Russian Relay Team in the women's 4x400m at the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013 (© Getty Images)
Statisticians A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava look back on the best relay performances of the year with Julin covering the men’s events and Jalava the women’s.
Traditionally this event has been the property of the USA who had such an advantage in pure running speed that they only lost the championship gold when they failed to get the baton around. But with the emergence in 2008 of “Super-Bolt” the 4x100m landscape was completely changed.
At the five past global championships Jamaica has monopolised first place, winning by between 0.20 and 1.16 seconds, and in the process running five of the six fastest times ever. It is the most impressive winning streak ever in an event where costly mistakes are common – as illustrated by the USA during that same period, missing out completely on three occasions.
In view of the extraordinary consistency demonstrated by Jamaica – and that their gold team in Moscow had two new members and still dominated – they are very much the favourites to claim the first ever IAAF World Relays title next year in Nassau.
Behind the top two it looks more or less like anybody’s race on any given day. In Moscow Canada had an almost perfect race to get the bronze at 37.92 just ahead of Germany’s 38.04. In Moscow nine other nations ran between 38.12 and 38.58 with another six at 39.01 or better, while the final had six teams below 38.40, tying the London Olympic final for depth.
With the safety margins much wider than in the shorter relay, the 4x400m has been ruled by the USA through the history of the sport, thanks to their superior depth. During the last 30 years they have won seven of the eight Olympic gold medals and 11 out of 14 world titles, on most occasions by simply building an ever-growing gap from the outset.
The only recent US failure was at the 2012 Olympics where they were upstaged by the Bahamas, but this year the Caribbean nation just missed the final in Moscow. The Bahamas will most likely have a strong drive for redemption when hosting the inaugural IAAF World Relays next spring.
Aside from the USA, the past eight global championships have had no less than nine different medal-winning nations. Only The Bahamas (one gold, three silvers), Jamaica (silver in Moscow, two earlier bronzes), Australia (one silver, one bronze) and Russia (two bronzes, one of them in Moscow) have reached the podium more than once.
That spread among nations primarily depends upon the need to have a couple of athletes making a difference through providing legs in 44 flat or better, plus of course not having any weak link in the line-up.
Belgium is one good such example. Despite having two brilliant athletes – the Borlée twins, Jonathan and Kevin – in their team, they are still waiting for a medal having finished in the top six at four global championships since 2008.
Technically it seemed like the USA should have been the only favourite to win the women’s 4x100m relay at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. After all, they had their fabulous 40.82 world record from the London Olympics just 12 months prior and the two fastest times during the 2013 season.
But a lot had changed since London. In fact, almost everything had changed. None of the four runners from the world record team in London were in the Moscow 4x100m final.
Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter were still in the picture in the USA’s last relay race before the World Championships, winning in 41.75 in Monaco, but a completely new team faced the Jamaicans in Moscow.
The Jamaicans also had a few changes within their team, but they still had more experience. They came to Moscow having only one race under their belt – a 42.42 victory at the Penn Relays in April – but with both Kerron Stewart and double gold medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in their team, they had the upper hand going into the final.
A team of Carrie Russell, Stewart, Schillonie Calvert and Fraser-Pryce won the world title in style, setting a 41.29 national record and championship record to sweep aside the 41.41 clocking that brought them the silver in London. Their 41.29 was also the second-fastest performance of all time behind USA’s world record.
The USA were never in the picture for the win and barely grabbed the silver in 42.75, far behind the Jamaicans.
In the longer relay, hosts Russia were always going to be in the picture. Russia had not won the 4x400m relay at the IAAF World Championships since 2005, but this time they had a chance against a weakened US team.
The USA had won the 2012 Olympic title with 3:16.87, but only one athlete from that quartet, Francena McCorory, was present in the Moscow team. Meanwhile, Russia had two athletes well under 50 seconds during the season, Antonina Krivoshapka and Kseniya Ryzhova, with another handful having broken 51 seconds.
USA also had two sub-50 second runners, US champion McCorory and Natasha Hastings, but the guaranteed backing from the home crowd made sure it was going to be a tight one. On paper, the other teams had nothing to offer against USA and Russia and that remained the case on track as well.
In the final the Russians looked surprisingly comfortable having a lead of about five metres before the last leg where individual bronze medallist Krivoshapka led the way. McCorory, who finished well behind the Russian in the individual 400m final, gave everything she had and almost gained the lead in the final straight, but the roaring crowd made sure Russia won the gold with Krivoshapka just holding on to the win in 3:20.19 against USA’s 3:20.41.
In the race for bronze, world 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu anchored Great Britain to third place in 3:22.61.
A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava for the IAAF