With 36 different countries entering men’s teams in at least one of the five relays at the inaugural IAAF World Relays, picking potential highlights is close to impossible.
World champions are present from the shortest race – Yohan Blake highlights the Jamaican 4x100m squad, current world record-holders – to the longest, with Asbel Kiprop just one of the top-tier milers on Kenya’s 4x1500m quartet.
Before looking at the front of the races, though, it’s worthwhile to notice some of the others. Bermuda’s 4x800m squad, for example, is a novelty not often seen by a global audience; likewise Mexico’s.
In addition to their stellar middle-distance runners, Kenya has a 4x200m quartet entered; in fact, of the five races, Kenya has entered men in all but the 4x100m. Ukraine has managed to put up a 4x100m squad. And Papua New Guinea is entered in the 4x200m as well.
With only the 4x100m and 4x400m contested at global championships, three of the five races are likely to see a forest of national records chopped down as rarely-run events see competition of a sort not seen before.
The depth of entries in the championship distances is no doubt due to the offer of automatic qualification to the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing for the first eight teams across the line; most countries with only one or two teams entered have chosen those races, although Ethiopia is one exception.
Calling Jamaica the heavy favourites in the short relay is something of an understatement. The team in gold and green own the past three world titles, the past two Olympic titles, and the world record (36.84).
For the first time, Jamaica will build its squad around 2011 world champion Yohan Blake, but their depth is such that any of their legs – Oshane Bailey, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Nesta Carter, Andrew Fisher and Michael Frater round out the pool – could be at least global semi-finalists.
Before Jamaica was the unstoppable 4x100m juggernaut, that role went to the USA, and they remain a contender, waiting for the Jamaicans to show a weakness. Mike Rodgers and Trell Kimmons highlight the US squad here, with Calesio Newman, Charles Silmon, Marvin Bracy and Rakieem Salaam rounding out the pool.
Not to be ignored, however, Great Britain’s men are looking to reverse run of bad luck. After a phenomenal race was met with disqualification in Moscow, the British will head to Nassau with much the same squad, particularly Dwain Chambers and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, but with the addition of world indoor champion Richard Kilty. Andrew Robertson, Daniel Talbot, and James Ellington are the rest of the pool.
This is one of the deepest races of the weekend, and there are likely to be competitive squads on hand from Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, France – including Christophe Lemaitre and Jimmy Vicaut – Canada, and hosts The Bahamas, just to name a few.
The world best in this seldom-run event is a 1:18.68 by the Santa Monica Track Club at the 1994 Mt SAC Relays. Twenty years later, it’s probably going to see its most serious challenge since 2003, which was the last time any team ran faster than 1:20.
Jamaica, again, are heavy favourites here, with world silver medallist Warren Weir and Nickel Ashmeade carrying the flag and Jason Livermore, Jermaine Brown, Julian Forte and Rasheed Dwyer filling the pool.
The USA – this time led by Wallace Spearmon and Walter Dix with Ameer Webb, Isaiah Young, Curtis Mitchell and Maurice Mitchell (no relation) rounding out the pool – are likely to be Jamaica’s biggest threat.
A world record would require the four runners to average 19.67, but only one of them has to do it from a standing start. Dix and Spearmon have run that kind of time, and Weir has approached it, but if the transitions go seamlessly, the running start should be more than enough to put their teammates in reach of the record. And if both Jamaica and the USA see the record as a possibility, it may be a necessity to earn the victory.
Also in the hunt are strong teams from Nigeria, France (again with Lemaitre, one of the best 200m runners in the meeting), hosts Bahamas, and some other Caribbean nations including St Kitts and Nevis and the Virgin Islands.
The 4x400m is the traditional closing event for many meetings worldwide, and for good reason. The distance is long enough to be uncomfortable for pure sprinters and draw in some middle-distance runners, short enough to demand total effort above tactics, and tremendously dramatic, even among other relays.
As with the women, the US men have used their depth to dominate in recent memory, but potential challenges come from all sides, not least from the Olympic champion Bahamian team.
LaShawn Merritt and Tony McQuay will highlight the US squad in Nassau, but there’s another champion in the pool: Christian Taylor, the 2011 world triple jump champion. Taylor ran the relay for the University of Florida and claims a 45.17 PB, set last month. Clayton Parros, David Verburg and Torrin Lawrence round out the pool.
The Bahamians, led by world indoor silver medallist Chris Brown, have their entire Olympic relay team entered, including Demetrius Pinder, Michael Mathieu and Ramon Miller. LaToy Williams and Wesley Nemour fill out the pool. The hosts will need to leave their gold medals at home if they’re not to be slowed down in their rematch with the USA, however.
Jamaica has the power to be in the final here as well, but there are several strong European teams likely to mount a challenge. Belgium, in particular, brings three Borlee brothers to the race (Kevin, Jonathan and Dylan), and the French are not to be ignored.
Two more formidable teams will come from the Caribbean; Cuba brings William Collazo, and the Dominicans will have Olympic silver medallist Luguelin Santos. If they all run the anchor legs – which is far from a certainty – the final could have all the single-lap credentials of a Diamond League race.
In the middle-distance races, Kenya is always the first name to be mentioned, and here they hold the world record, a 7:02.43 from 2006. They’ll be represented in Nassau by Alfred Kipketer, Ferguson Cheruiyot, Job Kinyor, James Magut, Nicholas Kipkoech, and Sammy Kirongo.
But the next-best time in history is barely half a second behind, a 7:02.82 from the US team in the same race, and two US quartets were under the old world indoor record in February. Four members of the US pool here come from those two teams – David Torrence, Duane Solomon, Michael Rutt and Robby Andrews – with Brandon Johnson and Mark Wieczorek rounding out the pool.
Outdoors can be a different story than indoors, though, and there are certainly more than two teams in this race. Uganda could mount a challenge, and Poland brings both their aces, Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski, to the fray, although they’re also entered in the 4x1500m and will be making this their second race.
The real middle-distance battle will be joined in the longest relay, with three world powers bringing ‘A’ teams to the table.
Kenya again has an edge with world champion Asbel Kiprop, but this is the only relay Ethiopia is contesting, and they also send a top-grade squad. The spoilers may be Bahrain behind 2009 world champion Yusuf Saad Kamel.
Kenya’s stated goal of a world record at this distance come down to race tactics. The mark already belongs to them at 14:36.23, an average of 3:39 per leg when, as Kiprop has pointed out, everyone on the Kenyan team has run 3:32 or faster. Kiprop will be joined by Collins Cheboi, James Mugut (who would be coming back from the 4x800m the day before, if he runs), Nixon Chepseba, and Silas Kiplagat.
Ethiopia brings Aman Wote, Chalachew Shimels, Mekonnen Gebremedhin, Soresa Fida and Zebene Alemayehu. Both Wote and Gebremedhin have sub-3:32 PBs and world indoor medals.
Bahrain’s team is heavily decorated with both Kamel and Rashid Ramzi on the squad, but most of those medals have a slightly older vintage than those of Kenya and Ethiopia.
The teams from the USA (featuring Olympic silver medallist Leonel Manzano) and Australia (featuring Ryan Gregson, another sub-3:32 ace) have outside shots. Poland, with Kczszot and Lewandowski doubling back, may be a contender, as might Qatar with Mohamad Al-Garni as their ace.
Parker Morse for the IAAF