Tag Archives: 4x400m relay

Track Beauty of the Week: Yuliya Gushchina Ю́лия Гу́щина

Yuliya Gushchina Ю́лия Гу́щина is this week’s Track Beauty!

The sprinter has been a fixture in Russia’s crack relay squads for the past years. As a junior, Gushchina won a hard fought 4x400m relay bronze at the World Junior Championships in Kingston. The Russian women, a proven power in the long relays, followed this up with European Junior title the next year. Ever since 2005, Yuliya has been part of almost all of Russia’s major senior championship relay teams.

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London Olympics Preview: The 4x400m Relay

The 4x400m relay has been the traditional finale of track & field meets. It is a long drawn struggle, showcasing both the raw speed of the athletes and their ability to dig deep at such a grueling event. Unlike in the shorter relay, where aggregate flat speed disadvantages are somehow nullified by faulty baton passing, the winning formula in the 4x400m is a lot simpler.

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

The Americans are the most dominant country in this event. The U.S. ladies have won five out the ten times the 4x400m relay has been held in the Olympics. Their last defeat came at the hands of the Unified Team in Barcelona. American women have won three World Championship titles since 2007. The disparity becomes even more glaring in the men’s competition, where the U.S. have lost only five times since the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. In World Championship competition, Americans have bagged a total of nine gold medals.

Read: “American 4x400m Relay Dominance”

However, doping violations have cast a dark shadow over some of these victories, resulting into several high profile disqualifications in both Olympic and World Championship competition.

Women’s 4x400m Relay

Russian women occupy five spots in the 400m dash top ten this year, with the U.S. having three. Antonina Krivoshapka Антонина Кривошапка (49.16 SB) is the world leader. Beijing 2008 silver medalist Sanya Richards-Ross and veteran Russian Yulia Gushchina Ю́лия Гу́щина are tied in second place, each having a season’s best of 49.28s.  Botswana’s Amantle Montsho (49.54 SB), the 2011 World Champion, is in fourth. The fastest Jamaican this year is Novlene Williams-Mills (49.78 SB).

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 400m Dash”

The versatile Allyson Felix, the 400m dash silver medallist from Daegu, will most likely reinforce Richards-Ross, Francena McCorrory, and Deedee Trotter. In fact, the same American quartet ran the fastest time in the world this year, 3:21.18, as the United States “Red” Team at the Penn Relays. Richards-Ross, McCorrory and Felix were also part of the U.S. team that won gold (3:18.09) over Jamaica (3:18.71) and Russia (3:19.36) at the Daegu World Championships last year.

The Russian women look good on paper, with the sub-50 trio of Krivoshapka, Gushchina, and Tatyana Firova Татьяна Фирова (49.72s) at the best form of their athletics careers. Similar to the core of the American pool, the Russians have been competing as a team for around half a decade.

Ukraine (Yuliya Olishevska, Olha Zemlyak, Nataliya Pyhyda, Alina Lohvynenko), France (Phara Anacharsis, Luina Guion Firmin, Marie Gayot, Floria Guei), the Czech Republic (Zuzana Hejnová, Zuzana Bergrová, Jitka Bartoničková, Denisa Rosolova) and Belarus (Hanna Tashpulatava,Yulyana Yushchanka Юльяна Юшчанка, Ilona Usovich Ілона Усовіч, Sviatlana Usovich Святлана Усовіч) are the most likely finalists in London. The Ukrainians (3:25.07) won over the French (3:25.49) and Czechs (3:26.02) at the European Championships in Helsinki last June.

In terms of the Olympic seedings, the Americans (average 3:19.63) and the Russians (average 3:20.15) are at the top. The Jamaicans are at third, with an average time of 3:20.36.

Screenshot from the IAAF

The British (Shana Cox, Nicola Sanders, Lee McConnell, Eilidh Child), however, finished outside the medals. This could change in London, in light of the increasingly strong showing of Olympic Champion Christine Ohuruogu. The sheer emotion of running in front of a home crowd might just enable athletes like McConnell and Marilyn Okoro to run the race of their lives and Nicola Sanders to rediscover the spring in her legs.

The battle for gold will be close between the Americans and the Russians, with the Jamaicans (Rosemarie Whyte, Davita Prendergast, Novlene Williams-Mills, Shericka Williams) also in contention. The U.S. ladies are the favorites, in light of their 20-year reign as Olympic Champions. The Russians, however, might just pull off a repeat of the Unified Team’s performance in the Barcelona Olympics. The trump card would have to be individual experience of Richards-Ross and Felix, both multiple World Championship titlists and Olympic medalists. This puts the U.S. on a psychological and physical pedestal against the Russian and Jamaican women.

Top Three Predictions

Gold: United States

Silver: Russia

Bronze: Jamaica/Great Britain

Men’s 4x400m Relay

When the North American powers do not get disqualified due to technicalities (1972 Munich), disgraced due to doping violations (1997 Athens, 2000 Sydney, 2003 Paris), or absent due to boycott (1980 Moscow), it is tremendously difficult to triumph over a team donning the Stars and Stripes in the 4x400m relay, particularly amongst the men. The prolific British quartet of Roger Black, Derek Redmond, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi were the last to pull it off at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. In the Olympics, the Jamaican victory over the U.S. in Helskini back in 1952 was the most recent.

The Americans had winning margins of 4 seconds and 3 seconds in Athens and Beijing, respectively. The rest of the field contended for the lesser medals, with the gold safely in the bag of the dominant U.S. quartets. The 4x400m relay final in Daegu was the most exciting in recent years. With all due respect to the quarter-mile abilities of hurdlers Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson, putting two non-400m specialists in the relay team could have been instrumental in leveling the playing field. Coming into the home straight, LaShawn Merritt was boxed in by the tactical running of South Africa’s L.J. Van Zyl and Jamaica’s Leford Green. Merritt had to do the Virginia Shuffle to storm into tape!

However, the 400m landscape in 2012 is vastly different from 2008. Four years ago, the sixteen fastest races that season were run either by Merritt or Jeremy Wariner. Taylor was the third fastest in 2008. The 2012 top list has a more international flavor, with the likes of Luguelin Santos, the Kevin and Jonathan Borlee, Kirani James, and Demetrius Pinder not far behind Merritt, the world leader at 44.12s.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 400m Dash”

Belgium, with the Borlee brothers in the top 10, looks good on paper. So does the Bahamas, thanks to Pinder, Ramon Miller and the experienced Chris Brown. I would love to see the South Africans reprise their sterling form in Daegu, but their season’s best of 3:04.01 pales in comparison to their bronze medal winning time of 2:59.21. The relay teams of Cuba (Noel Ruíz, Raidel Acea, Orestes Rodríguez, William Collazo), Trinidad and Tobago (Renny Quow, Lalonde Gordon, Jarrin Solomon, Deon Lendore), and Japan (Kei Takase, Yuzo Kanemaru 金丸 祐三, Yusuke Ishitsuka, Hiroyuki Nakano) have also posted competitive times this year.

In terms of the Olympic seedings, the U.S. (average 2:58.97), South Africa (average 2:59.54), Jamaica (average 2:59.61), Cuba (average 2:59.93), and Russia (average 3:00.51) comprise the top five.

Screenshot from the IAAF

Despite the smaller gap in terms of flat out 400m times, the U.S. squad is still favored to win because of its depth of talent. Tony McQuay and Bryshon Nellum are ranked 3rd and 9th in the world, respectively. The experienced Wariner, despite his recent drop in form, is still a formidable relay runner. And the U.S. could always tap its intermediate hurdlers to run in the heats to save the legs of its main guns for the final.

The rest of the contenders do not have the luxury of a deep talent pool. Barring any unforseen hitches, the U.S is still the overwhelming favorite for Olympic gold.

My sentimental favorites are South Africa and the Dominican Republic, because of Oscar Pistorius and Felix Sanchez.

Top Three Predictions

Gold: United States

Silver: Belgium

Bronze: Bahamas

Sources:

IAAF

Wikipedia

Helsinki European Championships: Women’s 4x400m Relay

The 4x400m relay has traditionally been the final event of athletics competitions. From low-key schools meets to the Olympics, the grueling yet exciting event has always been the curtain-ender.

The recently concluded European Championships in Helsinki were no different. With the Russian Olympic Trials being held the week after, the European athletics powerhouse opted to send its “B” team to Helsinki.

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Track Beauty of the Week: Geisa Coutinho

Geisa Coutinho is this week’s track beauty!

The Brazilian sprinter has been around for a long time – in athletics years, at least. Ever since winning her first 400m dash national title in 2002, Coutinho has amassed a respectable array of continental titles. In 2003, the Brazilian won two gold medals (400m dash and the 4x400m relay) at the South American Championships, after competing at the 2003 World Championships in Paris – her debut at the sport’s top stage.

Photo from esportediario.com

However, Coutinho failed to progress beyond the qualifying heats, as she finished in seventh place in Paris. The Brazilian notched a sub-par clocking of 53.31s, way below her then personal best of 51.44s. A year later at the Athens Olympics, Coutinho fared a little better as she stopped the clock at 52.18s in her 400m dash heat, good enough for fifth place.

As part of the Brazilian 4x400m quartet, Coutinho again won another South American Championship gold in 2005. The Brazilians competed with distinction at the Helsinki World Championships that same year, setting a continental record of 3:26.82 in qualifying.

Her career somewhat floundered in the coming years, until 2009, when she was selected for the Brazilian 4x400m relay team at the Berlin World Championships. A resurgent Coutinho has won several national titles since then, as well as another relay gold in the South American Championships. She had a remarkable run in 2011, as she amassed three gold medals at the World Military Games and went as far as the semi-finals at the Daegu World Championships – her best ever finish at a major international.

The 31-year old set a new personal best of 51.08s in the 400m dash in 2011, highlighting the fact that her career is far from over.

Track Beauty of the Week: Vicki Barr

Vicki Barr is this week’s Track Beauty!

The Briton is an experienced competitor. In 2007, she lowered her 400m dash personal best from 52.85s to 52.44s, earning a slot to the Osaka World Championships. Since being selected for the U.K. Olympic Team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Barr has barged into the podium of several major international competitions.

Photo from Stuart Grout

At the 2009 European Indoor Championships, the British 4x400m relay quartet, of which Barr was part, won silver behind the powerhouse Russian team.

The British women finished fourth at the World Championships in Berlin the same year, a respectable performance considering the high caliber competition. Competing for England at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, Barr reached the semi-finals of the 400m dash and won silver in the 4x400m relay.

The British sprinter has personal bests of 23.87s (2007) and 52.40s (2010) in the 200m and 400m dashes, respectively.

Istanbul 2012: Top Seven Performances

Amongst the major international athletics championships, the World Indoors is the most underrated. Big name stars like Usain Bolt usually opt out of the biennial meet, especially in crucial Olympic years. Indoor athletics has a far smaller reach than its outdoor counterpart, with the smaller venues usually found in the frigid countries of the northern hemisphere.

Photo from Wikipedia

Nevertheless, it has that obscure charm. When I first saw the start lists of some events, I thought that the rest of the non-European, non-American world was underrepresented. I thought wrong. As soon as the 60m dash heats came out, a cacophony of athletes from small countries – from Mongolia in the Gobi desert to Fiji in the Pacific – competed amongst their more illustrious counterparts.

Even if I had to rely on live streaming links and my less-than-perfect internet connection to watch the World Indoors, I must say that I had a grand time. Despite the absence of most of the track & field titans, the festivities were certainly not devoid of memorable athletics moments. The three-day event has seen former World Indoor champions like Elena Isinbayeva Елена Гаджиевна Исинбаева, Justin Gatlin, and Valerie Adams re-emerge on the big stage, whilst playing host to bevy of promising talent.

One Gold, Three Silvers (Photo from Zimbio/Getty Images)

The women high jumpers deserve special mention too, as the troika of Antonietta Di Martino, Anna Chicherova Анна Владимировна Чичерова, and Ebba Jungmark shared a the second spot on the podium, behind the champion, the come-backing Chaunté Lowe (1.98m). The three athletes had equally identical sheets, with each clearing 1.95m.

The United States topped the overall standings with a staggering 18 medals, 10 of which were gold. Great Britain had 9, while African distance powerhouses Ethiopia and Kenya won 5 and 4, respectively.

The following list enumerates my favorite performances from Istanbul (aside from the 60m hurdles, of course!):

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Digging Deep

I felt tense watching from the stands. Perhaps it was due to the cold early evening air or the glare of the floodlights. Sheltered from the steadily falling rain by my trusty umbrella, I waited for the men’s 4x400m relay to start.

The grueling event has been the waterloo of Ateneo athletics. Ever since the Ateneo joined the UAAP, it has only won two bronzes – in the mid-80’s and the mid-2000’s – amidst a slew of heartbreaking close shaves with the podium. Despite the resurgence in Ateneo sprinting, the other schools stamped its dominance in the quarter-mile.

Read John Aguilar’s “The Blue Paint”

Maki de Jesus, a bemedalled former juniors standout, had a gutsy start. Running in the seventh lane, the rookie overtook the athlete in lane eight by a good five meters, as the first runner from powerhouse FEU streaked to an early lead. From then on, it was a battle for second place behind the dominant Morayta quartet.

The first baton exchange was executed with fine precision. Joel Magturo, another greenhorn, timed his take-off perfectly with the visibly exhausted de Jesus. The young Joel, a finalist in the 100m dash, held on to fourth place. Three schools – DLSU, UE, UST and Ateneo – were locked in a fierce tactical battle.

Carlos Soriano ran a gutsy third leg. He positioned himself well in the first 200m, conserving precious speed and strength by lurking behind the leading sprinters. As soon as the four-man peleton hit the last bend, Soriano turned on his afterburners. The back-to-back 100m dash champion overtook the early leaders to snatch second place coming into the final lap.

I screamed like a man possessed at Soy’s final burst of speed. Never has an Ateneo team won silver in the 4x400m relay. There and then, I felt my eyes blur as I cheered my lungs out.

Then came JP Azcueta’s anchor leg. From the stands, I saw the determined expression on his face. He took off life a bullet, maintaining the team’s second place position. Coming into the homestretch, I could feel the silver medal coming into fruition.

The dream silver wasn’t meant to be.

DLSU’s Patrick Unso, a bum stomach notwithstanding, ran a superb final 50m to snatch second place. UE’s last runner came hurtling towards the finish, threatening to overtake the decelerating Azcueta. But JP clung on to Ateneo’s first 4x400m medal in six years. After missing out on the 4x100m relay podium; Maki, Joel, Soy and JP struck back with a hard fought, well-deserved bronze. It was an exhilarating race – a scintillating, nerve-wracking experience for the spectator and an unforgettable experience to those who were victorious.

As soon as the JP crossed the finish line, he fell on his knees, burying his face in his hands. In the four days that I’ve watched my former teammate compete, he always seemed to linger at that very spot after every race. This time around, there wasn’t a single trace of disappointment on the grizzled veteran’s rain-soaked face. Instead, JP cried tears of joy, as he took in the wondrously triumphant moment.

There’s a line from “Chariots of Fire” aptly describing the quarter-miler as someone who digs deep. Those four young men ran their hearts out, mustering every strand of willpower possible. Years from now, people probably won’t remember who won the medals, much less the actual results. In the long run, what endures is the experience of giving it your all and leaving everything on the playing field.

Maki, JP, Joel and Soy posing with their medals (Photo from JP Azcueta)

“The Borlées: En Route to Olympic History” by Joboy Quintos

When the words “siblings” and “athletics” come together, the first name that pop  into my head are the Kallur twins. Susanna Kallur, in recent years, had distinguished herself in the women’s sprint hurdles, breaking the 60m hurdles world record and topping the 2006 Goteborg European Championships. Her twin sister Jenny, older by four minutes, has been a fixture in the athletics circuits, but hasn’t reached the same level of success as Sanna.

Read: Track Beauties of the Week: Susanna and Jenny Kallur

The Harrison twins used to be the finest example of sibling excellence, winning the 4x400m relay gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games – teaming up with Michael Johnson and the late Antonio Pettigrew. Alvin and Calvin were the first ever siblings – identical twins at that! – to ever win an Olympic track & field gold whilst part of the same relay team.

   

Kevin, Olivia, and Jonathan. (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen)

Belgium’s Borlee sibings threaten to usurp the aforesaid families. Trained by their father, Jacques, the Borlees are the most illustrious athletics family actively competing to today. Elder sister Olivia, a 200m specialist, already has an Olympic 4x100m relay silver to her name. The Belgian team finished 0.23s behind Russia in Beijing 2008.

Identical twins Kevin and Jonathan are en route to becoming fine quarter milers, with both brothers qualifying for the 2010 Euro Championships 400m final. In the 4x400m relay, the Borlee twins comprised half of the formidable Belgian team that won silver at the 2010 Doha World Indoor Champs and bronze at the Barcelona Euro Championships.

The future for Kevin (PB 44.88s) and Jonathan (PB 44.718s) looks promising. If the brothers can shed precious hundredths of a second off their respective bests, they could mount a decent challenge to the American hegemony in the 400m dash. If Olivia and the other female Belgian sprinters somehow reprise their fabulous bridesmaid finish at the London Olympics, with Kim Gevaert long since retired, the prospects for a three sibling Olympic romp becomes ever so bright.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in my constant readings of Olympic (as well as World Championships) track & field history, three siblings each coming home with a medal is an unheard of fact.

Article by Joboy Quintos

Additional Links:

Video: 2010 World Indoor Championships 4x400m Relay

Video: 2008 Beijing Olympics 4x100m Relay

American 4x400m Relay Dominance

The Men’s 4x400m has always been the playground of the United States. Since the start of the modern Olympic Games, the Americans had in all but five editions of the quadrennial event (1980, 1972, 1952, 1936 and 1920). In the IAAF World Championships, the dominant Americans lost only in 1983, 1991, 1997 and 2003.

Click here for in-depth, historical athletics results

More often than the not, the only ways to beat the Americans in the 4x400m relay are when they get disqualified for doping offenses (like in the 1997 World Championships and the 2000 Olympic Games). Since the 4x400m relay is longer and slower than its shorter counterpart, the 4x100m relay, there’s much room for error in baton exchanges. Unless the Americans suffer outright disqualification by going beyond the passing lanes or deliberately impeding another athlete’s right of way, the American quartet is a sure cinch for gold.

In recent years, the U.S. stranglehold over the event has been, I must admit, quite boring. With dominant quarter milers like Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt, other nations are hard-pressed to keep up. In the finals of the big meets, the other relay teams seem to The Men’s 4x400m has always been the playground of the United States. Since the start of the modern Olympic Games, the Americans had in all but five editions of the quadrennial event (1980, 1972, 1952, 1936 and 1920). In the IAAF World Championships, the dominant Americans lost only in 1983, 1991, 1997 and 2003.

More often than the not, the only ways to beat the Americans in the 4x400m relay are when they get disqualified for doping offenses (like in the 1997 World Championships and the 2000 Olympic Games). Since the 4x400m relay is longer and slower than its shorter counterpart, the 4x100m relay, there’s much room for error in baton exchanges. Unless the Americans suffer outright disqualification by going beyond the passing lanes or deliberately impeding another athlete’s right of way, the American quartet is a sure cinch for gold.

In recent years, the U.S. stranglehold over the event has been, I must admit, quite boring. With dominant quarter milers like Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt, other nations are hard-pressed to keep up. In the finals of the big meets, the other relay teams seem to battle for second place – not first place.

The British Golden Days

The most exciting clips of the event I’ve seen so far are from the heydays of British 400m sprinting in the 1990’s. These were the times when the likes of 1996 Atlanta 400m silver medalist Roger Black and 1996 Atlanta 4x400m silver medalist Iwan Thomas comprised a lean and mean 400m lineup for Britain. In the 1991 Tokyo World Championships, the quartet of Black, Derek Redmond of Celebrate Humanity fame, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi edged out an American team, 2:57.53 to 2:57:57, setting a new Area Record in the process.

The race itself was intense, with then British record holder Black sprinting a monstrous 1st leg effort. Akabusi, a 400m hurdler, ran a superb tactical fourth leg, lurking behind then World Champion Antonio Pettigrew. In the last 50m or so, Akabusi powered his way to the tape, gifting Britain with the gold medal.

In the 1997 World Championships in Athens, the British team of Black, Thomas, indoor specialist Jamie Baulch and Mark Richardson lost out on a gold medal by 0.18s. I particularly enjoyed watching the gutsy Baulch storm to the lead during the third leg.

In 2008, however, a member of the victorious U.S. team, the late Antonio Pettigrew, admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in the same period as the 1997 World Championships. Pettigrew returned his medals. The British sprinters were awarded their much-delayed gold medals on January 2010, thirteen long years after the Americans’ tainted romp to first place.

Read the BBC article on the 1997 World Championships 4x400m team

The Contenders

The most viable contenders would have to be the Bahamas, Russia, Belgium and Britain. The Bahamians, paced by Chris Brown (not the rapper!), won silver behind the United States at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Russians won the bronze in the same event, despite not having having any representative to the 400m final (the young Vladimir Kraznov is a potential gem, having competed with distinction at the 2010 European Championships). Moreover, a resurgent British team lead by Black and Thomas’ heir apparent, Martyn Rooney, is within striking distance. If Belgium’s Borlee twins can reach sub-44  or low-44 second territory, the Belgians can be a legitimate contender as well.

Don’t count out Jamaica too. A certain Usain Bolt running in the low-43’s or high-42’s and a decent enough supporting cast could break the American stranglehold!

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