For the past seven years female sprint relay powerhouses Jamaica and Team USA have been swapping gold and silver positions on the podium steps at major championships. The only exception being at the 2009 IAAF world championships in Berlin, where Team USA did not finish in their heat.
Team USA ran a stunning world record off 40.82 seconds at the London Olympics which left many in awe. Perennial rivals Jamaica were a long way back on that occasion. However, since that time the Americans would have gotten accustomed to hearing Jamaica’s national anthem. Jamaica has won the last two world championship relays in Moscow and Beijing improving their national record on the latter to 41.07 seconds and solidified their number two ranking on the all-time list.
Interestingly, it has been twelve (12) years since Jamaica last won relay gold at the Olympics when Veronica Campbell-Brown on anchor brought joy to millions of Jamaicans worldwide in Athens 2004.
The Americans have gone through a transition and only one athlete (Tianna Bartoletta) from that all-conquering quartet will be in Rio as of right. Based on the results of the US trials and the form of their top sprinters this season, Team USA look very strong on paper. They may even match or surpass the American and world record 40.82 seconds.
However, in the past sloppy baton exchanges and exchange zone fouls ups have plagued them at major championships. It has been a burden for some time and the Americans wear it like a well-fitted jacket.
The legendary Allyson Felix, who throughout her illustrious career has been one of the first automatic names pencilled down on any Team USA sprint relay squad, is available for selection. She was initially left off the original list. However, encouraging signs of her fitness and confidence levels have boosted her chances and a final appearance on that crucial second leg is not too far from reality.
It is left to be seen if this new look squad which also includes English Gardner and Tori Bowie (who was sent home last year from Beijing prior to the relay heats) is a cohesive set or out of sync.
On the other hand there is a prophetic saying that ‘there is no substitute for experience’ and the Jamaican team has it in abundance. Veteran sprinters Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce have won multiple relay gold medals. The two are returning members from the London 2012 unit. They could be joined by speed merchant Elaine Thompson, the fast rising Christania Williams and/or 2009 sprint relay gold medallist Simone Facey.
The Jamaicans are still smarting from the hiding they got in London and this final will be like a grudge match to settle an old score. The excitement and tension will soar. It will be a ‘no holds barred’ contest which is likely to produce a very fast time. The gloves are off now… it is time to dance. Let’s hope the baton gets around safely.