The US came, saw, and captured just about every title on offer at IAAF World Relays 2015. I think I can still hear the faintest strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner” reverberating in my noggin even now. Thankfully, it didn’t drown out these other reflections on a thrill-filled couple days of relay runnings in the land of Junkanoo and Goombay.
Sheesh! It’s only May, people!
The reaction to Jamaica’s loss to the United States in the men’s 4x100m relay on Saturday night was fascinating. The mass hysteria and panic purveyed via social media almost forced me to dive under my bed in the vain hope that it would protect me when the sky inevitably fell. (Thankfully, the sky didn’t end up falling after all. Whew!) You know what did fall, however? The record for the fastest 400m men’s relay time ever run in May!
The fact that the first-choice US quartet blew the previous May-best mark to smithereens speaks volumes about their level of conditioning right now. They aren’t quite at peak yet, but they’re all very close. One needs to look no further than Justin Gatlin’s and Tyson Gay’s withering backstretch and curve runs, respectively, to see that. They clearly won the night. However, the 2015 world title wasn’t up for grabs on said breezy Bahamian night against a dozy Kemar Bailey-Cole and a marginally sub-10 Usain Bolt. That can only be won at the tail end of August in Beijing. I’m sure that our boys will be fully up to speed by then.
Francis definitely needs a better supporting cast “to get it (baton) close to the leader”
I’d fully understand if 20 year-old 400m sensation Javon Francis constantly rued that day in primary school when his now famous (or infamous, if you prefer) “Donkey Man” nickname floated his way. The former Calabar man ran twice on the weekend. On both occasions, his more senior teammates seemingly mistook him for a beast of burden specially sent to the Bahamas to shoulder the crippling weight of their routine inability to keep pace with the rest of the world.
Giving 19 year-old Nathon Allen a taste of this level of competition was a laudable move. He’s one whose continued development should be a top priority. Hopefully, within a few years, he and a couple of the other young quartermilers we have in the pipeline will be able to give Francis the support he needs to make yet another brilliant 44-flat anchor split count for a lot more than fourth place.
Kenya’s performance disabused me of a notion that I’ve long held
Kenya’s three event wins at the inaugural staging of the World Relays led them to a third-place finish in the race for the coveted “golden baton”. What a difference a year makes! This time around, they were only able to muster 15 points for a seventh place finish in the points table. The “highlights” of their underwhelming campaign: two second-place finishes in the respective distance medley relays. The lowlight: a baffling last-place carry in the women’s 4x800m relay. Ouch!
It wasn’t hard to spot the weakness of the team before they bowed into action. This year’s Kenyan squad was bereft of established middle distance stars like world and Olympic 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop, who combined with Collins Cheboi, Silas Kiplagat, and James Magut to set a new 4×1,500m world record in 2014; and reigning world silver medalist Mercy Cherono, who led a quartet including Faith Kipyegon, Irene Jelagat, and Hellen Obiri to gold in similarly record-breaking fashion. However, I never imagined that they’d be as weak as they proved to be. I guess forming a powerful Kenyan middle distance aggregation isn’t as easy as plucking random people from the streets of Eldoret or Iten after all. Who knew?!
The current model mightn’t be sustainable
Quite a few of the world’s best athletes gave the 2015 edition of the event a pass for various reasons. As alluded to earlier, there was not an elite Kenyan in sight. No Ethiopians, period. There were no Russians either. Meanwhile, a number of top Jamaican and British athletes also opted not to take their talents to the Bahamas. Considering that it’s a world championship year, such a situation isn’t at all surprising.
There’s no doubt that the World Relays needs to consistently attract the world’s best athletes if it’s to remain relevant on an increasingly crowded sports calendar. To achieve this objective, I think the IAAF should seriously consider staging the event according to a biennial schedule that doesn’t conflict with its own IAAF World Championships. (Moving it to a later time in the year mightn’t be a bad idea either.) The latter will always remain the top priority for most track athletes. That’s why the former really needs to find a spot where it isn’t living in the imposing shadow of its older and more prestigious sibling.
Stars of the meet
Sanya Richards-Ross put both the women’s medley and 4x400m relays to bed with blazing legs. Her carry in the latter was reportedly in the sub-49 range. Wow! Veronica Cambell-Brown did it again. After hauling Jamaica back into medal contention in the 4×2 on Saturday, the perpetually reliable VCB turned in a characteristically stellar anchor leg effort to relegate long-time American rival Carmelita Jeter (and her teammates) to second in the 4×1. Justin Gatlin is in beastly form right now. Don’t believe me? Just ask Kemar Bailey-Cole. I’m sure he’ll be willing to testify after being baptized on the backstretch of Saturday’s highly anticipated 4×1 relay. Javon Francis just about single-handedly lifted Jamaica into the 4×4 final with another mind-blowing anchor on Saturday night. His encore performance on Sunday was no less thrilling. Alas, he was again left with just a bit too much to do.