For neutral observers – and of course the home crowd – the men’s 4x100m final was one of the highlights of the IAAF World Championships held two years ago in London’s Olympic stadium, as Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake anchored the home quartet to a surprise gold ahead of the United States.
It was a spectacle that was all the more unforgettable for the fact that, halfway down the finishing straight, in what was his last race, Jamaica’s living legend Usain Bolt had come to grief.
It would be nice to think that the men’s 4x100m at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 will match that for drama.
Of course, there’s no more of Bolt. But his perennial rival Justin Gatlin, 37, will be there again for the United States – keen, no doubt, to replace the 2017 relay silver with a 2019 gold. And with the likes of US champion and world leader Christian Coleman on their team, the United States look, as ever, redoubtable on paper.
Given the presence of the ever dependable Mike Rodgers, and the electric talent of Noah Lyles, who has run 9.86 this season despite narrowing his attentions to the 200m in Doha, there is the possibility of a super time. But will the chemistry be there? And, when it counts, will the baton? Let’s not forget that the US men’s sprint relay team was disqualified in both the 2015 world final and the following year’s Olympic final…
On the latter occasion in Rio, the demise of the US elevated Japan to an astonishing silver medal in an Asian record of 37.60 behind what turned out to be the last big Jamaican hurrah for Bolt. Of that excitable quartet, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge remain, supplemented by the talent of Hakim Sani Brown.
Japan has the second-fastest time of the season to their credit – 37.78 – set in following home the British quartet at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London in July, as the home team won in 37.60.
Two of the four Brits who brought home world gold in 2017 – Adam Gemili and Mitchell-Blake – will be supplemented by national champion Ojie Edoburun, Zharnel Hughes, Miguel Francis and Richard Kilty.
The Dutch quartet also laid down a marker in London as they finished third in a national record of 37.99.
Brazil, too, could be a huge force in Doha given their audacious victory at the IAAF World Relays in Yokohama in May, when they beat the United States and Britain into second and third place as they came home in 38.05.
The Brazilians were fourth at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London in 38.01, and they have three of their four World Relays winners in Doha – Rodrigo do Nascimento, Derick Silva and Paolo De Oliviera.
Turkey, with world 200m champion Ramil Guliyev and Jak Ali Harvey to the fore, will also be a force, having run 37.98 this season, and Canada – with Aaron Brown and the super-talented if fragile Andre De Grasse available – should not be ruled out.
How can it be we get this far without mentioning Jamaica? That proud sprinting nation is 13th on the list of 16 entered teams with a best of 38.51 set at the World Relays.
In the right circumstances, a team that can call upon the talents of 2011 world champion Yohan Blake, now back to fitness after a long injury torment, and world and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod, plus the smooth operator Julian Forte, should be capable of something eyebrow-raising. But will the circumstances occur?
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF