Sixteen teams fought for lanes in the 4x400m final on Sunday night. Three top finishers from each of the two heats qualified automatically, while two more teams advanced to the final by time.
In the first heat, Great Britain took charge of the race from the first leg.
The 400m finalist here in Beijing, Rabah Yousif, was the first to hand over the baton over to his teammate Delano Williams.
Except for a brief moment on the third leg when The Bahamas’ Alonzo Russell, a replacement for the seasoned competitor Chris Brown in the preliminary round, took over at the front from Jarryd Dunn, the British team didn’t concede the lead until the end.
Great Britain clocked a season’s best of 2:59.05, the best time by a European team this year, while the Olympic champions from The Bahamas were just behind, initially timed at 2:59.24.
However, bad news awaited the Caribbean nation at the finish; the team was disqualified for a lane infringement.
Behind the top two teams, there was another local battle for the third automatic qualifying spot between France, European indoor record-holders Belgium, and 2013 world bronze medallists Russia.
Russia was mostly behind in this fight, until the last lap.
Belgium had a messy changeover on their third handover, dropping back to fifth. However, the fastest man on the team, Kevin Borlee, quickly recovered and managed to pass both France’s Thomas Jordier and Russia’s Pavel Ivashko on the inside down the home straight.
Despite having to replace injured Julien Watrin from the European record-setting team by Antoine Gillet, Belgium set a national record of 2:59.28 for a third-place finish, which eventually, after The Bahamas’ disqualification, turned into second place. France took third eventually in 2:59.42, just 0.03 ahead of Russia.
The second heat saw a fierce head-to-head rivalry between the defending champions, USA, and the runner-up two years ago in Moscow, Jamaica.
Jamaica’s Peter Matthews was just ahead of Kyle Clemons on the first changeover, but by the time of the transition to the common lane on the inside, Tony McQuay was already ahead of his Caribbean counterpart Ricardo Chambers.
Interestingly enough, both leaders almost got run down on the second leg by 800m specialist Nijel Amos from Botswana. His teammate Leaname Maotoanong couldn’t maintain the leaders’ pace for more than 300 metres on the third leg, and the Africans gradually drifted out of contention.
In the meantime, US anchor Vernon Norwood was far ahead. He crossed the line in a world-leadng 2:58.13.
Trinidad and Tobago slowly climbed the ranks in this race after a lacklustre beginning, and the anchor Lalonde Gordon managed to overtake Jamaica on the homestretch to take second in 2:58.67.
Jamaica’s Javon Francis crossed the line in third in 2:58.69. After crossing the line, he experienced a small collision with one of his rivals, resulting in a serious injury scare.
Francis went down, holding his shoulder and was taken off the track on a stretcher but the team management later confirmed that Francis would be ready to go in the final.
Cuba, coming off a disappointing disqualification at the Pan American Games last month, took fourth with a late surge, clocking 2:59.80. This was enough to join the six automatic qualifiers as well as Russia, from the first heat, in the final.
While Trinidad and Tobago and Belgium had their best runners in the preliminary round’s line-up, the USA saved David Verburg and 400m silver medallist LaShawn Merritt for the final. Jamaica was also missing their fastest man today, the national record-holder Rusheen McDonald.
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF