Tatiana Blagoveshchenskaia of Russia and Amedee Manirakiza of Burundi compete in the 8x100m mixed relay at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
The curtain come down on the athletics programme at the second Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing with the thrilling and innovative mixed 8x100m relay providing a rousing finale to seven days of high quality competition.
As a taster to the fast-paced and energetic relay action, the final of the IAAF Kids’ Athletics competition – which for the preceding six days took place across the city at Wanda Plaza – was held at the specially constructed athletics venue on Yanshan Road near the Athletes' Village.
About 250 children participated in the Kids’ Athletics event and 40 or so youngsters from local schools returned for the finals, competing in six events – sprint/hurdles relay, long jump with a pole, cross hop, rubber javelin throw, speed ladder and kneeling throw.
On hand to support the event were two of the IAAF's three athlete role models in Nanjing – four-time world long champion Dwight Phillips of the USA and Sweden's 2005 world high jump champion Kajsa Bergqvist.
The two athletics icons addressed the competing children, aged between seven and eight, before taking them on a warm-down on the traditional red-coloured athletics track. The pair then presented special medals to the first three teams with the winning team awarded a cup. All the participating kids were awarded medals, t-shirts and presented signed certificates from the athletics legends.
Bergqvist, the world indoor high jump record-holder with 2.08m, was enthused by the passion and energy shown by all participating youngsters.
“I love to see all the kids competing and racing,” she said. “There is a great sprit among all the kids and what I also noticed is there is no ill-feeling towards each other. There is a big camaraderie in the teams and between the teams. They all really take care of each other and that is very nice to see.”
The Kids’ Athletics finalists were then given an opportunity to stay and watch the ground-breaking mixed 8x100m relay, the concluding event on the athletics programme. The competition featured eight randomly selected – four male and four female – athletes across a range of events and all national Olympic committees. Each team had to include at least one athlete from each discipline group: sprints/hurdles, endurance, jumping and throwing.
More than 500 athletes competed across eight heats – comprising eight or nine teams per heat – with the fastest nine teams across all heats advancing to the final, staged in the Nanjing twilight. The sheer number of athletes involved made it the biggest event in Olympic history.
The victorious team number 34, which comprised a German shot putter, an Australian sprinter, a 1500m runner from Comoros, a 400m hurdler from Thailand, a 400m sprinter from Venezuela, a Russian triple jumper, an 800m runner from the British Virgin Islands and a Romanian 200m sprinter, provided the perfect combination of talents to triumph in the fledgling event.
The eight athletes completed the total 800m distance in a time of 1:40.20 – interestingly 0.71 faster than David Rudisha's world record for the distance.
Team 38 with boys’ 100m champion Sydney Siame of Zambia on anchor placed second in 1:41.39. Team 17, which included boys’ pole vault champion Noel-Aman Del Cerro and boys’ 2000m steeplechase champion Wogene Sebsidbe, took bronze in 1:43.60.
Rachel Pace, winner of the B final in the 100m hurdles, was a member of the silver medal-winning team in the mixed 8x100m relay and she reflected on a fun experience tonight.
“I didn't expect to win a medal here,” said the 16-year-old Australian. “It was fun. Most of the athletes (in my team) spoke enough English to communicate. It was a really good experience and I'm glad that the organisers have run an event like this. It is awesome to have a team event rather than an individual and to run with other athletes on the same team from all around the world. It is another way of socialising and mingling with other people.”
The event was also best summed up by the appearance of 280lb Jamaican discus thrower Vashon McCarthy in the heats. The 10th-place finisher in the boys’ discus had the misfortune of fumbling the baton, but probably earned the biggest cheer of the night for his efforts in the mixed relay.
“I enjoyed it and I had a lot of fun,” said the 17-year-old. “It was very good everyone was cheering me. I would love to try to run the race again and keep the vibe going.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF