For several years, it was the United States that crumbled under the extreme pressure that comes with the men’s sprint relay, but this time, in the 4x100m heats on Saturday night (22), it was their arch rivals Jamaica.
For so long a model of consistency when it came to changeovers, perhaps such an error had been a long time coming, but it arrived in the first of three heats.
Jevaughn Minzie, their third-leg runner, took off early – too early – as Kemar Bailey-Cole charged down the back straight. Perhaps it was the difference in height, perhaps it was the fact that Bailey-Cole was put at full stretch, but when he tried to place the baton into Minzie’s hand, it missed and crashed to the track, their hopes of reclaiming their World Relays title from the US falling with it.
"It was just a misunderstanding," said Everton Clarke, their lead-off runner. "It happens in relays."
As a result of the mishap, the Netherlands powered to victory in the heat in 38.71, a couple of metres clear of China (38.97), who also advanced automatically, and Australia (39.09) who reached the final as a non-automatic qualifier. "In the final, anything can happen," said Churandy Martina of the Netherlands shortly afterwards.
The second heat saw no such mishaps, with the first three legs teeing the race up perfectly for a sprint heavyweight clash down the home straight between Justin Gatlin of the US and Andre De Grasse of Canada. Just inches separated them across the line at the Olympics, and that was the case again here, with Gatlin taking the baton half a metre up then tussling with De Grasse for the entire home straight.
In the end, youth beat experience, with De Grasse even throwing a casual glance to Gatlin as he pushed past before the line, the Canadians taking the win by 0.01 in 38.21. France, third in 39.10, advanced to the final on time.
"I feel like we're ready and we can win this today," said De Grasse. "I didn't want to push it too much. I wanted to save some energy for the finals."
The third heat proved a one-team race, with Great Britain and Northern Ireland powering away from the outset – Adam Gemilli’s third leg doing particular damage – before Danny Talbot brought them home in 38.32 ahead of Barbados (39.26).
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF