The 2013-2016 IAAF Strategic Plan has six Core Values: universality, leadership, unity, excellence, integrity and solidarity, and a Vision Statement: “To lead, govern and develop the sport of athletics in all its forms worldwide, uniting the Athletics Family in a spirit of excellence, integrity and solidarity.”
When it comes to women’s sprinting, the USA has greater strength in depth than any other nation in the world with Americans making up more than a third of the current world’s top 100 sprinters over 100m. But they haven’t won the Olympic 4x100m title since 1996.
In Beijing four years ago they did not make the final after failing to finish in their heat. Another baton fumble saw them DNF at the Athens Olympics in 2004, while they were beaten fair and square at the Sydney Games four years before that.
They head to London as the world-leading team with their 42.19 clocking, but the baton exchanges are still a concern. At the Monaco Diamond League their 'A’ team failed to finish, but the good news is that their 'B’ team was more than good enough to win that particular race.
In London, though, their team cannot afford to make any mistakes if they are to hold off the might of Jamaica. On paper, Jamaica’s top four sprinters this year are collectively stronger than the four fastest members of the US relay squad.
But Jamaica fielded an all-strength team at last year’s World Championships – comprising Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Olympic silver medallists Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson, and two-time Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown – and despite setting a national record of 41.70, it wasn’t enough to defeat the USA.
In winning the world title last year with 41.56, the USA produced the fastest time in the world for 15 years. Three of the four members of that team – Carmelita Jeter, Allyson Felix and Bianca Knight – are included in this year’s squad, along with the likes of Tianna Madison and Jeneba Tarmoh.
Should either of these teams falter – as they both did at the last Olympics – the top European teams will be ready to pounce. Very little separates European champions Germany, World bronze medallists Ukraine and defending Olympic champions Russia. At their best, all three teams are capable of producing a low-42 clocking.
Trinidad & Tobago are also dangerous, but will need to ensure slicker baton exchanges than witnessed at last year’s World Championships, where they originally finished fourth but were later disqualified.
Nigeria won bronze in Beijing four years ago and could well replicate that in London, giving the improved form of long jumper-turned-sprinter Blessing Okagbare.
Belgium were surprise silver medallists in Beijing, but four years on they have failed to make it into the top 16 teams and will not participate. Neither will host nation Great Britain after their costly DNF at the European Championships.
Meanwhile, other teams to keep an eye on include European silver medallists Netherlands, 2008 Olympic fourth-placers Brazil, and 2011 World Championship finalists France.