One thing that can be certainly said of the mixed 4x400m relay: nothing about it is certain.
Introduced into the IAAF senior sphere at the 2017 World Relays, it is a format that has already created a good deal of excitement – and uncertainty – in numerous competitions.
The irreducible appeal of the event – which allows teams of two men and two women to be run in any order, with tactical switches allowed at late notice – is to see men racing against women.
If the managers or coaches get things right, as occurred at the recent European Games in Minsk, crowds are instinctively stirred by the sight of a woman who has been given a lead defending it against male opponents.
Slovenia’s gamble in Belarus to run both its men early in the second match and rely on Anita Horvat to bring the baton home proved both well-judged and entertaining as the crowd bayed her home with five men in pursuit.
In terms of patterns, well, judge for yourselves. The 2017 World Relays saw The Bahamas, United States and Jamaica filling the first three places. At the World Relays in May of this year, the finishing order was United States, Canada, Kenya.
In the intervening 4x400m mixed relay at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, the winners were the Americas, whose runners included USA’s world and Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor and Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of The Bahamas.
There is perhaps a thread of US achievement to be picked out here, and given the talent around in their team the potential for victory is clearly present.
The US women’s 400m selection in Doha includes defending champion Phyllis Francis and multiple world and Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix. The team also includes a mixed relay ‘specialist’ in Jasmine Blocker, who ran on the victorious team in Yokohama in May.
In theory the US could call upon the likes of national trials winner Fred Kerley or Michael Norman, who leads this year’s world list with 43.45. In practice the two other selections – Vernon Norwood and Nathan Strother – are more likely to get the call, but only if the management decide to look beyond the two specifically nominated mixed relay men, Obichukwu Igbokwe and Tyrell Richard.
With the mixed 400m relay making its Olympic debut at next year’s Tokyo Games, the temptation to view it as an intriguing sideshow has become severely ill-judged. Other strong 400m teams such as Britain, Japan, Brazil and Poland will be taking this event very seriously.
Poland, in fact, has the world-leading mark in this event with their 3:15.46 clocking in the heats in Yokohama. Some of their best runners were later drafted into the men’s or women’s 4x400m in Yokohama and they finished just fifth in the mixed 4x400m final there, but the schedule in Doha is a bit more forgiving and opens up the possibility of Poland fielding a full-strength quartet.
Germany’s 400m fortunes are not high at the moment, but their intentions are clear through their naming of three men and three women in their team nominated solely for this event.
Britain may well give another run to European champion Matthew Hudson-Smith, who was part of the European mixed relay quartet at the Continental Cup. Belgium, with Borlee brothers Kevin and Dylan devoted to the cause, could also make a mark.
There’s a strong chance that national, area and possibly even world records will fall in Doha. The IAAF Council agreed that the inaugural world record will be the first performance to better the recognised world best performance at end of 2017, which was USA’s 3:13.20 from 2016. Bahrain clocked 3:11.89 in 2018 which was not subject to doping control, but if they run 21-year-old world silver medallist Salwa Eid Naser, they could replicate their best time.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF