News26 Nov 2019

2019 review: relays


Noah Lyles anchors the USA to the men's 4x100m title at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)

Our end-of-year reviews continue with a recap of 2019’s best relay action.


Men’s 4x100m

This turned out to be greatest year ever in the men’s 4x100m.

The top of the world all-time list was almost completely rewritten with seven of the top 10 national records being set in 2019. Canada’s 37.91 clocking at the World Championships in Doha didn’t get them into the final, despite running a time that would have earned them a medal at the five previous editions of the World Championships.

Looking at the individual event, the 100m this year didn’t have exceptional depth. For example, back in 2015 when the fastest non-qualified team for the World Championships final ran 38.41, there were actually more sub-10.00 runners (27 vs 19) and sub-10.10 (61 vs 56) individually compared to 2019.

Perhaps part of the explanation for this apparent paradox of marginally slower runners but faster relay teams can be explained by the change to rule 170.3. The traditional 20m takeover zone + 10m for acceleration was replaced by a 30m zone.

This lengthening of the takeover zone has allowed teams to develop new passing practices to reduce the loss of baton speed. This explanation could be supported by the fact that the most experienced 4x100m nation in the world, the USA, took more than a quarter of second off their national record when winning the world title in 37.10.

As this was only the second year with the new rule and the first year including a global championship, only time will tell if this was indeed a new era for the event.

Regardless of times and records, it remains one of the most exciting and unpredictable disciplines at major events. Brazil pulled off a surprise victory at the World Relays in Yokohama in May and finished just outside the medals at the World Championships with a South American record of 37.72. The two teams directly ahead of them – Great Britain (37.36) and Japan (37.43) – also set continental records.

The World Championships may have also marked the start of a new era for the Jamaican squad. Having earned four consecutive golds between 2009 and 2015, they failed to reach the men’s 4x100m final for the first time since 2001.

Women’s 4x100m

Jamaica returned to the top of the women’s 4x100m following the USA’s reign over the past few years.

Shericka Jackson, a 400m specialist, anchored the Jamaican team to the gold in Doha, clocking a world-leading 41.44. USA had won the two previous major titles in 2017 and at the 2016 Olympic Games, while Jamaica’s latest win was in 2015.

Germany clocked a world-leading 41.67 at the ISTAF Meeting in Berlin just weeks before the World Championships, but they were some way short of that mark in Doha, eventually finishing fifth in 42.48 after replacing third-leg runner Tatjana Pinto with Jessica-Bianca Wessolly.

Jamaica was fastest in the heats in Doha in 42.11 and with only one change to that team – bringing in Jackson for the anchor leg instead of Natasha Morrison – they won convincingly ahead Great Britain & Northern Ireland, who clocked 41.85.

It was Britain’s third fastest time ever, just 0.08 shy of the national record they set at the 2016 Olympic Games, and was their third consecutive global medal in this event.

USA, who beat Jamaica at the World Relays, was never in contention for the gold medal in Doha and in fact Switzerland challenged them for the bronze. USA eventually placed third in 42.10 with Switzerland clocking a national record of 42.18 for fourth place.

Men’s 4x200m

The international men’s 4x200m action was limited to the World Relays in Yokohama, where 13 teams contested the event.

USA produced the two fastest times of the competition: 1:19.73 in the heats and 1:20.12 in the final. South Africa was a step behind in the final with 1:20.42, lowering the African record for the second time that day.

Women’s 4x200m

In one of the biggest surprises of the World Relays in Yokohama, France was victorious in 1:32.16 ahead of China, who clocked 1:32.76 for second place.

These marks, however, were a few seconds shy of the fastest time in the world. The Pure Athletics team, consisting of athletes from four different countries, ran a world-leading 1:29.25 at the Florida Relays in Gainesville in March. The team was Kelly-Ann Baptiste from Trinidad & Tobago, Shakima Wimbley of USA, Desiree Henry of Great Britain, and world 400m silver medallist Shaunae Miller-Uibo from The Bahamas.

Men’s 4x400m

The USA once again dominated this event, taking the world title with a margin of approximately one second to silver medallists Jamaica and two seconds to bronze medallists Belgium.

It should, however, be noted that the gold winning time of 2:56.69 was the fastest since the 2008 Olympics and that the other two medal-winning teams ran their second best times ever with 2:57.90 and 2:58.78 respectively.

For Belgium that medal was extra sweet because since 2008 they had finished fourth or fifth at eight consecutive outdoor global championships. It was especially sweet for anchor leg runner Kevin Borlee, who had been part of all the previous eight teams.

The surprise of the final was how close the Colombian team – with two of their runners having individual season’s bests outside 46 seconds – came to getting a medal as, for the first time ever, they dipped under 3:00. Of course individual silver medallist Anthony Zambrano was essential but one man doesn’t make a relay team.

Trinidad & Tobago – the world champions in 2017 who had also defeated the USA at this year’s World Relays in May – were favoured for a medal in Doha, but they had to be content with fifth place, two seconds adrift of a medal.

Women’s 4x400m

USA won their third straight global outdoor title in the women’s 4x400m.

Following Jamaica’s win at the 2015 World Championships, USA reclaimed the top step of the podium at the 2016 Olympic Games and has not surrendered it since with similarly dominant performances at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships.

In Doha the 4x400m final was clear way before the anchor leg with United States so far ahead of Poland at the last exchange. Haitian-born Wadeline Jonathas, who also finished fourth in the 400m at her first World Championships, received the baton from world 400m hurdles champion and world record-holder Dalilah Muhammad, with a safe lead and crossed the finish line in 3:18.92.

They finished almost three seconds ahead of Poland’s Justyna Święty-Ersetic, who clocked a 3:21.89 national record to take silver, Poland’s best ever finish in this event and only their second medal after the bronze they won in 2017. Earlier in the year the Polish quartet had beaten USA to take victory at the World Relays, 3:27.49 to 3:27.65.

Jamaica, anchored by Shericka Jackson also in this event, claimed the bronze in 3:22.37. 25-year-old Jackson made history by becoming only the second athlete in history to anchor both 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams to a medal at the same championships. Great Britain and Northern Ireland took fourth place in Doha in 3:23.02.

Mixed 4x400m

This discipline’s debut at a senior global championships was a memorable one as it resulted in two world records at the World Championships in Doha.

Unsurprisingly, given its depth in men’s and women’s sprinting, the USA came out on top in both rounds. In a competitive heat, they clocked 3:12.42 with three other nations – Jamaica, Bahrain and Great Britain – finishing within half a second of the USA, all four teams going inside the previous world record.

The same four teams filled the top four places in the final, and once again went inside the USA’s newly-set world record figures, but this time the USA’s win was decisive.

Their team of Wil London (44.9), Allyson Felix (50.4), Courtney Okolo (50.0) and Michael Cherry (44.1) finished in 3:09.34, more than two seconds clear of silver medallists Jamaica (3:11.78). Bahrain, helped by a 49.1 split from world 400m champion Salwa Eid Naser, took bronze in 3:11.82.

No doubt the world all-time list for this discipline will undergo another serious revision after the 2020 Tokyo Games when it makes its Olympic debut.

Mirko Jalava (women’s events) and A Lennart Julin (men’s events) for World Athletics