Earlier this season, a Russian quartet broke their own World Indoor record* in the 4x400 relay with a dazzling 3:23.37 run in Glasgow. Not surprisingly, it was team Russia that dominated the qualifying round with their comfortable 3:25.91 win in the first heat.
Lead off Yelena Guschina built a ten metre lead which Tatyana Yeshkurova held before Tatyana Levina, with a 51.0 split, put it well out of reach. Natalia Antyukh closed with a 51.02 leg to reach the line more than four seconds ahead of runner-up Jamaica.
The Jamaican quartet - Shellene Williams, Ronetta Smith, Moya Thompson and Allison Beckford - clocked 3:30.03, knocking 13/100s from the national record set in Maebashi in 1999.
Poland finished third in 3:30.18 to move on to the early evening final which will cap the championships at 18:55.
The second heat was a much closer contest with Belarus ultimately prevailing over the United States. After several lead changes with the American quartet, Natallia Solohub, Anna Kozak, Yulyana Zhalniryuk and Ilona Usovich (51.23 split) won by nearly a second in 3:28.47, lowering their two-year-old national record by more than a second in the process.
Debbie Dunn, Tiffany Ross-Williams, Monica Hargrove and Kia Davis clocked 3:29.44 for second, but surprisingly felt some pressure from Briton anchor Helen Karagounis, who anchored the British team to a national record 3:29.59. The previous national record, 3:29.81, was set last year at the European Indoor Championships in Madrid.
*World Indoor record pending ratification