U.S. looks to continue dominance in the relays
LOCAL ORGANIZING COMMITTEE IAAF World Relays Bahamas 2017 For The Guardian
Published: Mar 10, 2017
For decades, the United States has been a major powerhouse in the relays at global meets, so it really came as no surprise that they were able to dominate the first two editions of the world relays.
They carried that dominance straight over into the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last year, winning three of the four relays, and turning the tables on Jamaica who did the same thing to them at the 2015 World Championships. Heading into the third edition of the world relays, which is less than 50 days away at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, the U.S. appears to be ready to defend its ‘Golden Baton’ award, which is given out to the meet’s top overall finisher.
The only relay the United States lost in Rio de Janeiro last year was the men’s 4x100 meters (m), a race that was anchored by Jamaican triple world record holder Usain Bolt. The U.S. crossed the finish line in third place, but was disqualified for a baton exchange out of the allowable zone. The other three relay events in Rio de Janeiro were all controlled by the Americans.
Allyson Felix led two female relay teams to gold medals, and the men’s 4x400m relay team returned to glory after seeing The Bahamas end its 60-year stranglehold in the event at the Olympics in London, England, in 2012.
This year, the U.S. promises to be just as formidable at the IAAF World Relays Bahamas 2017, set for April 22-23, here in The Bahamas. Athletes such as Felix, Tori Bowie, English Gardner, long jump specialist Tianna Bartoletta, and up-and-coming young stars like Jenna Prandini and Morolake Akinosun, lead the charge for the U.S. in the women’s 4x100m. Last year, the quartet of Bartoletta, Felix, Gardner and Bowie, in that order, raced to victory in the Olympic final in 41.02 seconds – this coming after winning a protest against a disqualification in the heats just to get into the Olympic final. Jamaica was second in 41.36 seconds, and Great Britain ran a national record of 41.77 seconds for third.
The U.S. split the first two editions of the world relays with Jamaica, and as mentioned, took the Olympic title last year. The constant in each case was Bartoletta, who has ran under 11 seconds in each of the past three seasons and has a personal best time of 10.78 seconds, made at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, USA, last year.
Felix is a legend in the sport. She is arguably the best 100-400m female sprinter in the world today, and has been so for a very long time. She can give the U.S. strong legs in both relays, as proven at last year’s Olympics and both the 2015 International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Championships and the 2015 world relays.
Bowie is arguably the Americans’ fastest runner, claiming silver and bronze in the 100 and 200m at the Olympics last year. She and Felix are the only two Americans running today, who have ran under 11 seconds in the women’s 100m and under 22 seconds in the women’s 200m. Gardner is another speed demon. With her 10.74 run at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year, she has the fastest lifetime best of the group.
With that set of ladies leading the charge, there’s no doubt that the U.S. will form another strong team for this year’s world relays.
The men’s 4x100m will probably be the most challenging for the Americans. Not only do they have to worry about Jamaica, which should be led by Bolt again, but also nations such as Japan, Canada and China which are charging. In fact, Japan crossed the finish line ahead of them at last year’s Olympics before the U.S. got disqualified. The team of Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Trayvon Bromell, in that order, failed to get the stick around cleanly.
The world’s second fastest man, Gatlin, is expected to lead the charge for the U.S. at the world relays again this year. Led by Gatlin, the U.S. took the gold at the last world relays, winning in a championships record time of 37.38 seconds. They did it in impressive fashion, holding off a Jamaican squad that was anchored by Bolt. Jamaica was second in 37.68 seconds, and Japan won the bronze, in 38.20 seconds.
There’s no doubt that the U.S. will be in the running again come April. There are a number of legs that they have at their disposal. It’s a safe bet, that once healthy, Gatlin will be down for the event. He’s run here on four separate occasions – both world relays and both editions of the Chris Brown Bahamas Invitational (CBBI). Gatlin said that he loves The Bahamas, and once called upon, will gladly return to represent the U.S.
The United States will come into these world relays as the favorite in the women’s 4x400m as well. This is another event they have dominated in recent times, almost as easily as the men’s 4x400m, taking gold in each Olympics since the turn of the century, and in four of the past seven world championships. They also won the gold at both editions of the world relays.
The team of Courtney Okolo, Natasha Hastings, Phyllis Francis and Felix, struck gold at last year’s Olympics, winning in 3:19.06, more than a second ahead of second place Jamaica. Led by former World and Olympic Champion in the open event, Sanya Richards-Ross, the U.S. easily won gold in the first two editions of the world relays – by almost two seconds in the first one, and by more than three seconds in the second one. In 2015, they set a championship record of 3:19.39.
No one running today is more prolific in the women’s 400m than Richards-Ross, not even her compatriot Felix, who is now their fastest runner. Richards-Ross has the most sub-50 second women’s 400m races in history, and barring another setback, will likely be here in The Bahamas as a part of the U.S. contingent for the third world relays. Richards-Ross is coming off a hamstring injury, as she readies herself for the 2017 season. She hasn’t run since re-aggravating that injury at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year, but the legendary sprinter said on her last trip to the country that she loves running in The Bahamas and would welcome a return trip.
As mentioned, Felix is now their fastest female quarter-miler. The versatile Felix could contribute to either the women’s 4x100 or the women’s 4x400m at the world relays this year. She is the only athlete running today who has run under 11 seconds in the women’s 100m, under 22 seconds in the women’s 200m and under 50 seconds in the women’s 400m.
For the men, The Bahamas’ breakthrough at the 2012 London Olympics represented the first time in 60 years that the U.S had been beaten on the track at the Olympics in the men’s 4x400m. The U.S. came right back last year, reclaiming their Olympic title. They won easily in 2:57.30, holding off Jamaica who was second in 2:58.16, and The Bahamas who settled for third in 2:58.49.
In the world relays, the United States is unblemished in this event, holding off the host nation each time, winning in 2:57.25 in 2014, and 2:58.43 in 2015. For the U.S.’s dominance in recent times, one needs to look no further than LaShawn Merritt. The American has a lifetime best of 43.65 seconds in the open quarter, making him the sixth fastest of all-time. He has anchored the United States to gold medals in the men’s 4x400m in the past four world championships and two of the past three Olympics. At the world relays, he anchored both winning squads, and promises to return for the third edition this year.
In the only Olympics Merritt missed in the men’s 4x400m since 2008, The Bahamas ran off with the Olympic title – a feat the host nation hopes it can duplicate at the world relays this year.
In showing its versatility, the U.S. took both the men and women’s 4x800m events, and also both distance medley events at the last world relays. Both 4x800m events were done in world-leading times, and the two distance medley relays were run in world record times. The United States is formidable across the board once again, and will no doubt be in the running for the ‘Golden Baton’ when the IAAF World Relays Bahamas 2017 rolls around.