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PROTRACK » GENERAL » British Press exasperated with another failure by its 4x100m Relay team

British Press exasperated with another failure by its 4x100m Relay team

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Why do Great Britain’s men always mess up relay changeovers?

By Reda Maher
Eurosport World of Sport
Sun, Aug 18, 2013

For the sixth time in seven major championships, Great Britain’s 4x100m relay team missed out on a men’s medal because of their failure to properly hand over the baton.

The quartet of Adam Gemili, Dwain Chambers, Harry Aikines-Ayreetey and James Ellington celebrated wildly after Chambers brilliantly powered them home to third place in the anchor leg.

They paraded with flags, completed laps of honour and gave delighted interviews to the BBC – with Ellington saying "we've got the changeovers down to a tee now. I'm over the moon".

How embarrassing, then, that an error involving Ellington would see GB stripped of third place, while BBC commentator Steve Cram’s eagle-eyed spot highlighted the blunder.

Ellington, only in the quartet because Britain’s fastest man James DaSaolu was suffering from a hip injury, went off too early as Harry AA approached the yellow zone, which is the permitted area for baton handovers.

By his own admission, Ellington had gone too soon, while Harry AA arguably could have done better with the baton. Ellington slowed to allow his team-mate to make the change. They thought they had got it right, but the replay showed they had not. The still image above shows the exact point when the baton was passed. Look at Ellington (left) and where his feet are as Harry AA lands the baton.

What a shame, particularly for Gemili and Chambers, with the latter surely at the end of a career which has mostly been about redemption and penance following a doping ban.

Gemili, 19, was at fault for GB’s relay failure at the London Olympics, unable to fully stretch out his heavily-strapped shoulder for his changeover. But he had only been sprinting for six months, having switched from football, and this time out he showed great maturity in his run. He will also surely win medals soon enough, as he is comfortably the best teenager in the world right now.

Ellington, meanwhile, is an experienced track athlete and so has no excuses – and neither do GB.

The problem with the relay is that it is a team race in the most individual of individual sports. A top sprinter has tunnel vision, focussed determination and little or no interest in anyone but him or herself.

It is a sport for the self-obsessed, the egoist – you can see that type-A personality quite clearly as sprinters strut, pose and puff their chests before races, attempting to psyche each other out and show the crowd who the alpha-dog is.

That personality type does not fit terribly well with the team dynamic needed to put in the hard yards on the track for a successful relay team. Nor does it sit alongside the element of tactical aptitude required for a relay – timing is key, and ensuring you are aware of the position of both yourself and your team-mates is vital.

Obviously speed is hugely important, but it is usually the faster nations who have issues with changeovers.

Indeed, the United States were hugely fortunate not to be stripped of silver after pantomime villain Justin Gatlin ran out of his lane during their race. The IAAF is yet to explain why they kept their medal.

UK Athletics performance director and acting head coach Neil Black also failed to explain why his team were unable to complete the basics.

"It's pretty gutting and I'm sure we all feel the same but that's the sport," Black said.

No it’s not. The sport, in terms of relay running, is to train your top six to eight sprinters to work as a team, whoever is in the quartet. And if some of your quicker runners are baton-unfriendly, turn to others. British sprinting does have the depth required to medal with key men missing – DaSaolu’s absence had little effect on their season-best time of 37.80s.

It’s a cliché of clichés, but the Germans – who are not nearly as fast as Britain – manage it just fine. They came fourth in the end, and in my view should have bronze, as Gatlin’s US should also have been DQ’d.

To his credit, Ellington took full responsibility for the error. He is a strong character, and will recover, although he is not one of Britain's top-four sprinters so -unless Chambers retires, or someone else is injured - that could be his last international final.

The frustration is that Britain probably cannot medal right now in the individual short sprints, although Gemili probably will soon. But in the relays it is almost a sure thing – provided they learn to carry the baton.

So just do it. It’s really not that hard.

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