Usain Bolt anchors Jamaica to gold in the 4x100m at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Preview: men’s 4x100m – Rio 2016 Olympic Games

On paper, the men’s 4x100m should be a duel between sprint powers USA and Jamaica, with each team able to draw from a pool thick with fast men and major championship finalists, not least probable anchor men Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt.

The rivals look closely matched, the Jamaicans running 37.36 to win at the IAAF World Championship Beijing 2015, and USA posting 37.38 in winning at the IAAF World Relays earlier that year.

The Jamaicans have won the past two Olympic golds, and in 2012 beat the US squad squarely with both teams under the former world record (albeit with the US result later annulled); on the strength of Bolt’s unbeatable anchor leg, the yellow-and-green islanders have won the past four world titles.

In practice, all teams will also be contending with the basic rules of the relay: get the baton around safely and keep the exchanges within the zones.

USA has historically seemed particularly vulnerable to these sort of problems, completing fewer than half their championship races since the 2000 Olympics, but they have completed three of the past four.

Notably, when they got the baton around safely in Nassau in 2015, they took the IAAF World Relays title from the Jamaicans, one of the very few times in the past eight years Usain Bolt has reached the finish line with someone ahead of him. This race gave the rest of the world a pattern for beating Jamaica in this event: try to lead the first three legs by so much that even Bolt can’t make up the difference.

Looking deeper in the lists, the teams competing for bronze (or silver, should one of the favorites come to grief) have legitimate hopes of their own.

Most interesting might be the silver medallists from Beijing, the hosts of that championship, China.

The Chinese quartet was on the rise throughout 2015, breaking the Asian record on multiple occasions, and ran a technically flawless race under high pressure in the Beijing final. Will this be the year they bring home China’s first Olympic relay medal?

Great Britain showed last month that they too will be a force in Rio. At the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London, two different British teams clocked times of 37.78 and 37.81, just the second time in history that one nation has produced two sub-38 clockings in the same race. Their 37.78 is the world-leading performance heading into Rio, and would have been good enough for silver at last year's World Championships.

Olympic bronze medallists France underperformed in Beijing, running faster in qualifying than in the final, indicating a team with more potential than their fifth-place finish suggested.

Olympic silver medallists Trinidad and Tobago surprisingly didn’t send a team to Beijing but they qualified for Rio on the strength of a strong showing in Nassau.

Barely a heartbeat behind France in terms of qualification time is Canada, third across the line in London but subsequently disqualified due to a lane violation even as they were beginning their celebration.

Canada brings its own rich sprinting history to the relay, most notably their 1996 victory, and a 2013 world championships bronze medal, so they will be looking to collect some redemption as well as medals.

Hosts Brazil are also worth mentioning, qualifying on the strength of a top-eight finish at the 2015 IAAF World Relays.

Last year in Nassau the Brazilians achieved the interesting distinction of running their qualifying round and final within 0.01.

Parker Morse for the IAAF