Stop laughing, this is relay serious stuff
By Len Johnson
posted by rtross on March 30, 2012, 6:00pm
A famous 1930s Australian cartoon by Stan Cross depicts a man hanging on for grim life to a girder on a construction site. There has been a mishap, obviously.
Below him, another man is clinging to the first man’s ankles, pulling his pants down in the process, with just a button and a pair of braces saving him from a very long drop to the street below. For some unfathomable reason, the second man is convulsed with laughter.
“For gorsake, stop laughing, this is serious,” the first man is yelling.
With the publication this week of the list of relay teams qualified for the London Olympic Games, Australian relays are in a similar predicament. Only one of the four is within the top 16 teams which will be invited to the Games and that, paradoxically, is the one most likely to drop out of contention.
It makes a delicious irony alongside the fact that relays are one of the targeted areas in the national performance plan. But like the man hanging on laughing to the man hanging on grimly, we’d better stop laughing, because this is serious.
The disappearing Australian track team is a recent phenomenon. We’re doing nicely in pole vault, in long jump, in hurdles (thanks to Sally Pearson and, in recent past, Jana Pittman, in discus throw, javelin and (men’s) shot put. Our road walkers regularly claim medals, our marathoners and middle and long-distance runners have achieved qualifiers but, as yet, remain short on results.
Elsewhere on the track, it’s another matter. At the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, there were no female representatives in the 200, 400 and 800, and just one each in the 100 (Pearson), 1500, 5000 and 10,000 metres. There was no individual male sprinter in 100, 200 or 400 at last year’s world championships.
The antidote – as far as the sprints go, anyway – has been supposed to be the relays. But the IAAF lists reveal just how difficult a matter it will be to get any of our relays qualified for London.
The IAAF sets a qualifying standard for world championships relays. The Olympic qualification system is more cut-throat. Just the top 16 teams are invited in each of the men’s and women’s relays – the top 16 determined by the aggregate of two best times achieved in the qualifying period.
At the moment, Australia is ranked 18th in the men’s 4x100, 17th in the men’s 4x400, 14th in the women’s 4x100 and 19th in the women’s 4x400.
Three of our four teams need to post an improved time to make the top 16; the fourth needs to hold its position. Trouble is, the women’s 4x100 won’t have Pearson to help qualify, and both Bahamas and Belarus have one time faster than Australia’s best – and plenty of time to add another. Three others are close enough to leap-frog Australia.
Surprisingly, the men’s 4x400, our most successful relay in recent years with a silver in Athens 2004, a finalist in Beijing 2008, a bronze medal in Berlin 2009 and a gold medal in Delhi 2010, looks shaky. Hopefully that will change when Ben Offereins, Sean Wroe, John Steffensen and Steve Solomon compete in the Penn Relays in the US in late-April.
One notable feature about the 4x400 is that none of the potential squad members has achieved an individual A-standard. Contrast this with the Berlin world championships, where three Australians ran in the semi-finals of the individual 400. Mind you, Athens 2004 went the opposite way, with just one athlete running the individual 400, so hopefully that will be a better precedent.
The women’s 4x400 would be a chance with both Pittman and Tamsyn Manou available and running well, but its chances of making London appear to have been written off.
The men’s 4x100 is up against it, too, with few chances to run faster than they already have (the London Diamond League meeting, which may feature relays, is outside the 2 July cut-off for relay qualification). Both sprint relays will run in Kawasaki, Japan, in early May.
Complicating matters for all the Australian relays is the fact that there will be a European championships this year. The championships have moved to a two-year cycle and will be staged in Helsinki from 27 June to 1 July, giving the Europeans the last shot at qualifying.
It’s entirely feasible, then, that we could wind up with no Australian relays in London. The best-case outcome remains three, but that entails hanging on to what we’ve got and improving in both the men’s relays.
And, like hanging onto the ankles of someone who is hanging onto a girder by the tips of their fingers, it’s no laughing matter.