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Feature21 Apr 2017

Canada's recipe for relay success: 'patience and trust'


Members of the Canadian 4x100m relay squad join BAAA President and LOC CEO Rosamunde Carey, IAAF CEO Olivier Gers and LOC Chairman Keith Parker at the press conference ahead of the IAAF/BTC World Relays Bahamas 2017 (© Getty Images)

Oh, Canada – when Andre De Grasse sprinted across the line in Rio last year, that was the overwhelming sentiment among compatriots as their men’s 4x100m team was apparently denied a medal for the second successive Olympics.

Four years earlier, they had crossed the line third in the 4x100m final but midway through their celebrations, they were brought crashing back to earth after being disqualified due to a lane infringement.

And then, four years on, they seemed to be the hard luck stories again, coming home fourth – mere inches behind the United States.

Or so it seemed.

Midway through their post-race interviews, they were informed by a journalist that they might have got a medal, it being highlighted to them that the US had been disqualified.

“We said: ‘no, stop playing, that’s not funny’,” recalls Akeem Haynes. “We waited until we saw the exchange on the screen and then we knew it was a reality. At any major championship you want to come away with a medal. In the end, that’s all that matters.”

For their anchor athlete, sprint sensation Andre De Grasse, it brought the curtain down on the Olympics in memorable fashion, given he had already earned the bronze medal over 100m and the silver medal over 200m.

Tomorrow evening in Nassau, the pair will reunite alongside Rio teammates Aaron Brown and Brendon Rodney, hoping to start the season as they finished last year, by challenging the superpowers of sprinting at the IAAF/BTC World Relays Bahamas 2017.

Group practice, they admit, has been relatively non-existent since their Olympic heroics given the dispersed nature of their training bases, but De Grasse is nonetheless confident of a good showing.

“The key is to stay patient, trust each other – we’ve done this so many times so we just have to trust what we do, get the baton around and if we can do that we can medal here.”

For De Grasse, who trains at the Altis centre in Phoenix, Arizona, the natural order of things has inevitably changed since Rio, but his approach has stayed the same.

“I haven’t changed but stuff around me has a little bit,” he says. “But it’s been a fun ride and I’m enjoying the whole process. I’ve got to continue to stay motivated, stay focused and don’t let that stuff get to my head.”

De Grasse knows as a three-time Olympic medallist, one who has been dubbed as the athlete set to fill the shoes of Usain Bolt when the Jamaican retires later this year, he will run with an added expectation this summer.

“Of course it’s going to be more pressure as people look at me as the next one, but I’m young,” said the 22-year-old. “I still have a lot of work to do in this sport to be the best.”

For him, this weekend will be the perfect segue into the outdoor season, given he will compete in both the 4x100m and 4x200m events.

“Instead of my coach giving me a hard workout I can use this as a training session,” he says. “I love competing with these guys. I’ve known them since I started competing in track and field so it’s always good to come together like this.”

Of course, the past two Olympics have taught them all about the precision required in sprint relays, and for third leg runner Brendon Rodney it’s a fine balancing act.

“The hardest part is you see the best guys in the world coming at your back and you’re either going to get trampled or run away from them,” he says. “You have to find a happy medium between them where you’re not going to drop the stick.

“When I handed Andre the baton in Rio I was thinking, ‘damn, I ran up on him’, but we all did our job. He had work to do but Andre likes that sort of stuff. We all go out there and collectively try to run our best.”

While de Grasse and Haynes will be making their debut at the IAAF World Relays, both Rodney and Brown were here in 2015, even if the race itself didn’t produce happy memories after the team dropped the baton in the heats.

Brown, however, has fond memories of the event, and together with his teammates will be hoping to post a better result on Saturday night.

“I remember the crowd was really strong, lively, and it was a really good production,” he says. “I’m happy to get back out there and hopefully we’ll see a different result. We’re a strong team and we have our A-guys from Rio so I’m looking for big things this weekend.”

Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF