With just three days to go until the IAAF/BTC World Relays Bahamas 2017, IAAF President Sebastian Coe visited the host venue in Nassau on Wednesday (19) and set the scene for what should be another captivating weekend of athletics.
“When I was here in 2015, one thing that really astounded me was the quality of knowledge of the fans,” he said. “The musical influence of the junkanoo [a Bahamian festival] adds something special to the meeting and when it came to what they were watching, the passion and knowledge of the fans was outstanding.”
The two-day event will see 35 teams and more than 500 athletes take to the track in the Thomas Robinson Stadium and is set to be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube in more than 100 countries.
In Nassau today, Coe paid tribute to the hosts’ relay culture along with highlighting how important he believes the events are for the growth of the sport internationally.
“Most young people here seem to be born with a relay baton in their hand and it stays there for the majority of their athletics career,” he said. “I can’t wish for more gracious hosts or a more spectacular setting. We expect this year to have greater coverage than ever before. Head to heads are what bring people into our stadiums, and there are some of the greatest relay teams on the planet about to compete.
“We looked at relays a few years ago as something that takes place at the end of the World Championships and perhaps didn’t quite afford them quite the respect they deserve, but eventually the people who love athletics have spoken. There are some exceptional battles ahead this weekend.”
Coe also reflected on relay experiences during his own competitive career, which spanned from schoolboy races to international outings at senior level.
“As a middle distance runner it might surprise you that I have a small toe-hole in the history of relay running,” he said. “This probably tells you about the paucity of 400m running in the United Kingdom at the time that I did actually anchor the 4x400m team a couple of times at championship level.”
Coe was also part of the British quartet that broke the 4x800m world record at Crystal Palace in 1982, his anchor leg of 1:44.01 bringing the team home in 7:03.81.
“I would also do the occasional relay outing for my club or during my university years. I saw relays at that stage of my career as an enjoyable postscript to the 800m or 1500m but I was unaware, of course, of the work going on behind the scenes around strategy and tactics by the coaches. There’s something we can all learn from relays – making sure you have everybody at their best as part of a team.”
A new innovation at this year’s event will be the mixed 4x400m, which Coe believes will prove a worthy addition to the programme.
“We have to be a sport that innovates, that moves with the times,” he said. “This is probably the highest level that we’ve showcased the mixed relay and it’ll be a great opportunity to test reaction, to see what athletes and spectators think about it.
“It’s not jettisoning our philosophy or history, but it’s recognising that we need to captivate young people and that’s why this event will be a welcome addition.”
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF