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

US Relay Thoughts Heading Into Budapest

Jul 19th, 2023
4:45 pm PDT

Now that teams have been selected for Worlds, one of the biggest questions roaming the internet is, who will represent the US in the relays? Relay selection for us is nearly always controversial. While most countries either know exactly the composition of their squads, or have a pretty good idea who will represent them. Our selection process leaves us with new squads every year. In some cases with repeat members. Sometimes with completely new squads! In the 4×4 it’s easily manageable, because exchanges are simple. In the 4×1 it is a bit more problematic however, because passing the stick requires more coordination and timing at those speeds. And in general we don’t do the best job of getting the teams together and practicing execution. I say in general, because sometimes we do, ofttimes we don’t.

So, how do we chose our relay teams? In basic terms, the top four finishers in the 100 and 400 form the core of the relay “pool” for the 4×1 and 4×4 for both the men and women. Then the coaching staff is allowed to choose from amongst anyone else that has made the team in any event, to fill two additional spots in the pool. Giving us six members for each relay squad. Sounds simple right? Except there is ALWAYS controversy. Starting typically with who’s been left out. For example, via social media, Kenny Bednarek has already made it clear that he’s not been contacted for relay duty, and wonders why. In 2021 the women’s 4×4 had three members that didn’t run the open 400. Leaving one member of the 400 squad – the Trials winner – complaining that she was left off the squad. These are not isolated instances, because there are complaints every year. It’s the nature of the beast, when you’re constantly selecting your teams over and over. Based on the results of a single meet.

That said, personnel selection is critical in putting together successful relays – especially in the 4×1. Too often our men’s relays have gotten it wrong. While ironically the women generally get it right. This is because we’ve chosen to have two different relay coaches over the years. A women’s coach and a men’s coach. One would think that our men’s teams would be dominant because of our depth of speed. But failure to pass the stick has caused us to lose far more than we’ve won over the past couple of decades! While the only challenge for our women had been the depth of the Jamaican women. Still we’re roughly 50-50 in gold medal races. With our women either winning or taking silver in most cases. Proving that while speed is important, so is moving the baton. You need a solid mixture of both. Too often, coaches want to simply find those with the best 100m times. When in reality, only one leg uses blocks and there are turns to be run along with a baton to be exchanged. With these things in mind, here are my selections to put on our relays in Budapest.

Men’s 4×1 – For the first time in a long time, this one is easy for me. As our 100m squad has the individuals with the needed skills to function as our relay in my opinion. Christian Coleman is the perfect lead off. One of the world’s best starters, he also runs a nice turn. More importantly he’s done this before. Fred Kerley will make a great second leg. He’s strong, fast, and a great stretch runner. Third leg would be Cravont Charleston. A solid sprinter who will get out well and finish well. Skills which lead to moving the baton quickly. That leaves the anchor to Noah Lyles. The man with the best top end speed on the planet. Noah anchored the current AR squad – with Coleman on leadoff. Given adequate exchanges, I believe this group is capable of running under 37sec and challenging the WR.

Women’s 4×1 – This one isn’t as easy. Well, to me it is, but I know that my choices will be a bit different than most. I’m going to start by putting Melissa Jefferson on lead off. She held that spot last year and did a very nice job. I’ll put Trials third placer Tamari Davis on second. She’s a 10.82 sprinter with 200m strength, capable of a strong backstretch. My next choice will be controversial for most. As I choose Sha’Carri Richardson for the third leg! I know that most people would put her on anchor, but hear me out. Sha’Carri is a stunning 200m sprinter who happens to run an awesome turn! Frankly I think putting her here has the potential of putting the race away early. It also leaves room to anchor Gabby Thomas. Gabby’s top end is only rivaled by Sha’Carri’s. Giving us an anchor that can’t be caught, but has the ability to make up ground if necessary. I think this three, four punch could be one of the best in history! I also believe this group has the ability to challenge the existing WR if they move the stick. I just don’t think our coaches have the guts to do it.

The 4×4’s are simply about putting the four fastest athletes on the track. Which is why we routinely win these with little trouble. The big “discussion” every year revolves around the potential of breaking the WR in each event. Personally I don’t see either record being broken. Both are among the toughest WR’s that exist. The men’s record being set by perhaps the greatest assembly of talent ever on one squad. The women’s in the toughest race ever. Breaking either one will take the type of splits that I don’t our current group of athletes is capable of. For the men, there is a huge difference between splits of 43.8 to 44.0, and the 43.1 to 43.3 necessary to break the record. For the women, it will take a sub 50 leadoff; a pair of mid 47’s and something in the mid 48 range. All done basically solo! I know that fans get excited when an athlete or two emerges with spectacular abilities. But these two records require outstanding athletes along with near perfect situations – ie squads to push them, or incredible individual sprinting after the initial leadoff! In either case, here are my choices for this year’s 4×4’s.

Men’s 4×4 – As with the men’s short relay, I think the choices for this squad are pretty easy. I would lead off with Ryan Willie. While he was fourth at our Trials, he’s been the most consistent quartermiler all year. Which is what you need on leadoff, consistency.I’m going with third placer Quincy Hall on second leg. He’s a strong quartermiler who’s capable of blowing this race open early. We’ll then finish with Vernon Norwood on third and anchor Bryce Deadmon. This group should be more than enough for the gold. I’m sure that many will want to see Rai Benjamin on the team, but it’s not necessary. The only other question is Michael Norman who is the defending 400m champion and has a bye in the event. However, given that he has yet to run an open 400 this year, AND his performances at Nationals were less than stellar. I’m thinking that his participation in Budapest may be in doubt. IF he runs and does well, then some type of adjustment to this team would be in order. TBD.

Women’s 4×4 – This year’s 400m team is one of our strongest ever. Ironically two members are also hurdlers, and most likely would have been selected had they chosen to run the hurdles instead. With that backdrop, I would lead off Talitha Diggs – last year’s leadoff runner. She’s steady and will make sure we hand off first. I would follow up with Britton Wilson on second. She’s run fast all year, and has the potential to open things up. For third I’m choosing Shamier Little. A veteran hurdler who runs a very good quarter. Anchor has to be Sydney McLaughlin, who could be the AR holder in the 400 by the time this event is run. This should be an easy victory, as no other nation has our depth. Though I expect Jamaica and the Netherlands to put up decent fights.

Of course, these are the squads that I would put on the track. There’s no guarantee that any of them will be what those in charge will go with. From that standpoint, I can’t wait to see who we actually send up with. Especially in the short relays. We used to dominate these events with ease. However the rest of the world has gotten better. A lot better. To the point where we have to really focus on personnel and practice to get the job done. Here’s wishing our squads the best of luck. Whoever ends up on the track.

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2 Responses to “US Relay Thoughts Heading Into Budapest”

  1. Paul Merca says:

    Thoughts on the mixed 4×4?

    Also with the 4x1s, I’ve been of the mindset that the agents/managers and the individual coaches will find a way to get themselves involved, especially when advocating for their athlete in the early round. knowing that even if they don’t run in the final, a medal is worth a few extra bucks in appearance fees.

    • CHill says:

      I’m not the biggest fan of the mixed 4×4.. I understand why it exists.. To give the smaller nations more relay opportunities as far as being competitive.. But personally I don’t like mixing the men and women.. Especially with the issues we have in the sport with transgender, DSD, etc.. I apologize for waiting to respond, but I’ve been trying to wait until the relay pool/camp was out.. And as you said, there were issues with managers etc.. My favorite in both mixed relays are the Dutch, because they take these things seriously.. Not even sure who will run at this point.. I will comment again as this becomes a bit clearer in the US camp..

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