Three days after finishing a disappointing third in the individual 400m final, Sanya Richards stepped back on the track to anchor the US 4x400m to a comfortable 3:22.45 win in the 4x400m relay heats.
Certainly Richards could have done with an extra day rest after competing in the three 400m rounds this week but the 23-year-old winner of the 2006 World Athlete of the Year award had something to prove.
Richards took the baton from former World junior champion Natasha Hastings already in the lead but she nevertheless made a point of setting out on a fast pace. After a more conservative second bend and with individual silver medallist Shericka Williams fast approaching, Richards kicked again to maintain the lead. She wasn’t going to let the Jamaican go past, not twice in three days!
Williams held on for second in 3:22.60 ahead of a fast finishing quartet from Belarus just 18 hundredths of a second behind with the top three teams advancing to tomorrow’s final by right.
The first of two heats was considerably slower as the Russians, running with two alternates, clocked 3:23.71 for first. With three athletes in the open 400m final and having rested Yulia Guschina and Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, the defending silver medallists from Athens 2004 can certainly go faster in tomorrow’s final.
In total contrast, Great Britain lined-up its best quartet including the Olympic champion from three days ago Christine Ohuruogu, World silver medallist Nicola Sanders, Heptatlete Kelly Sotherton and 800m specialist Marilyn Okoro.
Ohuruogu took the stick off Okoro in second position well clear of teams from Cuba, Germany and the Ukraine but the 24-year-old Londoner who is also the reigning World champion, decided she had to save as much energy as possible and went off to a junior pace.
She gradually lost her margin on Indira Terrero who came level with her with 80 metres to go. Ohuruogu didn’t seem to worry that much as she knew the first three teams would advance but what she hadn’t seen was Germany’s anchor leg Claudia Hoffman finishing fast on the outside.
Luckily for the Brits, Ohuruogu caught sight of her pursuer on time and threw herself on the line to take third in 3:25.48, 2 hundredths of a second off Cuba and only 7 clear of the Germans.
As it turned out, Germany would advance as the last qualifiers by time. Nigeria also advanced from heat 2 in 3:24.10.
With the top four nations from the Athens 2004 Games all qualified for what will be the second to last track event of these Games, it will be a very interesting rematch. Four years ago, the US had prevailed over Russia and Jamaica with Great Britain in fourth.
Another 24 hours and we’ll know if history will repeat itself.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF