If ever a race proved the perfect exposition of relays – in all their chaotic, captivating brilliance – then it was this.
The men’s 4x400m final, and in particular its final leg, produced a battle for the ages as LaShawn Merritt of the US fended off the charge of a brilliant Motswanan quartet, the USA taking victory in the end by just 0.15 in 3:02.13.
Since their defeat by The Bahamas at the 2012 Olympics, the US have been unstoppable in this event, thanks mainly to the calm, composed and classy anchor-leg ability of Merritt, who has made a habit of dispensing his energy with almost unmatched wisdom in that role.
The US led through the opening leg courtesy of a 45.28-second clocking from David Verburg, who handed over to Tony McQuay. A 45.26-second leg from him gave them a narrow advantage over Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Botswana at the halfway point, but it was still all to play for.
On the third leg, Kyle Clemons went out hard for the USA – perhaps too hard – because as he reached the home straight he began to hit a wall, allowing Botswana and Jamaica to take close order entering the final leg.
Down the back straight, a relaxed Merritt was soon joined by Jamaica’s Steven Gayle, who came up to his shoulder with a surging run, but it was to be short-lived. The US sprinter cranked it up a gear entering the bend, but when he turned for home he still had company in the shape of Botswana’s Karabo Sibanda.
Still only 18, Sibanda displayed the fearlessness of youth with 50 metres to run, charging his way to Merritt’s side, but if the Motswanan was a picture of grit, grimace and determination, then Merritt looked at ease, his face a model of relaxation as he held his form entering the final metres.
That proved the difference, with Merritt always doing enough to ensure the US successfully defended the title, coming home in 3:02.13, with Botswana second in 3:02.28 and Jamaica third in 3:02.86.
“I’m 31 years old this year,” said Merritt. “I’m older, but I’m also wiser. We have a great group of guys here tonight; they did what they had to do and I did what I do best – that’s bring it home.”
Botswana’s Sibanda was upbeat with his silver medal, and wants more later this year in London. “We ran very well today,” he said. “We could have won, but Isaac Makwala had a bit of trouble with a muscle. I think we can win gold at the World Championships.”
In the B-final, Kenya reigned supreme with a run of 3:06.36, all four of their team members clocking below 47 seconds. They came home well clear of Belgium (3:07.14) and Poland (3:07.14).
Czech Republic led through halfway, narrowly in front of Kenya and Belgium, but a strong third leg from Geoffrey Kiprotich put the Kenyans back in control as they entered the final leg. He rocketed through the opening 200 metres, building a lead that Belgium’s Kevin Borlee, try as he might, simply couldn’t close.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF