Fast pace, high drama and a strong possibility of surprises, the 4x100m is one of the most exciting disciplines in track and field. USA and Germany, the men’s and women’s winners respectively in 2017, will head to the IAAF World Relays Yokohama 2019 to take on the world champions in the event as teams seek to secure their places at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
USA’s World Relays first-place finish in 2017 was about the only position in this event that went to the form book.
World record-holders Jamaica exited in the heats, Great Britain – who would go on to win the world title just a few months later – failed to get the baton around in the final, while Barbados took a surprise runner-up finish behind the USA.
While Jamaica’s 4x100m team was once again struck with bad luck at the World Championships later that year, the rest of the world’s leading sprint relay nations contested for top honours with Great Britain coming out on top, clocking a European record of 37.47 to beat USA by 0.05.
Three of the victorious British quartet – CJ Ujah, Adam Gemili and Nethaneel Mitchel-Blake – have been named on their country’s squad for Yokohama. 2014 world indoor 60m champion Richard Kilty and two-time European 4x100m champion Harry Aikines-Aryeetey add further strength to the team.
Noah Lyles, the 2017 and 2018 IAAF Diamond League 200m champion, is the star name on the US team. He will be joined by two of the men who helped USA to their 2017 World Relays triumph: world 100m champion Justin Gatlin and 2010 world indoor 60m silver medallist Mike Rodgers.
Following their Olympic silver in 2016 and world bronze medal in 2017, hosts Japan will have higher expectations in this event than any other.
Yoshihide Kiryu and Shuhei Tada, two of the men who represented Japan in London, feature on the host nation’s squad alongside Asian Games 200m champion Yuki Koike and Asian Games 100m bronze medallist Ryota Yamagata.
The Jamaican team might not be as strong as it has been for previous editions, but the likes of Julian Forte, Jevaughn Minzie and Tyquendo Tracey have more than enough speed to make them a strong contender.
China finished third in this event at the 2017 World Relays and three of the men from that race will represent them again in Yokohama. Led by world indoor silver medallist Su Bingtian and fellow sub-10-second performer Xie Zhenye, they will be keen to atone for a disappointing performance at the recent Asian Championships where they were disqualified.
With Olympic 200m silver medallist Andre De Grasse back in action, Canada’s 4x100m team will hope to recapture the kind of form that carried them to world bronze in 2015 and Olympic bronze in 2016. They already own the fastest time in the world this year with their 38.34 clocking from the Florida Relays.
Brazil, France, Turkey and South Africa all boast solid depth, while Indonesia’s world U20 champion Lalu Muhammad Zohri and Italian 100m record-holder Filippo Tortu headline their respective national teams.
But with only 10 World Championships places available among the 26 participating teams, there’s still plenty of scope for surprises.
If the 2017 World Relays taught us anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as an odds-on favourite when it comes to the 4x100m. Anything can – and will – happen.
Less than a year prior, USA had won the Olympic title from lane one in 41.01, the second-fastest time in history. Half of that quartet were in Nassau for the World Relays just nine months later, but a fall from Tianna Bartoletta on the first leg ended their hopes of victory.
Jamaica, the reigning world champions at that time, would have been expected to capitalise, but it was Germany who emerged as the winners, clocking 42.84.
Three members of Germany’s victorious 2017 team – Rebekka Haase, Lisa Mayer and Alexandra Burghardt – will be in action in Yokohama, joined by European 100m silver medallist Gina Luckenkemper.
But they will need another near-perfect run if they hope to once again challenge a strong US squad, comprising five women with sub-11-second PBs. World 100m champion Tori Bowie will make her World Relays debut and will team up with the top three finishers from last year’s US Championships: Aleia Hobbs, Ashley Henderson and Jenna Prandini. 2015 NCAA 200m champion Dezerea Bryant completes the team.
European 100m and 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith may be absent from the team, but Britain's 4x100m line-ups have found a new level of consistency in recent years and should still challenge for top honours.
Jamaica’s star athletes Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce have been named on the 4x200m team, but their 4x100m squad of Gayon Evans, Shashalee Forbes, Natasha Morrison, Sherone Simpson and Jonielle Smith have the kind of speed and experience needed to succeed in a relay.
With gold at last month’s Asian Championships and third-place finishes at the 2017 World Relays and 2018 Continental Cup, China’s well-drilled unit has become a regular finalist at recent major events.
Canada, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago can also be expected to feature among the 10 teams that secure places at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF