Statisticians A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava look back on the best relay performances of the year.
The fact that there were no global outdoor championships this season didn’t mean that there weren’t some quality performances.
The inaugural IAAF World Relays in Nassau in May meant fast times from the start and gave a good picture of what was going to come in the big meets of the season. Jamaica clocked an early world leader of 37.71 in the heats and followed it with 37.77 in the final. Great Britain had run 37.93 in the earlier heat in Nassau, a time they later matched in the European Championships final in Zurich.
The early Nassau mark was beaten only once with the Jamaicans winning the Commonwealth title in Glasgow in August in 37.58, which remained the fastest time of the year.
The Americas team won the Continental Cup in Marrakech in September in 37.97, but the third-fastest nation of the season in this event was a real surprise. Already known to be serious sprinters, the Chinese team blasted to a 37.99 Asian record in Inchon at the Asian Games to surpass the previous Asian mark of 38.03 set by Japan at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. Japan was a distant second in Inchon, clocking 38.49.
England clocked 38.02 for second place at the Commonwealth Games and Trinidad & Tobago was the fourth-fastest country in 2014 with a 38.04 second-place finish at the World Relays in Nassau. Germany was fifth in the world with their silver medal performance of 38.09 at the European Championships.
The men’s 4x400m relay was all about the IAAF World Relays this season. Naturally the season is much thinner for the longer relay and there weren’t that many opportunities for the top teams to perform with no global outdoor championships.
The United States posted a world-leading 2:57.25 to win in Nassau, with The Bahamas not far behind in 2:57.59. In third place Trinidad & Tobago set a national record of 2:58.34 and these three times were also the top three times of the 2014 season.
Great Britain was fourth in Nassau in 3:00.32, but they too squeezed under the three-minute barrier in Zurich in August, winning the European title in 2:58.79. Three other teams followed them under three minutes and were the next three fastest in the 2014 world lists. Russia grabbed the silver in 2:59.38, Poland was third in 2:59.85 and France fourth, clocking 2:59.89.
The year started with a bang too, as the USA broke the world indoor record at the World Indoor Championships in Sopot, clocking 3:02.13.
Other men’s relay events
There was plenty of action in other relay races, thanks to the inaugural IAAF World Relays in Nassau.
In the 4x200m, Jamaican surpassed the 20-year-old world record of 1:18.68 set by Santa Monica team Mike Marsh, Leroy Burrell, Floyd Heard and Carl Lewis in April 1994. A team consisting of Nickel Ashmeade, Warren Weir, Jermaine Brown and Yohan Blake clocked 1:18.63 to win in Nassau. St Kitts & Nevis was second in a national record of 1:20.51 and France was third in a European record of 1:20.66.
In a tight 4x800m final in Nassau, Kenya edged Poland for the win, clocking a world-leading 7:08.40. Polish team grabbed the second place in a national record of 7:08.69 and the United States was not far behind in 7:09.06 for third.
The Kenyans came back to win the 4x1500m as well, totally crushing their own previous world record of 14:36.23 from Brussels in 2009 by more than 14 seconds. The team of Collins Cheboi, Silas Kiplagat, James Magut and Asbel Kiprop crossed the finish line in 14:22.22 with a huge winning margin of 18.5 seconds. United States was second in a North American record of 14:40.80 and Ethiopia set a national record of 14:41.22 in third.
USA vs Jamaica has been the overriding theme in the 4x100m at major championships in recent years. At the eight global championships in the 10-year period between 2004 and 2013, the USA won four gold medals and two silver, while Jamaica took three golds and four silvers.
It was business as usual at the inaugural IAAF World Relays in Nassau where these two teams came out on top of the 19 teams with the USA winning by 0.4 in 41.88.
On that occasion, however, Jamaica didn’t have access to their two top runners, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. When they joined the team for the Commonwealth Games, the outcome was the fastest time of the year – 41.83 – as they left silver medallists Nigeria more than a second behind.
At the European Championships this event was much more competitive. In the heats four teams ran faster than 43 seconds with France fastest at 42.29 followed by Great Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland. But in the final it was the youthful (age 18 to 23) British team that triumphed, in the process cutting 0.19 from the 42.43 national record that had stood since the Moscow Olympics 34 years ago.
Apart from the European Championships, Zurich hosted the main get-together of top teams at the IAAF Diamond League meeting with the winning nations from the World Relays (USA), Commonwealth Games (Jamaica) and European Championships (Great Britain). Even though neither team featured their complete ‘golden’ line-ups, the outcome was still surprising as Britain won, once again breaking their national record with 42.21. Jamaica was second in 42.33 and USA third in 42.48.
Last year the World Championships final produced an exciting match-up between the USA and Russia where the latter prevailed, winning by 0.22 in 3:20:19. This year at the World Relays the USA was an undisputed No.1, running 3:21.73 to win by more than a second ahead of Jamaica and Nigeria. Those three performances remained the fastest for national teams in 2014.
Jamaica and Nigeria also faced off at the Commonwealth Games and the outcome was similar as once again Jamaica finished slightly ahead, running in the region of 3:23.
It should also be noted that the Americas team – consisting of three from Jamaica and one from the USA – ran a world-leading 3:20.93 solo run at the Continental Cup.
But the most competitive quality race was the European Championships final where the first four teams finished between 3:24.27 and 3:25.02. The surprise winner was France, thanks mainly to a storming 49.71 last leg by Floria Guei, whose individual PB is just 51.30.
When Guei took over the baton, she was in fourth place, almost a second behind the tightly bunched trio of Russia, Great Britain and Ukraine. When Ukraine’s last runner Olha Zemlyak had fought off her Russian opponent, she seemed to relax and was unable to re-accelerate when Guei suddenly came up on the outside in the final steps. The team missing out on the medals was world champions Russia.
Other women’s relay events
The 4x100m and the 4x400m are part of the standard championship programme of events, but the other relays have almost never featured on the international scene. The inaugural IAAF World Relays in Nassau changed that by also including the 4x200m, 4x800m and 4x1500m, all of which were straight finals.
Eight teams contested the 4x200m but as the whole race was run in separate lanes the exciting head-to-head factor – for both the runners and the spectators – was never there until the final leg. Then it turned out that Jamaica – despite having Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as anchor – was too far behind to be able to challenge for the top two medals that went to the USA and Great Britain.
Kenya was the favourite among the nine teams participating in the 4x800m but lost 2.8 seconds to the main challenger USA on the first leg. The USA team never relinquished that lead through smart and strong running.
With Ajee Wilson and Brenda Martinez contributing 1:59.1 and 1:58.7 respectively in the last two legs, not even the duo of Janeth Jepkosgei and Eunice Sum managed to bring Kenya close to challenging for the lead. In the end the USA won by 2.7 seconds, roughly the same amount of time that Kenya had lost on the first leg.
But in the 4x1500m on the previous day, Kenya lived up to the loftiest of expectations. Mercy Cherono narrowly won the first leg in 4:07.4, Faith Kipyegon added a 4:08.5 to increase the lead to almost eight seconds, Irene Jelagat’s 4:10.8 widened the gap to close to 30 seconds and Hellen Obiri capped it with her 4:06.9 anchor after a blistering 60-second opening lap.
The final time of 16:33.58 broke the world record with the USA becoming the second nation to run faster than 17 minutes (16:55.33) thanks mostly to the 4:00 final leg by Brenda Martinez.
Mirko Jalava (men’s events) and A Lennart Julin (women’s events) for the IAAF