LaShawn Merritt anchors the US to victory in the men's 4x400m at the IAAF/BTC World Relays Bahamas 2017 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview London, UK

Preview: men's 4x400m – IAAF World Championships London 2017

This year’s men’s 4x400m final at the IAAF/BTC World Relays Bahamas 2017 event produced a stirring battle in the final straight between the United States and Botswana – and barring accident or injury it is hard to see there being any other scenario in London.

Former world and Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, now 31, had to use every bit of his experience over the final 50 metres to hold off the exuberant challenge of the 18-year-old Botswana anchor leg runner Karabo Sibanda, eventually completing a successful defence of the title for the United States as he crossed in 3:02.13, with Botswana second in 3:02.28 and Jamaica third in 3:02.86.

Since that Caribbean relay spectacle in April, however, it is Botswana’s one-lap runners who have caught the eye.

On 14 July in Madrid, the 30-year-old Isaac Makwala became the first man to run a sub-20-second 200m and sub-44-second 400m on the same day, clocking 19.77 and 43.92 respectively. A week later he ran South Africa’s world and Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk all the way to the line at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco, clocking 43.84.

In Makwala and 20-year-old Baboloki Thebe, who ran a personal best of 44.02 at last month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne, Botswana has two of the top four 400m runners in this season’s world list.

Sibanda, who turned 19 on 2 July, ran 44.25 last year and has a best of 45.05 this season. Botswana can also call upon 2012 Olympic 800m silver medallist Nijel Amos, still only 23, who has recovered from injury to show resurgent form in the last month.

Amos, who has a 400m personal best of 45.56, is second on this year's 800m world list thanks to his 1:43.18 timing at last month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in London.

For now, that US performance in The Bahamas, while being the best recorded by a national squad this season, is only good enough for eighth place behind a welter of US collegiate combos headed by Texas A&M, who can claim five of the best six performances, topping the list with the 2:59.95 they recorded in the semi-finals before going on the win the NCAA title on 9 June.

The Texas A&M star performer and US Trials winner, 22-year-old Fred Kerley, is second on this year’s list behind Van Niekerk thanks to his May clocking of 43.70, and is a huge new addition to a US team that can still call upon all the talents who took gold at the 2015 World Championships and last year’s Olympics, including Gil Roberts, currently fifth in the 2017 list with 44.22, Bryshom Nellum, who has run 44.50 this year, and Tony McQuay.

But one thing seems certain: if Merritt is charged again with 'bringing it home', the task will be tougher than ever before.

For Jamaica and The Bahamas, who took respective Olympic silver and bronze behind the US last summer, circumstances have proved challenging. Jamaica have missed their national champion, Javon Francis, since he succumbed to a hamstring injury at the IAAF World Relays.

The Bahamas have the shining light of their 21-year-old, 6ft 5in national record-holder Steven Gardiner, who has run 44.26 this year, but of the quartet that famously beat the US to gold at the London 2012 Games, only Ramon Miller, now 30, and Michael Mathieu, 33, remain.

It never does to rule Trinidad and Tobago out of the reckoning. They have three of the quartet who earned world silver two years ago – Renny Quow, Lalonde Gordon and 21-year-old 2014 world U20 champion Machel Cedenio, who missed an Olympic medal by one place after running 44.01 in Rio. They also have something to prove having been disqualified in their Olympic heat after Gordon had stepped out of his lane.

Britain and Belgium, who once again boast the brothers Borlee – Dylan, Jonathan and Kevin, who leads the 2017 European list with 44.79 – are also medal contenders given their traditional work ethic and habit of becoming greater than the sum of their parts.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF