Tag Archives: Relay

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

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London Olympics Preview: The 4x100m Relay

The team aspect makes the 4x100m relay exciting. Since the athletes are going at full speed, the margin for error in terms of baton passing is small. Teams, especially the hastily formed ones, are susceptible to passing lapses. In the 4x100m relay, the squads with inferior aggregate flat out speeds can draw level or, at times, triumph over the highly touted teams.

Read: “The 4x100m Relay – Where Underdogs Thrive”

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

Ironically, a larger country such as the U.S. could get disadvantaged because of its depth of talent. Having a large pool, with the uncertainty of the U.S. Olympic Trials providing the suspense, do not exactly provide ample time for teams to prepare. The smaller countries have, more or less, determined its relay lineups months before a major competition.

Women’s 4x100m Relay

The Americans have run two of the fastest 4x100m relay times this season (42.19s, 42.24s), followed by the Germans (42.51s – Leena Günther, Anne Cibis, Tatjana Pinto, Verena Sailer) and the Ukrainians (42.61s –  Nataliya Pohrebnyak Наталія Погребняк, Mariya Ryemyen, Olesya Povh Олеся Повх, Viktorya Pyatachenko). Netherlands (42.80s – Kadene Vassell, Dafne Schippers, Eva Lubbers, Jamile Samuel), Poland (43.06s – Marika Popowicz, Daria Korczynska, Marta Jeschke, Ewelina Ptak), and France (43.12s – Carima Louami, Ayodelé Ikuesan, Jennifer Galais, Christine Arron) are the next fastest countries. The Jamaicans are few rungs lower with a season’s best of 43.31s.

In terms of the Olympic qualifying period, which stretched from January 2011 to July 2012, the Carribean sprinting power is second on the list (average of 41.97s) behind the Americans (41.75s). Ukraine (42.57s average), France (42.65s average), Germany (42.77s average), and Nigeria (42.84s) round up the next four.

Screenshot from the IAAF

The defending Olympic Champion, Russia (Evgeniya Polyakova Евгения  Полякова, Ekaterina Kuzina, Ekaterina Voronenkova, Olga Belkina), is eight on the list with an average time of 42.86s.

On paper, the lead U.S. and Jamaica are the strongest contenders for gold. Its respective lineups are peppered with a multitude of individual sprinting talent in the likes of Carmelita Jeter, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Allyson Felix, and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 100m Dash”

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 200m Dash”

Jamaica has won Olympic gold only once, in 2004. The Jamaican women lost out on a potential gold in Beijing when they failed to finish the race. The Americans are historically the dominant force in the event, winning nine gold medals since the 1928 Paris Olympics. However, their last Olympic title came in 1996. Like the Jamaicans, the Americans have been bedeviled by erratic baton passing in the last two editions of the Games.

The Americans are the reigning World Champions, while the Jamaicans are the victors from Berlin.

Once Jamaica and the United States get their acts together, and pass their respective batons efficiently and with minimal loss of speed, these two countries are unbeatable.

If the two sprinting powerhouses commit lapses, Ukraine and Germany are the most likely to capitalize. The Ukrainians have world class sprinters in Olesya Povh and Mariya Ryemyen, while the Germans are led by the comebacking Verena Sailer. The Ukrainian and German teams have the benefit of competing at a relatively recent major championships, whereas the Jamaicans and Americans  last big meet was the World Championships in Daegu. The confidence level of the Germans, in particular, are at record-highs in light of their smashing win in Helsinki.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: United States

Silver: Jamaica

Bronze: Germany/Ukraine

Men’s 4x100m Relay

In the men’s division, the Jamaican gap over the Americans is glaring. The Jamaicans have an average time of 37.54s to the Americans’ 37.85s. Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, and Yohan Blake are all set to compete in London. Barring any unforseen hitches, Jamaica looks poised to win back-to-back Olympic golds.

The Americans have dominated this event, having triumphed 15 times in the last 22 Olympic Games. Their record in major championships of late has not been as immaculate. The error-prone Americans narrowly missed the gold in Athens to an inspired British team. In Beijing, the American quartet crashed out of the preliminary rounds. They crashed out of the Berlin World Championships, disqualified for an illegal baton exchange. Daegu could have been a lot better, had it not been for the unfortunate collision between Briton Harry Aikenes-Aryeetey and American Doc Patton.

Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin will banner the American challenge. Gay and Gatlin, both former World titlists and the latter an Olympic Champion, will bring maturity and experience into the squad.

France (38.29s average –  Teddy Tinmar, Christophe Lemaitre, Yannick Lesourd, Jimmy Vicaut) Olympic hosts Great Britain (38.32s average), Trinidad and Tobago (38.40s average –  Keston Bledman, Marc Burns, Aaron Armstrong, Richard Thompson), and Brazil (38.41s average – Ailson Feitosa, Sandro Viana, Nilson Andrè, Bruno de Barros) are the next fastest countries. Interestingly, the 10th ranked Hong Kong relay team (38.59s average – Tang Yik Chun, Lai Chun Ho 黎振浩, Ng Ka Fung, Tsui Chi Ho) is ahead of Canada (38.64s – Ian Warner, Oluseyi Smith, Jared Connaughton, Justyn Warner), Italy (38..65s average – Simone Collio, Jacques Riparelli, Davide Manenti, Fabio Cerutti), and the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Japan (38.68s average – Masashi Eriguchi, Ryota Yamagata 山縣 亮太, Shinji Takahira, Kenji Fujimitsu).

Read: “Japan’s Olympic Bronze”

Screenshot from the IAAF

Outside the top two countries, France is the standout talent. The French are led by the duo of Christophe Lemaitre and Jimmy Vicaut, both 100m dash finalists in Daegu. Lemaitre is a World Championships 200m dash bronze medalist.

The Olympic hosts will also send an experienced team, with Mark Lewis-Francis and Dwain Chambers leading the charge. Lewis-Francis is the only holdover from the gold medal winning squad in Athens. The talented youngster Adam Gemili will be around to give much-needed firepower.

As much as I would love to see Britain win gold again or the Americans break their Olympic drought, the Jamaicans are much too dominant.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Jamaica

Silver: United States

Bronze: France

Sources:

IAAF – Olympic Relay Lineups

Wikipedia

IAAF

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