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

My National Relay Plan

Sep 23rd, 2012
8:55 am PST

Relay Shadow rightI was catching up with a friend a couple days ago and since it had been a while we began to review the Olympics. Bolt’s double, Felix’ exploits, Mo Farah, David Rudisha. I had almost forgotten just how outstanding the London Games were.

Being old relay teammates however, we talked a lot about the relays – the 4x1s. After all, how often do you get to see WRs in both races AND get to see barriers broken at the same time? Don’t bother looking, it’s the first time that it’s happened in the same meet with electronic timing.

We went through both races with a fine toothed comb. The personnel that both the US and Jamaica brought to the track with each squad – men & women. How each team placed it’s people. How the handoffs were executed. And of course, asking ourselves if the outcome could have been different.

Looking at the women’s race, the margin of victory was so huge that it’s tough to see the outcome changing given the condition of the athletes themselves on the day. Especially considering that both Jamaica and the US executed very well. Judging the men’s event however, enough little mistakes were made by the US squad – the biggest being Tyson getting out too slow, Gatlin running up on him, and slow execution of the handoff – that perhaps getting Bailey out ahead of Bolt instead of even could have produced a different result. maybe even taking things to a photo finish.

Of course we’ll never know. This one is in the books – 36.84 Jamaica, 37.04 US – as they say, it’s a wrap. What we do know however, is that in spite of setting a new NR, the US squad could have run better. A fact that substantiates two beliefs that I’ve had for some time. One, that the WR has been soft for a while and we’re just beginning to push it to where it should be. Two is that we must reevaluate our relay policy/system if we hope to regain the top of the podium in the relay world – specifically on the men’s side of the ledger.

Don’t get me wrong, a new national record is great – I mean it equaled the old WR. I think Jon Drummond and staff did a masterful job of preparing both teams given the time frame and conditions that they were given. It’s just my belief that it’s time to change/alter the parameters that they are given. Specifically I think it’s time to move to a national relay squad that is already defined instead of putting the squad together based on the first four athletes that cross the post at Trials/Nationals.

Why? Because the current system a) only provides a limited amount of time in which to prepare our squads to compete – how many disasters have we had to live through, and did we not learn from them; and b) it ensures constant change in a squad that above all needs continuity for success. Look no further than London where Jamaica came to the track with two big advantages. The first was having Bolt on anchor – duh. The second was stepping on the track with the exact same squad that won in Daegu – in WR time no less.

No, the world of sprinting has changed, and with it the old standards. We can no longer rely on putting a "pick up" squad together; let them run up and down the track a few times; and hope to come home with gold – and based on recent history, hope to even finish. That was the system in the "amateur" world. The professional world of sprinting and relay running requires professional relay squads.

That’s why I’m sitting here once again suggesting that we go to a national relay squad. A team of individuals that is predestined to represent the US in the year’s upcoming major championship. A team that would have the opportunity to run together prior to the Trials/Nationals and become a true "unit". Yes I know, the question always comes back to, who chooses? I think the choice has already been made, because I would start with the current squad! They’ve run together, represented the US in the most recent major, and they are the NR holders. I think that would be the place to start.

I would then keep that as the standard for each successive national squad – the team that represents in a major is the "National Team" going forward into the next year. Leading to the logical question of, how does that team get changed – or if I’m someone like Walter Dix, how do I get on the squad? I think that’s pretty simple as well, you run your way on at the Trials/National championships by placing in the top 3 in the 100 meters. That works for me, because that would mean that a) you had to have defeated at least one of the individuals on the current team, b) at least one or more members of the current squad was unable to make the finals say Trials/Nationals, or c) one or more of the members of the current squad is injured and was unable to compete at Trials/Nationals. Yes it would mean a change in the team, but only a minor one as opposed to starting completely over from scratch following the Trials/Nationals.

In this manner we are able to reward new talent as it rises to the top of the competitive chart, while also allowing us to gracefully weed out the aging or injured – you have a secured position that can only be taken away in the heat of competition. It also gets us away from the lobbying of the stronger coaches and "camps". If you want your athlete on the squad he/she has to run their way onto the team. With personnel decided, then Drummond or whomever is in charge will be responsible for the tweaking of the team – which should be minimal.

The relay coaches would also be in charge of setting the competition schedule for the squad, because the whole idea of having a National squad is to develop unity and continuity. I would suggest that we see them together 3 or 4 times before the Trials/Nationals. Penn is a no-brainer as they would be the "A" team. I think next in line would be the Texas Relays  Mt SAC, and perhaps one other. Post Trials and pre major the squads should have to run in at least two other competitions to be determined based on availability of meets with relays. That would give us a total of 5 to 6 competitions throughout the year to perfect our timing and passing outside of the week of relay camp prior to the major – which could then give more focus to camaraderie.

That’s my plan to ensure that we have both the best available personnel as well as the best "drilled" team that we can send into international battle. I’m sure you’ll let me know what you think. Which reminds me, what do you think of the athletes sticking together against Rule #40? I’ll discuss that next.

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6 Responses to “My National Relay Plan”

  1. Coach Larry says:

    The assumption that Bolt is best at anchor (“duh”) has frequently been questioned – most recently at http://www.trackalerts.com/index.php/news/lead-stories/7724-can-the-jamaican-male-4x100m-team-further-reduce-the-wr-without-asafa.

    I have often put the fastest man on the second leg to get the longest trip with the most speed. Frankly, each leg requires unique capabilities and the anchor doesn’t always go to the fastest person.

    The second comment is that should someone be smart enough to implement your concept of a National Relay squad, it would be great for the squad to not only compete in the big meets like Penn, but also have them get some work in at high school invitationals or state championships so the kids can see greatness and be inspired to continue with our sport and not abandon it for football, basketball, baseball or soccer. Jamaican sprinting couldn’t get close to the USA if we didn’t have so much talent drained off by the other sports.

    • CHill says:

      Oh, I would run the Jamaican squad completely differently .. My comment was more to the fact that we had no real answer for him on anchor .. So we had to run smart ..

      I know there are many who do not want to see a national squad .. But I don’t see any alternative if we want to get back to the top of the podium ..
      Not sure who they would run against at the big high school meets, but it would be cool to have them give clinics asking with the coaches .. A bit of practice and public relations at the same time …

  2. hopeton says:

    Why get so paranoid about Jamaica’s sprinting? Jamaica been winning gold medals since 1948 (fact). Track is a very financially atrractive sport for Jamaican youngsters (fact). Football, basketball & baseball are very financially attractive sports for U.S. youngsters (fact).
    These are facts so when Jamaican runners beat U.S. runners, there is no need for U.S. to get into a spin. Accept it. I know it is difficult to get used to it but, like how the U.S. have gotten used to the Kenyans and Ethiopians in the longer distances, don’t get frightened by Caribbean & Central American runners.
    The numbers from the Olympics, from the Junior Olympics, from the World Youth Ganes, all speak clearly.
    Painful but factual. e.g. Jamaica came 1-2-3 in the mens 200m in the Olympics. They also have Jason Young & Nickel Ashmeade under 20 secs. With the youngsters, they also have Odean Skeen who got injured leading in the last 30 meters in the Junior Olympics 200m. (Facts)
    That’s how it is!

    • CHill says:

      Oh, not paranoid at all … Simply competitive and want to see us do our BEST ..

      Personally I’ve wanted to go this route for some time, going back to the 90s when we first started botching the relay ..

      We’ve had relay drama for some 20 – 30 years .. Our run of crappy results in the past four just highlighted everything …

      As for Jamaica, for me you step on the track to try to win .. If that’s not the goal don’t bother .. So yes, let’s be honest, they require special attention .. The old mentality just won’t get it done .. This may not either .. But you have to give it your best shot .. It’s not paranoia, it’s about giving your best and being competitive ..

      Btw, you’ve seen me make waves about being more competitive in the middle and long distances and in the field .. We should be doing better in many areas …

      We’ve fallen off because of arrogance and need to change our mentality in many areas .. No reason why we can’t win the discus or the hammer.. We should be winning the long jump and pole vault ..

      Our programs should be better … The relay is but one area that needs work..

  3. michael roth says:

    Our relays problems effectively began w/ the end of Carl’s career. This coincided with the end of the dominance of SMTC, which effectively was the relay team. HSI supplanted it for awhile, but after that it has been a hodgepodge of runners. The true solution is to make the relays earned just like every other slot on the national team, in competition in that event. This way there is no guess work as to who runs what leg and/or politics involved with cronyism from agents/sponsors/USATF. Put the best 8 4×1 teams out there on the last day of nationals and end the meet with some real excitement.

    • CHill says:

      Now that would be interesting .. The thing with SMTC and HSI is that both were made up of the best sprinters in the country … Now the best sprinters tend to not congregate together – something I’ve talked about a few times .. That would mean that having relays teams compete from “clubs/camps” would then put us in the position of having one or two or even three of our best sprinters on the sidelines at the Major and not in the relay … Winning at Nationals in 37.66 lets say, would be nice, but that’s not going to be a gold medal squad at the Major …

      Still, I think having relays at Nationals would spice up the meet … And our potential relay men/women could use all the work they can get at relay running … The only problem is that athletes wouldn’t want to run this before their open events, and may be too tired after all the rounds to do it at the end of the meet … And I can hear the coaches and managers now, with respect to potential injury as they head to Europe to make money …

      Another thought would be to have teams “challenge” the National team from the previous major at meets like Penn, Mt SAC, etc .. Then the National relay coaches can evaluate the “current” team and those individuals that would like to “make the squad” .. If a lead off from another team is consistently beating the “National” lead off, then a change might be in the offing … And so on by position … A bit more subjective, but then that’s part of the process …

      I just like the idea of keeping the existing squad intact and working from there as opposed to starting from scratch time and time again …

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