Daegu, KoreaAfter successive failures to carry the baton round safely round in a global championship, the United States sprint relay team knew they had to put safety first in the third of the opening heats. They succeeded – but also managed to register the world’s fastest time of the season, 41.94, surpassing the mark of 42.23 set by the Jamaican quartet which won the opening heat.
Both of the favourites rested their top runners, as individual gold medallist Carmelita Jeter and the woman who finished one place behind her in the 100m, Veronica Campbell-Brown, sat out.
Nigeria, anchored by individual finalist Blessing Okagbare, took the second automatic qualifying place in a season’s best of 42.74s, one place ahead of the Netherlands who, although not reaching the final later in the evening, were rewarded with a national record of 43.44.
There was a rumble of apprehension as the gun went a second time to indicate a false start in the opening heat.
But the defending champions, whose quartet had dropped the baton three years earlier at the Beijing Olympics, were not involved – instead it was the crestfallen Yongli Wei of China who was ushered out of lane seven and off the track. She was momentarily stunned, before putting her hands over her face.
When the race got away to a clean start next time around, Jamaica’s Olympic and former World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce put her team in a dominant position before handing over to the Kerron Stewart, who then handed to the woman who shared the Olympic silver behind Fraser-Pryce in Beijing, Sherone Simpson.
By the time she got the baton, Jamaica’s anchor runner Jura Levy had a five metres lead over her nearest challenger, Veronique Mang, but though the Frenchwoman appeared to make a marginal gain, it was not sufficient to prevent the Jamaicans moving through as winners in 42.23, the fastest time in the world in 2011 until the US team altered that statistic a few minutes later.
France took the second automatic qualifying place in a season’s best of 42.60, with Brazil taking third position in an Area Record of 42.92 – and hoping it would be sufficient to claim one of the two fastest losers’ places. It was.
The Trinidad and Tobago quartet won the second heat in a national record of 42.50, with individual bronze medallist Kelly-Ann Baptiste doing the damage on the second leg.
Ukraine, with a time of 42.63, ran the Russian quartet out of the automatic qualifying places, but the Russian’s time of 42.78 proved enough to claim the first of the fastest losers’ spots. Poland failed to finish.
Even the presence on the last leg of the newly established World 100m Hurdles champion Sally Pearson, who would receive her gold medal quarter of an hour later, could not lift Australia beyond fourth place as they finished in 43.79.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF