Something tells me that this is one event that will be previewed to death on message boards around the world. Then reviewed just as much once it’s all over. Mostly because of all the rivalries in this sport, the short sprint is the hottest and by default this relay is a close second! So let’s get to it.
|37.90||USA – Red||USA|
|38.20||All Stars||Mixed Nat.|
|38.23||Stars & Stripes||USA|
|38.38||Texas A&M Univ.||Mixed Nat.|
|38.41||Team Speed United||USA|
Just as with the 4x4, the annual list is virtually worthless because the race is almost never run outside collegiate meets or championship settings. Unfortunately it’s a bit harder than the 4x4 to predict, because simply going to the yearly list for the 100 and/or 200 doesn’t tell the story either.
The key element, and the one most often forgotten about, is the passing of the baton. Because in the short relay, the passes are done “blindly”, and mastering the movement of the baton becomes as critical as the speed of the members of the squad. Which is why I’m going to talk about the teams in contention in two parts – the “Speed” teams, and the “Passing” teams.
The speed teams are the U.S. and Jamaica. Both have the kind of depth that leaves the rest of the world drooling. Unfortunately both have a history of sloppy passing. That sloppiness has cost the U.S. dearly in the last two Majors, as U.S. squads haven’t finished a Championship final since 2007, when they took gold in Osaka – leaving the ‘08 & ‘09 Jamaican squads fairly uncontested in romps to gold medals, and a WR.
The makeup of this year’s U.S. team will be quite different from both Beijing and Berlin as neither Wallace Spearmon or Tyson Gay made the team this time around – both suffering injuries. The heart of this year’s team will surround Walter Dix & Justin Gatlin – 1st & 2nd in the 100 at Trials. They will be joined by Mike Rodgers & Trell Kimmons – 3rd & 4th at Trials. This combination (Kimmons to Rodgers to Gatlin to Dix) has already run together successfully at one of the rare meetings in Europe with a 4x1 – Lignano. There is a fly in the ointment, however, as the team is looking at the potential late removal from the squad of Rodgers to a potential drug suspension. The final determination will happen just days prior to Daegu – meaning the squad will need a backup plan. The logical replacement would be Trials #2 in the 200, Darvis Patton. The good news is that Patton has relay experience. The bad news is that he was involved with both botched handoffs in Beijing & Berlin. Experience should win out, however, with little time to make adjustments in an event that requires precision. The insertion of Patton into the mix would alter the dynamics of the squad, however, as he is a much better turn runner than stretch runner leading to what I believe would be a combination of Kimmons to Gatlin to Patton to Dix. ** Note, as with my 100 prediction previously a late change has come up after my original draft as late yesterday it was announced that Rodgers has accepted the provisional ban and so will not be a part of the squad in Daegu. It is my belief that Patton will be the replacement and the combination of Kimmons to Gatlin to Patton to Dix will be in play.
Jamaica is facing similar issues this time around. They started with the potential to bring their ‘09 gold squad back (Steve Mullings to Michael Frater to Usain Bolt to Asafa Powell) as all made the relay pool based on Trials finishes. Since then, however, Nesta Carter (part of the Beijing gold/WR squad, 37.10) and Yohan Blake have both moved ahead of Frater on the depth chart. And based on Trials finishes and seasonal competition, it is my belief that they were looking at a squad of Mullings to Blake to Bolt to Powell (my guess at their order based on previous squads and abilities). Jamaica, however, has been rocked by the same news that the U.S. has – a positive drug test requiring the removal of an athlete. As a result Jamaica has not named Mullings to their squad – which seemingly necessitates his replacement with Nesta Carter. Carter makes the most sense as he lead off the Beijing squad, and they would be able to keep the rest of the team dynamics the same.
A lot of changes for two squads who need all the chemistry they can get in spite of their advantages against the rest of the world speed wise.
Their pursuers should come from a group of squads that aren’t as deep, but tend to move the baton much better. Topping that list is Trinidad & Tobago. They will be lead by Richard Thompson, who should be joined by ‘09 returnees Emmanuel Callendar and Marc Burns – from the silver medal winning squad that ran 37.62 behind Jamaica. They will most likely be joined by Keston Bledman who has become the #2 100 man this year behind Thompson. Not as deep as the Big Two, but better passers.
The same goes for the British team, who in spite of not having a true 100 threat since Linford Christie, is always hovering somewhere in medal contention. So much so that in recent history they were gold in ‘04, and bronze in ‘05, ‘07 & ‘09! I’m not sure who they’re running in the big dance, but my best guess based on their announced relay pool would be a team composed of Christian Malcolm, Marlon Devonish, Mark Lewis Francis and Craig Pickering – the most experienced of the lot named.
Finally a team that has interesting potential is the French squad. Primarily because of a rapidly improving Christophe Lemaitre, solid Martial Mbandjock, veteran Ronald Pognon, and the talent of Junior sprinter Jimmy Vicaut. The French did put together a 38.71 squad without Vicaut or Mbandjock in Stockholm. I am curious what a team of the four aforementioned sprinters might be able to put together – sub 38 perhaps.
Of course all eyes will be on the U.S. and Jamaica. Jamaica having dominated the last two Majors, with the U.S. failing to complete either race. The U.S. being the last team to beat a Bolt/Powell Jamaican squad doing so to win in ‘07. Both teams have had to make adjustments on the fly. Jamaica will want to prove it can win with the U.S. in the race. The U.S. will want to show that it would have been a factor if not for faulty passing. The 100 meters will tell a lot about this race. If Bolt is unable to “put the 100 away”, this race becomes closer than it already is – because I believe it is closer than most do.
Match ups. 1st leg; Kimmons v Carter. Carter has the better 100 PR, Kimmons may be a better turn runner and runs a stronger relay than open. 2nd leg: Gatlin v Blake. Both have great top end speed, similar PR’s and similar SB’s, 3rd leg: Patton v Bolt. Bolt is he better turn runner, the question is his fitness and how much better he will be than Patton. Anchor: Powell v Dix. Dix has the better top end speed, but Powell has run sub 9.0 here in the past.
The key to this race will be the first two legs. In order for the U.S. to win Kimmons and Gatlin must outrun, and more importantly out pass, Carter and Blake. Passing is critical because that is where extra space can be gained. IF Blake gets to Bolt before Gatlin gets to Patton, it’s a wrap regardless of Bolt’s form. In that scenario Bolt gets to Powell well ahead of Patton to Dix and Powell has a lead that Dix can’t overcome.
IF Gatlin can get to Patton before Blake gets to Bolt then Bolt’s form becomes key. IF Patton gets the stick before Bolt and Bolt is still off form there is the possibility of getting to Dix even. IF Bolt’s form is markedly improved, Powell gets the stick first. The question being how close this final handoff becomes, because I believe there is a range in which Dix can make up ground on Powell, though I’m not sure the reverse is true. IF Dix gets the stick first, the U.S. wins. IF Powell gets the baton first but only marginally, the U.S. can win. If Powell gets the stick first and well ahead, Jamaica wins.
I know this is all blasphemy to many, because I know the majority of the world sees this as a Jamaican wrap. But the relay is a race of IF’s, because the baton must make it all the way around the track. And IF any of the above occurs the outcome changes. Jamaica ran relaxed in ‘08 & ‘09 with no pressure. The result was their first ever gold medals in a Major. Pressure from the U.S. in ‘07 lead to a win over a team containing Bolt, Carter & Powell – a team that was superior on paper. So perhaps the biggest question of the meet is this: can the U.S. put enough pressure on Jamaica to create a path to the tape?
The answer is yes. But without that the race goes:
|World Record||41.37||East Germany||GDR|
|Meet Record||41.47||United States||USA|
|42.28||USA – Red||USA|
|42.64||USA – Blue||USA|
|42.64||Louisiana State Univ.||USA|
|42.72||Pure Athletics||Mixed Nat.|
Wow, I’m all talked out from the men’s race! Same rules apply here – seasonal times are worthless. Speed teams vs. Passing teams – and passing will be critical. And as with the men the two top teams are the speed based teams of the U.S. and Jamaica. And as with the men, the U.S. squad has failed to get the stick around the track the past two Majors. The difference here is that Jamaica also failed to do so in ‘08, though they recovered in Berlin. The other difference is that neither team is facing the loss of a teammate to drug suspension.
So now that the housekeeping is done let’s look at the teams. The U.S. will bring a team of Miki Barber, Allyson Felix, Marshevet Myers and Carmelita Jeter to the table – and I believe they will go in that order, that’s how I would run them. A veteran crew that has speed on all four legs – they just have to move the stick. Barber’s an excellent starter; Felix has done damage on the backstretch every time she’s run it; Myers has speed to burn and runs a decent turn; and Jeter is the second fastest woman ever.
I believe they will line up against a Jamaican squad of Shelly Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart, and Veronica Campbell Brown. Coincidentally the same foursome that did not complete the final in Beijing. However that is the best foursome they have and I believe they will put them on the track again. Fraser is a blaze out of the blocks; Simpson solid on the backstretch; Stewart can blitz a turn; Campbell Brown is perhaps the only woman out there than can run with Jeter head up at full flight.
These two squads are head and shoulders above the rest as no one else has anything near the foot speed of these women – not even for a single leg. Which is why the rest of the world has learned to pass so well, they have no other option.
That said I look to the French and Ukrainians to put together respectable teams. Neither has a blazer to put out there, but both have enough women in the 11.1/11.2 range to put together competitive squads, especially given that both pass the stick very well. Russia also passes the stick very well, but this time around their women seem stuck in the 11.3 category – making it a bit more difficult for them to have an impact.
Which leaves us with two veteran teams with speed to burn! First question/leg: can Barber keep up with or surpass Fraser on lead off? Second question/leg: is Simpson anywhere near ‘08 form? Third question/leg: who wins this potential standoff? Fourth question/leg: who gets the stick first?
My answers are: Yes, Fraser is well off form this season. No, which gives an advantage to Felix. Flip a coin, perhaps Myers on consistency. Jeter based on the answers to one, two and three. Of course the biggest question of all is: does either squad have a major bobble? The answer is: