt as anchor. Boy, did the Bahamas make a race of it, though. Third leg runner Steven Gardiner blew by Jeremy Wariner to raise the noise inside the stadium to deafening, but that soon calmed when Wariner blew past him again in the home straight, handing over to Merritt, who had to dig incredibly deep to marginally hold off the inspired charge of home hero Chris Brown over the final 200m.
It was loud, it was thrilling, and afterwards, 15,000 people walked out of the stadium with an electricity coursing through the air. It was as it should be – a truly grand finale.
The Bahamas was a great host
On Friday, IAAF president Lamine Diack announced that the Bahamas would also host the next edition of the World Relays in 2017, and anyone who was inside the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium over the weekend could see why the event has found its home here.
The stands were packed both days, the local crowd bringing a delightfully colourful and flamboyant feel to the occasion, and all races – particularly those involving a Bahamian team – were played outi front of a wall of sound that was a mixture of roars, horns and bells. The local people were as friendly as it gets, always quick to enquire where you had come from and what you thought of their country. Apart from some minor issues with wifi, the organisers did a superb job accommodating the media.
It’s an event I’d return to in a heartbeat.