Beijing Stories: The Relays, a proper end to a track meet, by Stuart Weir


W4x4exchange1_World07.jpgRelays, photo by

Stuart Weir told me the he had written a " good one", and I could not agree more. The Relays are some of the most frustrating events for me to watch. That is because some of the teams I have watched have the baton skill of a grade school pick up team. But, I have digressed.

The 4x100m and 4x400m relays here, on both sides, should be fascinating, as Stu notes so well.


The final event of the 2015 IAAF World Championships is the men's 4 by 400 relay. All four relays men's and women's 4 by 100 and 4 by 400 take place over the final two days of the championships. OK, I admit it, I love relays. That athletics is an individual sport helps make the relay - the only team event - that more special. Christine Ohuruogo has won two world championships and an Olympics in the individual 400 but she once told me that she has had the most fun in the sport running relays because of the team spirit and camaraderie.

The idea is simple - four runners run, passing the baton one to another until the finish - but the execution can be a bit more complicated. Incidentally, as I come from UK it is a báton (stress first syllable) while Americans like to pass the batón.

A relay is a disaster waiting to happen - just ask poor Lauryn Williams. The American sprinter was involved in a baton change failure with Marion Jones in the 2004 Olympics and then in the 2008 Olympics she was again running the relay: "I put my hand back and there no stick and I hear my team mate yell and I turn around and I see the stick on the ground and I'm just thinking, not again". Williams described the aftermath as "the longest two or three minutes of your life having to walk two-hundred meters to get out of the stadium and coming face to face with all these cameras and addressing people about what just happened, thinking this is all my fault; I just embarrassed our whole country".

Then there are the tactics. I recently sat in on a discussion of the order the GB 4 by 100 team should run - A is a poor starter, B is better than C at running people down, is D or B the better bend runner. A is fastest so you must put her on last leg... and so it went on.

Britain's greatest ever relay victory was arguably beating USA for gold in the 1991 World Championships. It was a good squad with a settled formation. Kriss Akabusi, Derek Redmond, John Regis and Roger Black. However, the team feared that by the fourth leg, the race could be over so they decided to put Roger Black, their fastest runner, out first. The plan worked. Black got the team in front. Akabusi received the baton just behind Antonio Pettigrew whom he tracked all the way before passing him just before the finish. Gold for GB.

I previously wrote about how the US selection policy had deprived them of Francena McCorory who has the world leading time and Sanya Richards-Ross the reigning Olympic Champion in the individual 400. The good news is that the two of them are fresh, frustrated and raring to burn up the track. I can't see anyone beating the US 4 by 400 ladies - provided they get the baton round..

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