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By Noel ‘Bravo’ Francis, Special to

The inaugural IAAF World Relays scheduled May 24-25, 2014 in the beautiful island of Bahamas promises to be a magnificent showpiece. It is a novel idea, and the people of the Caribbean are very excited, as it will further enhance the region’s ability to organize and host international competitions of this magnitude. The Bahamians have been working assiduously to ensure that millions of track fans all over the world will enjoy a memorable event.

It will be non-stop action and for two days in May, Nassau will transform into the track capital of the world. Many of the world’s best runners will be on show, trying to help their countries qualify for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China. The top eight teams in the 4x100m and 4x400m events shall automatically qualify. The attractive cash prizes on offer (USD $50,000 for winners and another USD $50,000 for world records) will add to the appeal and ‘business before pleasure’ approach the teams will embark on. The five relay events scheduled (4x100m, 4x200m, 4x400m, 4x800m & 4x1500m) will generate a lot interest and excitement.

Leading up to this event a few countries such as Kenya and South Africa organized trials to select their teams while other nations will select squads based on current form and availability of their athletes. Organizing a national trial for the World Relays obviously posed challenges for some countries with elite professional athletes competing all over the globe; however, some observers argue that the absence of a trial can create problems for selectors when choosing the best and healthiest athletes to compete.

In this five-part series, we will preview all the traditional and non-traditional events scheduled as well as the excellent athletes that are likely to be on show.

Women’s 4x100m

Jamaica and U.S.A., the two fastest teams in history, should renew their long-lasting rivalry in this event. Over the past seven years both teams have shared Olympic and World Championship sprint relay titles, with the U.S.A winning the 2007 and 2011 World Championship titles and 2012 Olympic sprint relays and Jamaica winning the 2009 and 2013 World Championship titles. Both teams failed to win a medal in the  2008 Olympic 4x100m sprint relay final after botched baton exchanges in the semi-final (U.S.A) and final (JAM). The U.S.A also failed to finish their 4x100m heat at the 2009 IAAF World Championship.

One of Jamaica’s biggest worries over the years has been team selection and running order. At the 2013 IAAF World Championships, the team of Carrie Russell, Kerron Stewart, Shillonie Calvert and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce got it right and ran a national and World Championship record of 41.29 seconds. It was a pleasant surprise because in the past stronger Jamaican teams on paper with individual sprint medallists on all legs never produced that time. All members from that Jamaican squad should be available for selection alongside the returning Veronica Campbell-Brown who missed the Moscow Games due to doping issues.

While it may seem premature or unpopular, it is my view that another athlete who could make the relay pool is the outstanding 19-year-old sprinter Christania Williams from Edwin Allen High School. She has been impressive all season producing a personal best of 11.19 seconds to win the 100m Class 1 finals at ‘Champs’. However, it is her splendid first leg starts on four high school record-breaking relay runs this year, which puts her firmly in the spotlight. Based on current form, if Williams remains injury-free, she could run in the preliminary rounds in Bahamas. Without a doubt, any Jamaican female 4x100m relay pool selected for the inaugural IAAF World Relays should provide interesting discussions among track fans. 

Bahamas has some quality sprinters including 2012 double World Junior Champion Anthonique Strachan; however, the non-participation of the national team at the Penn Relays was worrying. The fans hope the selectors assemble the country’s best set of athletes very soon to start practicing and working on team chemistry. I believe the best Bahamian squad could come from Anthonique Strachan, Shaunae Miller, Tynia Gaither, Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie, Nivea Smith and Sheniqua Ferguson. Bahamas has to make strong representation on home turf. Great Britain won bronze in this event at the 2013 World Championship, which broke an almost 30-year drought at major championships dating back to the 1984 Olympics. The squad of Ashleigh Nelson, Jodie Williams, Bianca Williams, Desiree Henry, Annabelle Lewis, Hayley Jones and Dina Asher-Smith will be seeking to replicate that surprising performance in Bahamas. France will be hoping to bounce back from the disappointment at the 2013 World Championship when they were disqualified.

There was a changing of the guard in U.S female sprinting in 2013 with English Gardner, Octavious Freeman, Alexandria Anderson and Jeneba Tarmoh featuring prominently at the U.S. Track & Field Championships. The experienced Carmelita Jeter who has had injury concerns lately will turn 35 in November this year; however, she remains a vital member of the U.S team. Allyson Felix when fit, is the U.S.A.’s best second leg runner whilst Bianca Knight is a great third leg runner on her day. However, completing successful baton exchanges has been the Achilles heel of past U.S teams at major championships. They got it right at the London Olympics; however, at the 2013 World Championships inexperience and an iffy second baton exchange were evident in their new and young team.

Therefore, if Jamaica and U.S.A can smooth out their respective issues and enter their best teams at the IAAF World Relays, a great home stretch duel is likely in the final event on the opening day. With the combined speed available, there is always the possibility of a new world record in the event, however, it might be too early in the season for very fast times as athletes peak at different periods. Despite this consideration, there are 50,000 reasons to motivate the women to attempt the feat in Bahamas. The current World and Olympic record held by the United States is 40.82 seconds.

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