Statisticians A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava look back on the best relay performances of the year.
One of the most amazing global championship winning streaks in our sport is that of Jamaica in the 4x100m.
From the 2008 Olympics Games onwards they managed to win all six finals – in itself remarkable due to the hazardous nature of the event – by margins of between 0.30 and 1.28.
In the process, the Caribbean nation has produced the six fastest times ever in the event, ranging from 36.84 to 37.36, the latter mark being clocked to win at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
Of course, Usain Bolt has been of great importance to the Jamaicans and been part of all the winning teams over the past seven years but one man alone can’t achieve success in relays.
However, he again anchored Jamaica to success in the Chinese capital where the hazardous nature of the event was clearly illustrated in the final when neither of the two other main medal candidates, USA and Great Britain, managed to complete the race legitimately and the silver, much to the delight of the crowd, went to host nation China.
The demise of the USA, thanks to a botched last exchange, was especially hurtful as they had their ‘Dream Team’ in action. The USA fielded numbers two, three, five and six from the individual 100m final versus numbers one and seven for Jamaica.
Furthermore, at the IAAF World Relays in Nassau in May the USA team had set a national record of 37.38 which clearly defeated a Bolt-anchored Jamaica.
Three-quarters of both of those teams also ran in Beijing, so Nassau should have been a confidence booster for the USA, but to no avail as it turned out.
The three-minute barrier was first surpassed in 1966 by the USA but although almost half a century has passed, sub-3:00 times have never become commonplace.
However, just as 2015 was a year for the history books in the individual 400m, that also manifested itself in the 4x400m.
For the first time ever, a team ran faster than three minutes in a heat but failed to advance to the final as Botswana’s 2:59.95 for fifth place in the second heat in Beijing’s was not sufficient to progress. (Just two years ago in Moscow an almost identical time – 2:59.88 – gave Jamaica the silver medal.)
Luckless Botswana were one of a record 10 nations to run faster than three minutes in 2015 with the final itself being won by the USA in a world-leading 2:57.82, partly thanks to an outstanding 44.18 last leg from LaShawn Merritt to defeat an inspired Trinidad and Tobago quartet.
The IAAF World Relays, now in its second year, has created greater interest in the event by providing one more attractive competitive opportunity and the top five in Beijing all finished in the top seven in Nassau three months earlier.
The correlation would have been even greater had World Relays silver medalist and host nation The Bahamas not been disqualified for a lane infraction in the Beijing heats.
Other men’s relay events
Except for the championship events of the 4x100m and 4x400m, arena relay activity is still limited outside of the US collegiate scene.
However, the introduction of the IAAF World Relays has changed the situation somewhat by offering a competition completely focusing on relays with 4x200m, 4x800m and – for the first time in 2015 – the distance medley relay added to the two standard events.
In the Nassau 4x200m, major problems in the last exchange for both the USA and Jamaica unfortunately dashed all hopes for fast times. But the latter prevailed to win in a world-leading 1:20.19.
In the two longer events, the expected scenario was that Kenya and the USA would push each other, which they did at least some of the way.
Perhaps surprisingly, both races turned out to be fairly clear wins for the USA with the individual ability to judge the pace being the crucial factor.
The distance medley was run for the first time ever internationally and the winning USA team of Kyle Merber (1200m), Brycen Spratling (400m), Brendan Johnson (800m) and Ben Blankenship (1600m) recorded 9:15.50, the fastest time ever and which was later was ratified as the inaugural world record.
Jamaica notched up an early season morale-boosting win at the IAAF World Relays, winning in 42.14 with the USA in second place in 42.32.
However, these weren’t the fastest times of the season prior to Beijing.
Two US teams recorded quicker times at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco in July, with the winning quartet clocking 41.96 and the second team 42.27.
In Beijing, Jamaica was narrowly the fastest in the heats, winning their race in 41.84 and USA wasn’t far behind with their 42.00 performance in the other heat.
The final though belonged to Jamaica for the second World Championships in a row. The USA was not even close.
Jamaica, anchored by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce again, successfully defended their world title clocking a superb world-leading time of 41.07 and the USA was second, as in 2013, in 41.68.
Trinidad and Tobago won their first medal in this event in third with a 42.03 national record.
Great Britain was a close fourth in a 42.10 national record but the Netherlands, one of the medal favourites after their 42.32 national record in the heats, was unfortunately disqualified.
The 4x400m season started as usual with USA getting another win at the IAAF World Relays in a world-leading 3:19.39.
The USA has historically controlled this event, having won the past five Olympic titles from 1996 to 2012 and four recent world titles in 2003 and 2007-2011. (Russia got a rare win in front of their home crowd in Moscow in 2013 and in Helsinki in 2005.)
At the IAAF World Relays, Russia finished in second place in 3:20.23 and Jamaica third in 3:20.95. However, in the Beijing final, Russia was never in the picture, while Jamaica fought hard and won their first world title in 14 years, their only previous gold medal coming in 2001.
Allyson Felix passed the baton at the final exchange with the USA in a narrow lead, but Jamaican anchor Novlene Williams-Mills, a four-time World Championships silver medallist in this event, timed her leg perfectly and passed the USA's fading last leg runner Francena McCorory some 20 metres from the finish.
The winning time of 3:19.13 was the best in the world this year and the second fastest ever for a Jamaican quartet.
Behind the first two, Great Britain won their second successive bronze in this event, this time clocking 3:23.62.
Other women’s relay events
A delighted and delightful Nigerian quartet was the fastest in 4x200m at the IAAF World Relays, winning in a national record of 1:30.52 with Jamaica finishing second in 1:31.73.
USA came out on top in the 4x800m relay in Nassau in a national record of 8:00.62, finishing almost 11 seconds ahead of second-placed Poland, while the USA were also the winners in the distance medley at the IAAF World Relays in 10:36.50, with Kenya taking the second spot with 10:43.35.
A Lennart Julin (men’s events) and Mirko Jalava (women’s events) for the IAAF