The US 4x100m relay team drop the baton at the first exchange (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Dunaway’s ‘Helsinki Herald’, Day 6

Helsinki, FinlandOoooooh, what a little sunshine can do-oo-ooh!

After four straight days of rain, wind and cold temperatures, the sun came out today in Helsinki.

What a difference! There was no water on the track, no athletes wishing they were someplace warmer, no short-circuiting electronic equipment - and after two postponements, Yelena Isinbayeva finally got to win the Pole vault (by 41 cm!) and of course turn her $60,000 first prize money into $160,000 by winning $100,000 bonus offered by sponsor Toyota for woman who breaks a World record at the Championships.

For the Championships, Yelena’s World record was like the cherry on a banana split, or the star at the top of the Christmas tree.

And as far as the weather for those of us in the seats was concerned, it was a real pleasure to be taking off layers of clothing (by now we come prepared) instead of putting more layers on.

I Guess You Could Say I Was Expecting the Worst

NOTE: The five paragraphs below were written early this afternoon, several hours before the heat of the men’s 4x100-metres relay were run and the U.S. men’s team dropped the baton at the first exchange.

When somebody told me that, after winning the men's 200-meters gold medal to go with his 100 gold, Justin Gatlin had predicted that the United States men's 4x100 relay "would set a world record," I wondered out loud if the U.S team leaders have learned anything about the art and science of the 4x100.

Seriously, if there's once area where the U.S. has failed to fulfill its athletics potential at the World Championships and Olympic Games, it's the 4x100.

Sure, the eight fastest men’s 4x100 marks have all been set by American teams, but in an event when the United States SHOULD win almost every World and Olympic race, the U.S. percentage of failure is woefully high.

In fact, you might call it a Grand American Tradition. It began in the very first major international 4x100 ever contested -- the 1912 Olympic Games – when the American team was disqualified. Since then, it has happened twice more in the Olympics (1960, 1988) and twice in the Worlds (1995, 1997). There have been plenty of other foul-ups of lesser magnitude, too –- mostly because of poor baton passes.

Moral: you don't set a World record by consciously trying to set a World record. You set a world record by concentrating on WINNING - by making the three baton exchanges as fast and smooth as possible.

Clyde Makes It Easy for Jeremy

Down in Waco, Texas, Baylor University coach Clyde Hart has got the 400 meters pretty well figured out. Since 1990, he seven of the men he has trained have run under 45 seconds –- starting with Michael Johnson and most recently with Jeremy Wariner and Darrold Williamson.

This evening, when Wariner won the men’s 400, he joined Johnson as one of the eight who have run in the 43s (one should note that the U.S. head men’s coach here, John Smith has had three).

After Wariner won the race, he told reporters that he went into the race knowing exactly what to do, so all he had to do was do it. “We were aiming for under 44 seconds. Coach wanted me to run 20.9 for the first 200 meters, and I did. I didn’t look at any of the other runners, or think about them. I just ran my own race.”

Coach does the thinking, and Jeremy does the running. It worked for Michael Johnson, and it works for Jeremy.

What could be simpler?

What I’ve Been Waiting For

Last year in Athens, U.S. long jumper Dwight Phillips started off his series with an 8.60 jump, and I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be one of the greatest Long Jump series in history.’  But it turned out Phillips had injured his shoulder during the jump, and so he had to be content with winning the Olympic gold medal.

This year, Phillips strained a hamstring in April, and didn’t train at all until the U.S. championships in late June, where he finished second, his first loss in two years. Since then, he has been training hard, and competing, and has won every time he’s jumped.

Today, he had a qualifying jump (wind-aided) of 8.59m. He says he is here to break the world record (8.95, set at the 1991 Worlds in Tokyo by Mike Powell). I think it would take almost perfect conditions for him to break the record – and perfect conditions have been scarce here this week – but unless the weather is awful, I expect something pretty special from Phillips.

I only make one prediction per meet – and this is it.

James Dunaway for the IAAF