The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Relay Chatter – The 4×1’s

Jul 10th, 2012
3:29 pm PST

BatonsRelays are fun, exciting and frankly if it were up to me we would have more than just four of them in the Olympics – or Worlds. We need some sort of global world relay gathering. Maybe replace the outdated World Cup with such an event. Something more exciting that would get the world’s best together in a different and exciting fashion – and I’m talking about the field events as well. A quadrennial event that’s truly “team” oriented, and takes into account all of the various talented athletes the sport has to offer. Don’t get me wrong I love the speed events, but I’d love to see Rudisha, Uceny, Jelimo, Kiprop, Simpson and others out there with a baton in their hands too! That’s my thought for the day.

Now let’s get to the real deal, this year’s Olympic relays. Let’s start by dispensing with two myths that have arisen over the past couple of seasons. First that Jamaica is a lock for the men’s 4×1. Second that US sprinting is dead/dying. Because suddenly one is politically incorrect to say anything contrary to either statement.

First Jamaica. Yes they’re on a winning streak. And yes they’ve broken the WR. But the “streak” is only during the past Olympic cycle – not unheard of by any means – and during that time frame we (the US) have done a lousy job as “rival” because we haven’t even gotten the stick around the track! At least we finished “standing up” during similar runs by Canada and France when they were riding high. Canada during its’ mid 90’s run and France when it held the WR.

Speaking of WR’s, France’s foursome from the 90’s illustrates: how critical “moving” the stick around the track is because it is a “relay” and moving the baton is as important as foot speed; putting people where they are most effective is also as important as foot speed; and the 4×1 record has been, and still is, very soft.

Next, the "death" of American sprinting has been GREATLY exaggerated. We’ve had some people on the shelf, nicked up, banged up, and not performing to "their" standards – Gatlin, Gay, Dix, Spearmon, Merritt, Richards Ross, Felix, and a few others. But if anyone paid attention at the Trials, those were sterling results, American level results – turned in by a nice mix of vets and youth. We’re far from dead – not even close.

Yes, we were knocked down for a few seasons – down, not out! The sad thing is we did it to ourselves! And the reality is after all the talk about the Jamaicans, French, Brits,Trini’s, Bahamian’s and others only one country is capable of going to London and sweeping the relays and that’s the US – the question is will it happen?

Let’s be honest, to do so we will have to go through Jamaica. Jamaica’s rise in the men’s 4×1 started with, and is dependent on Usain Bolt. As much as people talk about Jamaica’s sprinting tradition there was no gold before Bolt – 100 or relay – and I don’t see it this year in the relay without a major contribution from him again. As a matter of fact, the key/glue to their relay success seems to be Bolt and Michael Frater – and neither are at "gold" standard this year. When you look at their personnel across the board, only Yohan Blake is "where he should be", Bolt won’t be seen until the 100 rounds, and we all know that it takes more than one man to lead a relay. So the idea that Jamaica will win because "they’ve got more speed" is the memory of another meet, another year.

Britain, long a stalwart when it comes to moving the stick and maximizing talent, just doesn’t have the talent this time around. Pity as they will be running at “home”. From a European perspective that role should be played by the French with Christophe Lemaitre and Jimmy Vicaut forming their potent pairing – though Lemaitre has not been cranking out those sub 10’s this year.

The real dark horse in this fight could be Trinidad with a team that has Richard Thompson and rising star Keston Bledman. They may be the best passing squad on the track, outside of Japan or Brazil – don’t laugh they should be finalists – and they have the foot speed to make it count.

The final piece of the puzzle will be the US. And I’ll say right off the top,  I wouldn’t anchor Gatlin or Gay – that seems to be the question making the rounds: who gets anchor duty. Why wouldn’t I anchor either one? Because you win relays by taking the lead, not trying to catch people. Our last win in a major was in ’07 – with an anchor man that had a season’s best of 10.07! He was just too far out front to be caught!

This time around we have a man in Ryan Bailey that I think is perfect for anchor duty – big, strong, fast and there are no blocks to hinder him on anchor. As a Matter of fact there’s only one set of blocks in the relay and Justin Gatlin has been the best American getting out of them and down the track all season – so I would let him keep doing just that! And have you ever seen Tyson Gay in full flight around a bend? Need any more be said? That leaves the back stretch. Nobody up and running closes as well as Wallace Spearmon – but if you just have to have a 100 guy, I could live with Mike Rodgers. Either way, I think we have the right people to put in the right places to pull this off. That’s why with Bolt’s status/fitness in question I have to go with:

gold – United States
silver – Jamaica
bronze – Trinidad
4th – France

In the women’s version there are really only two players – the US and Jamaica. Jamaica seems to be in a 50/50 mode right now. Half their squad, Shelly Ann Fraser & VCB seem ready for war, but the  Kerron Stewart & Sherone Simpson half is just not there this year.  And the Jamaica women always get caught up in the "who gets to anchor" drama. VCB should anchor (IMHO) but there will be controversy to put Fraser there and I say let there be drama – as long as it’s not us.

In contrast, we are headed to London firing on all cylinders, with what I think should be Tianna Madison, to Allyson Felix, to Jeneba Tarmoh with Carmelita Jeter on anchor. Frankly, I’m not sure we’ve ever had as potent an opening pair as Madison to Felix can pose in 2012. Maybe Alice Brown to Diane Williams back in the day, but Madison to Felix is so much faster. Like Gatlin, Madison is just getting out of the blocks well and transitioning smoothly. And Felix is faster than ever (see 21.69 video if you need a reminder). If Jamaica isn’t there by Tarmoh, it’s a wrap – regardless of who they finally decide to anchor.

Behind them, with Russia not making it out of the Euro champs, we’re probably looking at:

gold – United States
silver – Jamaica
bronze – Ukraine
4th – France

Tomorrow I’m going to take a look at the 4×4’s. Unlike the 4×1, where passing is crucial, the 4×4 is all about foot speed. A bit more straight forward.

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13 Responses to “Relay Chatter – The 4×1’s”

  1. Paul says:

    Conway, remember those 120yd HH relays when we were in High School? What a blast!


    • CHill says:

      Yeah the good ole shuttle hurdles !!! Those were a blast .. I’ve seen a lot of sprinters East it though …

  2. Brandon says:

    Gatlin has already stated he prefers second or fourth leg. The best order would be Rodgers-Gatlin-Gay-Bailey. If Gatlin is one and the US is behind on second leg the race is over. Spearmon just looks stronger than his opponents this season, his speed has not really been tested in a 100 like the previous four.

    • CHill says:

      I think if Gatlin leads off we lead from the gun .. My only hesitation with Rodgers on lead off is his turn running ability .. As for Spearmon his speed is deceptive and him out of the blocks and just up and running are two different animals .. But even with Dix on the shelf, I think we have good options this time around ..

  3. Anderson says:

    I’m almost certain that the line up will be Rodgers-Gatlin-Baliey-Gay

    Rodgers has had a great, if not the best start in most of his races this year. If your just talking about getting out of the blocks, curve or not, a good starter will get it done.

    Go check the last 2 US relays, Daegu and Penn. The highlight of those relays were Gatlin’s dominant 2nd leg. Like Brandon said, Gatlin stated he prefers the straight because he is left handed.

    Tyson SHOULD run 3rd. but he wont because of injuries. He has been unable to run curves because of his injury problems over the years. Beijing, he was running anchor, Daegu he stated he was going to run anchor in the final. The Gay of 2012 is not the Gay of 2007. He will be on anchor here.

    Baliey has shown he can run some pretty good curves in his past 200’s.

    Also I would not like to see Spearmon on the relay considering he is running the 200. None of these 4 guys are running the 200 and that gives them 4 full days of rest from 100m final to the 4×100 prelim. This is a good opportunity for the same team to run in prelim and final.

    Also note Spearmon does not really have more experience than anyone except Baliey. Doc Patton is the only relay pool member with experience considering he was on the successful 2003 and 2007 teams.
    Spearmon, Gatlin, Gay and Rodgers all ran on 1 relay ever. Gatlin in 2004, Spearmon and Gay in 2007, and Rodgers in 2009.
    Gay’s relay in 2005 did not finish the prelim. And yes Rodgers relay got DQ’ed in Berlin, but he was not part of the problem, and they actually finished.

    • CHill says:

      I must be feeling better today, because I’m going to agree a bit and disagree some …

      Yes Gatlin on 2nd leg was the highlight of the early season relays, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be best used elsewhere .. He’s actually the next best turn after Tyson, and one can make up a lot of ground on the turn with the right person .. He also finishes strong, whereas Mike doesn’t .. And what I’m looking at is moving the baton through the first zone and getting that extra “kick” right off the bat … Getting out means nothing if you don’t move the zone …

      Bailey is probably the worst of all the turn runners … He comes off as poorly as Spearmon, but doesn’t yet have Wallace’s instant acceleration in the straight .. If he did he would be sub20 by now … He will get there, but he’s not there yet …

      Spearmon and Gay are the most successful and experienced duo that we have … It was Wallace to Tyson that lead the 37.45 in Zurich ’10 with Rodgers anchoring (get him out front where his fading doesn’t matter) .. It was Wallace to Tyson in ’06 in Athens (37.59) to win the World whatever they call it – witih Conwright and Smoots as the bookends !! It was Wallace to Tyson with Leroy Dixon on anchor that won the World Champs against Bolt//Powell .. Wallace actually anchored a 37.73 in Zurich ’09 … And those are just major relay races … So I have to disagree about Spearmon not being a potentially viable cog .. They may not use him, but he’s as experienced AND successful as we’ve had …

      And sorry, I can’t use Patton … Call it superstition or whatever at this point … But he’s been involved in THREE botches in a row …

      I’ve not heard Rodgers, Gatlin, Bailey, Gay … I’ve heard a couple of others, but will not mention them … If it is Rodgers, Gatlin, Bailey, Gay then I don’t think we win – even with sub par Bolt … Only Gatlin would be in a proper position with that order … Everyone else will be running against their strengths …

      • Anderson says:

        I wasn’t suggesting using Patton, I hope he is no where near the relay either, I just mentioned that he has the most Championship experience. As much as you want to think it, Championships are a whole different world from relays in other meets you mentioned.

        Based off what has happened and how things look, Im 99% sure Gay will be 4th, I might have even hear/seen an article where his doctor suggested he stay away from running curves for the year. That’s why I put Baliey on the curve because he is sort of the odd man out but I know he can run it.
        And I think using the same team prelims to final is very important and this is a very good opportunity to do so.

        With the Jamaican team most likely being Frater,Blake,Bolt,Powell, we are almost certain not to win if everyone has good hand offs and is healthy, but we can be as efficient and as fast as possible.

        Oh and the Womens 4×1 is spot on, I think that is American Reocrd territory with those 4 ladies.

        • CHill says:

          We’re just gonna have to disagree on this one ..

          Not sure Sheree the Tyson can’t run the turn myth is from .. Tyson isn’t running the drive because of conditioning, not because he can’t run turns .. Without naming names I can tell you that Tyson on three has been a subject of conversation, and leave it at that ..

          I also know that using one squad all the way is preferred and that precludes using Wallace .. My point is that he is there and viable and had been on consideration ..

          As for the Jamaican foursome only Blake is on .. The others are iffy .. Powell and Frater can’t carry them .. They need Bolt at 100% to have a shot and that won’t guarantee victory .. Unless w run stupidly ..

          The women’s WR could finally go ..

          • Brandon says:

            I read that Tyson’s doctor has told him not to run turns anymore. I believe that anchor duty is the only spot he fits. He closes as well as anyone. Jamaica’s prder will probably be Powell-Frater-Blake-Bolt which sets up an exciting anchor battle in my opinion because I believe Gay has the potential to beat Bolt when you eliminate blocks.

  4. Coach Larry says:

    I’m scared to death that Doc Patton will be given the baton on a prelim squad. With so much riding on a successful 4×1, the U.S. needs to run the Men’s A-Relay every time to practice moving the stick under real conditions. Practice passing is simply not the same as meet conditions. Use an alternate only if there’s an injury to someone on the A-Relay.

  5. Waynebo says:

    If they use Patton in the relay, they’re stupid. You should only get so many chances to mess something up and he has used his up! Sorry Doc, you’ve had your shot. The US men have the speed to challenge. Jamaica and the WR, the issue obviously, is moving the stick. Everyone who wants to just hand it to Jamaica needs to stop it! Guess what? They gotta move the stick too. Yes, recently they have been better, but if both teams finish the race, I like our chances.

    Side note: I would LOVE to see the 4 x 200 run on the elite level. Frankly, I’ve never understood why it isn’t. I think the Jamaicans would get us on that one, though 😉

    • CHill says:

      Agreed in the 4×1 .

      I too would love to see a 4×2 .. And this year we would lose with no Tyson or Walter .. But I like our chances with them and Wallace healthy ..

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