Feature26 May 2014

Yohan Blake: most valuable teammate?


Yohan Blake anchors Jamaica to a world 4x200m record at the 2014 World Relays (© Getty Images)

US sports like to honour their top competitors with an MVP accolade – most valuable player. But maybe Yohan Blake should get an MVT honour – which could stand for most valuable teammate – after his heroics at the inaugural IAAF World Relays this weekend.

If you were looking to win something at the IAAF World Relays, Jamaica’s 2011 world 100m champion was the person you wanted on your team.

Blake was part of two triumphant relay teams, anchoring Jamaica's victories in the 4x200m on Saturday and then in the the 4x100m on Sunday.

The first of these two involved taking down a 20-year-old world record set by some historic names in athletics, a team that included legend Carl Lewis, and neither race was a cakewalk.

Despite Blake's ‘Beast’ nickname, he can sometimes be reticent in talking to the media, and made few bold statements in Friday's press conference. He even refused to be drawn when the US sprinter Wallace Spearmon predicted a 4x200m world record, implying that the new mark would belong to the USA.

Blake, instead, let his feet do the talking this weekend.

The few things he did say – including speculating on what kind of 200m time he could run with a rolling start, given that he has run 19.26 from blocks – he backed up, in that case with a 19.0 unofficial split in the 4x200m.

After his races, he also deflected much of the credit on to his team. "We all executed what coach told us to do," Blake said after the longer race, "and we knew that the world record could happen."

The world record bears special mention.

As the margin of breaking it was only .05, the smallest of mistakes or moment of relaxation at the line might have whisked it away, but Blake leaned for it, and in doing so added US$50,000 to the prize money he would share with his team-mates.

Cash for dash

Again, if your rent depended on it, you wanted Blake on your team. The combined winnings of Blake's teams was US$150,000.

Blake's split, in time rather than cash, for the last 100m of the 4x100m was a sizzling 9.07.

It didn't hurt Blake that he had some stellar team-mates.

He was able to rest through the heats and run only the finals in his two races. However, none of the Jamaicans carried the baton more than twice, so Blake's absence from the rounds didn't mean he worked any less than his teammates.

In both of his races, Blake was handed a lead, but in both he extended it.

Not because he's Yohan Blake, although having that level of talent helps, but because he's a Jamaican on a relay team and he was carrying the efforts of his teammates just as well as they were giving them to him.

No doubt about number one

"After our world and Olympic gold," reflected Blake after the 4x100m relay, "we wanted to confirm our number one position today. It feels great getting into championships mode."

Will this mean Blake will be contributing to yet another Jamaican relay record at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing? It's a long way off, still. But if they ask, he'll be ready to try.

There were other contenders for the unofficial MVT award and the USA's Brenda Martinez, 800m bronze medallist at the 2013 IAAF World Championships, was probably the most prominent of them.

Martinez anchored the USA's winning 4x800m relay team and their second-placed 4x1500m squad, both of which established national records. 

Like Blake, Martinez not only delivered for her team-mates but deferred credit to them as well: "We all had a plan and everybody executed perfectly," she said after the victory.

In the longer race, she did more than just run. When team-mate Kate Mackey crashed to the track after a collision at the first exchange, Martinez said: "After Katie fell, I was jumping up and down on the other side of the track, trying to encourage her on every lap. I was telling her to take time to get back into her rhythm."

However at the end of the day, Blake was the teammate anyone would want the most. No team with Blake on it finished anywhere but first in Nassau.

Parker Morse for the IAAF