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

The 4×1, Third Leg

Nov 28th, 2023
12:06 pm PST

Since I’ve given my 100m thoughts, I’m going to jump to the relay before discussing the deuce. Mostly because we’ve had so much failure in this event and I want to get my thoughts out there early. I was talking about the US relays recently with a coach friend and we agreed that it’s really not that difficult to put a squad together – or to coach it. So let me share my thoughts on relay construction. I’m going to start by saying that there is no “standard” way to put a 4×1 together. It depends on who YOU have available. I say this because so many people have this “formula” in their heads that begins with always putting their fastest runner on anchor. Instead of looking at their personnel and how they fit.

Because in my opinion each leg has certain needs. Your lead off should be good out of the blocks. This person should also be a good bend runner. Second leg should have good acceleration and be a strong stretch runner. Third leg needs to run a very strong curve. And the anchor needs to finish well. Of course there are other subtleties. Primarily the ability to pass and receive the baton, which quite frankly can eliminate otherwise solid sprinters. Sometimes very fast sprinters. However, in general, identifying and filling legs one, two, and four are usually pretty easy. The best starter is usually easy to identify and every sprinter is used to running in a straight line. The difficult leg to fill seems to be that third leg. Which is why I’m going to focus on that individual today.

For proof of how difficult the third leg is to fill, one need look no further than the US men’s international 4×1. Our men have been notorious for either being DQ’d or simply losing races we should have won over the past 30 to 35 years. If you go back and watch videos of these races, their “issues” all involve the third leg. Now, before going further, let me say that every leg is important. If anyone doesn’t get the job done, the team loses. However. It’s the third leg that sets up the end of the race. If this person is late to the anchor, or doesn’t complete the pass cleanly. Things can go downhill very quickly. This has been the problem with several US squads.

That said, what’s required in a good third leg? As I said above, this person should be a good turn runner – first and foremost. In addition to this however, being able to both receive and pass the baton well is extremely important. Because this leg, as well as second leg, are primarily responsible for moving the baton around the track! So third leg has to do two things very well – run the turn AND move the stick. Ironically while the US has a recent history of poorly run third legs, some of history’s best third legs have been Americans. Most notably Calvin Smith, Dennis Mitchell, and Tyson Gay. It’s no coincidence in my opinion, that all three were very good 200m sprinters as well. Their 200m ability helping with their turn running as well as the speed endurance to push the anchor into, and thru, the exchange zone. As a matter of fact, the recent success of the US women repeatedly “upsetting” the faster on paper Jamaicans. Has been due to strong third legs by Jenna Prandini and Gabby Thomas – both sub 22sec 200m sprinters!

So, how can we use this information in the development of the relay squads for Paris? Well, the women’s squad should be just fine. Both of their recent third legs are healthy and available. Barring injury it will be difficult for both to be kept off the Olympic squad. The group that needs a little assistance will be the men. They have one of the best lead and anchor combinations in history with Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles. They most likely with be joined by Fred Kerley (2nd leg in Budapest) or possibly several plug and play individuals that can be put on the backstretch, depending on who makes the team. Meaning that what we really need is someone on third leg to tie it all together. So, let’s take a look at what I consider the top third leg prospects in the US.

Erriyon Knighton – Erriyon may just be the best turn runner on the planet! He literally looks like he’s running a straight, while his competition runs the turn. As he typically leads by a couple of meters entering the straight in the 200m. He’s made every 200m team since 2021 – when he was only 17yrs old. An excellent competitor, he’s yet to be put on an international relay, though he has run several for Adidas.

Kenny Bednarek – Kenny is another 200m sprinter that’s made every global final since 2021. His turn is deceptively fast, as he just enters the straight near the front of every race he’s in. He’s also not run on any national squads. Though it’s my belief that he should be given the opportunity. He shows up on big stages. Something needed in international relay running.

Grant Holloway – Grant is a hurdler, not a sprinter, which some consider a negative. However, he ran relays regularly in college. Running the third leg on the Florida Gators record setting, 37.98 4×1 squad. A leg where he consistently destroyed the competition. He’s also run the bend on the Adidas squad where he’s demolished elite runners.

Michael Norman – Norman is another outstanding 200m sprinter that runs a sizzling bend. He’s got lots of relay experience. Having led off his high school team; the US junior squad; and his USC 4×1. Clearly everyone has had confidence in his turn running ability. He’s also got lots of international experience.

I believe that either of these men would do a fine job on team USA. Both Knighton and Holloway have proven that they can both receive and pass the baton. In addition to their fine turn running abilities. With proper coaching I’m sure that Bednarek and Norman would both be similarly capable. Given a proper third leg to go with the rest of what’s proven to be a winning combination – Coleman & Lyles led gold medal winners in ’19/’23. It’s my belief that the US can challenge the WR of 36.85.

Now, before anyone gets upset. I’m not saying that these are the only sprinters capable of running third leg, or even of being on the team. What I am saying is that I think this would be the best make up of the squad. I would suspect that there’s a strong possibility that Trayvon Bromell and/or Marvin Bracy Williams could make the Paris team – both are capable of a relay leg. Frankly, anyone making the team could be put on the relay. We do not lack for speed. Our problem is execution.

Which is why, first and foremost the goal is, or should be in my opinion, to win in Paris. Especially given our past history. Understand that we have not won Olympic gold since the year 2000! And we have not won back to back Olympic titles since 1972/76. Given that we consistently have the largest stable of elite sprinters, that’s an embarrassingly horrible statistic! We’ve got work to do and it needs to start in Paris. That means putting THE best available squad on the track. Not just four fast people. We do that regularly and lose to teams that are inferior on paper. If it’s broken, fix it. That means putting the right four people on the track. As I stated in the beginning, we know we have a great core group. In my opinion, this time around it’s about getting the third leg correct!


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