Lashawn Merritt wins gold for the USA in the 4x400m at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)
Once again, the closing event of the IAAF World Championships, the men’s 4x400m relay, did not disappoint as this time around it produced a battle that kept spectators on the edge of their seats until the very last few seconds.
The USA came into the final as the favourite after setting a world-leading time of 2:58.13 in the preliminary round without their fastest runners, David Verburg and the 400m silver medallist LaShawn Merritt.
But, even with these two men on the team, it was far from a runaway victory in the final.
After the opening lap, four teams were performing the changeover almost simultaneously with Trinidad and Tobago’s Renny Quow slightly ahead of Verburg, Great Britain’s Rabah Yousif and the Jamaican, Peter Matthews.
There was a serious fight for the lead during the transition to the inner lane on the second leg, and USA’s Tony McQuay came out on top, ahead of Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic bronze medallist Lalonde Gordon and Britain’s Delano Williams. Jamaica, in the meantime, dropped back to fourth.
Gordon wasn’t going to give up and made sure to overtake his US counterpart ahead of the changeover. Next up were Deon Lendore for the Caribbean nation and the USA’s Bryshon Nellum.
Nellum was doing all he could to get ahead of Lendore, but ended up running by his side in lane two the whole lap. At the changeover, the American was still just behind.
In the meantime, one of the pre-race favourites, Belgium, got up among the leaders.
In fact, one of the Borlee brothers, Dylan, was absent in the final. His replacement, Robin Vanderbemden on the second leg, was the weakest link in Belgium’s roster as the 21-year-old hasn’t dipped under 46 seconds in his career.
However, the fastest among the Belgians, former European champion Kevin Borlee, made up for the moderate first half of the race and handed the baton over to Antoine Gillet in third.
As soon as the batons were passed to the anchors, the race took an unpredictable turn.
As LaShawn Merritt and Trinidad’s world junior champion Machel Cedenio kept fighting for the lead, Jamaica’s Javon Francis bolted to the front.
Francis became a national hero in Moscow two years ago when, still a teenager, he split 44.00 as an anchor to bring his country the silver medal but, this time, Francis couldn’t maintain his surge and as the leading sprinters entered the home stretch, he started to fade.
Merritt benefited from Francis’ mid-lap surge, the 2013 world individual 400m world champion followed him and then when it was a good moment to pass the Jamaican, he was already clear of Cedenio.
The experienced Merritt crossed the line in first with a world-leading 2:57.82, extending the USA’s winning streak to six world titles.
Cedenio, still only 19, brought home Trinidad and Tobago in second place with a national record of 2:58.20.
Francis, whose 43.52 split was the fastest of the championships, had another surprise to come in the last few metres as Great Britain’s team captain Martyn Rooney was finishing strong on the outside. The Jamaican and the Briton simultaneously leaned for the line, both given the time of 2:58.51, but Rooney was just ahead on the photo finish, winning the bronze by 0.004.
Belgium, without Dylan Borlee and injured Julien Watrin, could only manage to take fifth in 3:00.24 while Russia, the bronze medallists from Moscow two years ago, trailed home last on this occasion in 3:03.05.
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF