Wed | Jun 19, 2019

Hubert Lawrence | Bring back the 4x800m relay

Published:Thursday | May 23, 2019 | 12:22 AM
Jamaica’s Amoi Brown (front) in action in the mixed shuttle hurdles relay at the IAAF World Relays in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday, May 11.

I tried to watch the new 2x2x400m relay with an open mind when it debuted at the recent IAAF World Relays. Like every sport, track and field needs to move with the times. So I really tried.

However, the 2x2x400m goes against the grain. After all, relays have always had four persons on a team. This new construct bucks conventional wisdom with two athletes on each team running two legs apiece.

The 4x400m is a test of what coaches call speed endurance, but the new relay adds a new twist by testing the athlete’s ability to recover from a hard effort. Intriguingly, the winning USA team was comprised of two 800m runners.

For me, it’s going to take sometime to get used to it. Despite assurances that big championships will always have the traditional races, throws and jumps, I’ve resigned myself to the eventual demise of single-gender relays. It’s not hard to see television demanding this change as efforts continue to make the sport fit into a smaller space.

Television demands

Over the years, the sport has whittled away at the false start rule, sprint and middle-distance quarter-finals and the time for attempts in field events. The legendary 1952 Helsinki quartet of Arthur Wint, Les Laing, Herb McKenley and George Rhoden might find the mixed 4x400m strange, but television demands for time almost guarantee that the change will happen sometime in the future.

That’s one thing. However, not only does the 2x2x400m cut the traditional relay team in half but it also replaced the 4x800m. Previous editions of the Relays had something for everyone. Now, instead of the varied range of distances, everything is short and fast.

The 4x1500m relay is gone. The distance medley relay (DMR) is gone and the 4x800m, the shortest of middle-distance baton races, is also gone.

At the very least, it would be great to have the 4x800m back on the World Relays programme. I’d add the DMR as well, but only because the 1200m - 400m - 800m- 1600m format always seems to deliver enticing competition and because the 4x1500m can confuse new fans with each leg starting at a different place.

With the 4x800m and DMR in, the Relays would show more of the variety the sport’s running events have to offer. Without them, the Yokohama meet was still entertaining but lacked diversity.

The other new event, the shuttle hurdles relay, should stay. Though injury and false starts left the final with just two teams, it was an attention grabber. To be honest, I was beginning to see a Jamaican team led by Olympic and World Champion Omar McLeod and 2015 World Champion Danielle Williams racing the best the rest of the world can offer.

It’s a prospect so tasty that the organisers of the Jamaica Invitational or the Racers Grand Prix perhaps should put it on their programmes for 2020. For all I know, this Jamaica versus the World shuttle hurdles could be a two-race series starting at the Jamaica International Invitational Meet and ending at the Grand Prix.

Overall, the World Relays was a hit in The Bahamas in 2014, 2015 and 2017, and it seemed to be on target in Yokohama. If the organisers keep the shuttle hurdles and bring back the 4x800m, the World Relays will be only one event away from perfection.

Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.