Francena McCorory passes on to Keshia Baker for team USA in the heats of the 4x400m relay (Getty Images) © Copyright

Women's 4x400m Relay - Heats - Russia clocks fastest time in opening round ahead of Jamaica, Great Britain and USA

2 September 2011If the United States and Jamaica thought they were going to have things their own way in the 4x400m relay, they received different news here as Russia set the fastest time in the world this year, 3:20.94, ahead of tomorrow’s final.

Despite resting the individual bronze medallist Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, Russia dominated their heat from the start, with Kseniya Vdovina establishing a 10 metres first lap lead which third leg runner Lyudmila Litvinova lengthened to around 30 metres before handing on to Antonina Krivoshapka.

Nigeria, always in second place despite a slight fumble on the final changeover, came through for the second automatic qualifying place in 3:25.59, a season’s best, with Bukola Abogunloko finishing a couple of strides ahead of Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic, who crossed in 3:26.01.

Given that the previous best time of the year – 3:22.92 - was set by a US quartet at the Penn Relays, the Americans had been able to approach their opening heat with confidence. Neither Allyson Felix, their individual silver medallist, nor Sanya Richards-Ross, their former World champion, was required on the day as they won with ease in 3:23.57.

Keshia Baker, who had been handed a 20 metres lead on the last lap by Francena McCorory, clearly eased off over the final 50 metres, making it clear that there is plenty more to come from the US quartet in the final.

The drama of the heat took place behind the slowing American, however, as Svietlana Usovich of Belarus, having set off on the heels of the Ukraine last lap runner Antonina Yefremova, made her bid to secure the second automatic qualifying race as the two runners entered the straight.

The Belarus athlete, on the outside, pulled ahead; but Yefremova had too much strength for her, regaining the lead to cross in 3:24.13 – the best time recorded by a Ukraine quartet this year.

Usovich’s effort was not in vain, however, as her team qualified as one of the two fastest losers. Hejnova’s final lap efforts also told, as the Czech Republic claimed the other place.

Given her calamitous false-start in the heats of the individual 400m, it was surprising that Britain should have chosen the Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu to run the first leg in the final heat.

It was not at all surprising that the former World champion got off to a very careful and measured start. But her strength worked for the team as, by the time she handed over to Nicola Sanders, Britain were still in touch with the leaders, Jamaica.

That lead stretched to 15 metres over the second leg as Shereefa Lloyd pushed on, but a strong performance by Lee McConnell over the third leg reduced it back to 10m again and Britain’s fourth runner, Perri Shakes-Drayton, was narrowing it still further by the finish.

Jamaica, who had rested their two individual finalists, Shericka Williams and Novlene Williams-Mills, finished with the second fastest time of the day, 3:22.01, and Britain placed third overall with 3:23.05, also a season’s best.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF