Tori Bowie anchors the USA in the 4x100m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
They say relays, particularly the sprint variety, are unpredictable. Anything can happen with batons moving at speed and legs and arms flailing everywhere. A well-drilled team always has the potential to prevail, even against four faster individuals. Form is therefore difficult to judge.
Of course, all of that’s true.
Yet, since a French quartet featuring Christine Arron and Muriel Hurtis took gold on home soil back in 2003, the world title has gone to either the USA or Jamaica on each of the six subsequent occasions, with the Caribbean nation standing on top of the podium at both of the last two World Championships.
Spearheaded by the current fastest woman in the world, Elaine Thompson, and with a squad featuring Simone Facey and Christania Williams, both of whom have come close to breaking 11 seconds for the 100m this season, it is likely that the Jamaicans will again contend for gold.
However, shorn of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown, both of whom combined with Thompson to triumph in Beijing two years ago, there’s a sense that the 2017 Jamaicans are not quite the same force to be reckoned with compared with their dominant teams of the past.
The USA, always strong, are led by Tori Bowie, who tops the world list over 200m in 2017 and who was part of the quartet that took silver behind Jamaica in the Chinese capital, yet they too lack established stars with lengthy international relay experience, despite winning Olympic gold 12 months ago.
So, who could potentially end the run of victories for the dominant two nations of the past decade?
The 4x100m at IAAF World Relays, held back in April, was won by Olympic 4th placers Germany in 42.84 seconds, a then-season’s best, which they’ve since improved to 42.25, suggesting that they should be in the mix for medals in London.
The German senior team will also no doubt be buoyed by the performance of their junior counterparts, who set a world U20 best of 43.27 at the European Junior Championships in Grosetto in July.
On home soil, Olympic bronze medalists Great Britain will fancy their chances, especially as all four of the athletes who set a national record 41.77 in Rio --Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita-- are named in their squad, while perennial finalists Trinidad and Tobago, with Michelle-Lee Ahye in sub-11 form this year, should also feature.
But, with the fastest times of any season almost always produced at the championships and with the most strength in depth, it’s hard to look past the big two.