11th August 2012

Relay Frustrating


11 August 2012 – Craig Pickering on last night’s Olympic Stadium action:

Well what a night! Another night without any more medals for Team GB. A night where suddenly everyone become an expert at the relay (on twitter and Facebook at least). And the second consecutive night that produced a World Record.

I guess the best place to start is the men’s 4x100m relay, as it will probably be the talking point of everyone for the next 24 hours. In case you missed the race, and don’t have access to the internet, twitter, newspapers, news channels, or Facebook, Team GB were disqualified for an exchange that occurred outside of the box on the third changeover. As I said in this blog yesterday, doing the relay can be hard. It no doubt wasn’t hard for you when you were a kid on sports day, but that’s because you were running a lot slower, and it didn’t matter where you changed the baton in the changeover box. Running at the Olympics is completely different.

First of all, the guys will have been running at speeds approaching 12m/s. That’s very quick. Secondly, Team GB knows that they can’t afford to have safe changeovers, as they don’t posses the basic flat speed. To overcome this, they have to extend the changeovers, so that they occur about three-quarters of the way through the changeover box. This leaves very little room for error. Thirdly, if you have newcomers to the team, running in their first major senior championships in front of 80000 people, adrenaline will be very high. They will be anxious to give a good performance. They will be eager to get away on time. And when all these factors come together, the chances of a mistake happening are multiplied.

Factor in that it takes humans roughly 0.1 of a second to react to a problem, and you can see that, when things go slightly wrong, they can be catastrophic. And that is what happened tonight. The team knows what went wrong, and the individuals know what went wrong too. The individuals involved will learn from this, and come back stronger. They will not make the same mistake again.

I’ll use myself as the example. Four years ago, I was in Adam Gemili’s shoes. I was young (although not as young as him), and I had run the last leg once before. The second time in my life I had to run last leg was in the Olympic semi-final. I was pooing my pants. I had Asafa Powell just outside of me, which further added to my nerves.  I knew I needed a good run, as I didn’t want to get embarrassed. I knew I needed to get off to a good start. As it happens, I got off to a great start. It’s just a shame I left about two meters too early, and subsequently we were disqualified. I was lucky, as my team-mates were very professional and understanding about it, as they will be in Danny and Adam’s case.

Yes they will be disappointed, but they understand that you were only trying your best. Since then, in every relay I have run, I have not left early. I am incredibly consistent at leaving on the check mark, as I have forced myself to be. What’s more, every time I am on the track in the relay now, I am trying to make up for Beijing. Adam and Danny will always be trying to make up for London, which is why their future performances will be exceptional. They will bounce back from this because they are superb athletes. We all need to get behind them to enable them to achieve this.

The USA women’s 4x100m team illustrates my points about changeovers perfectly. They didn’t have stretched changeovers, because they didn’t need to. They knew they had the best basic speed out there, and with decent changeovers they destroyed GDR’s existing World Record by half a second. It really was an amazing performance. What is also impressive is how close Jamaica got to the old WR, and were so soundly beaten by the US.

Team GB had a few athletes in finals tonight. The highest place finish came from the 4x400m team, who finished in an agonizing 4th place.  It must be doubly hard for Martyn Rooney, who came 4th in the 4×4 at the last Olympics, and Dai Greene, who came 4th in the 400mH at this Olympics. I can’t agree with Dai’s quote of “4th is the worst place to come” though. Having come last a lot of times in my career, I assure you I would rather come 4th every time.

Next best-placed Brit was Steve Lewis, who came 5th in the Pole Vault final with a leap 5.75m. Steve followed this up with three decent attempts at 5.85m. I was sharing an apartment with Steve at the last Olympics when he no heighted in qualifying, so its great to see him do well. Jo Pavey and Julia Bleasdale had a great 5000m final, finishing 7th and 8th respectively. This is even more impressive when you consider they were the first non-African finishers.

In the 1500m, Lisa Dobriskey finished 10th and Laura Weightman finished in 11th. They were unfortunate that the initial pace was very slow, which didn’t help their race plans. Both should be proud of how they have acquitted themselves at this Olympics. Finally, our other finalist of the night, Sophie Hitchon, finished in 12th place with a throw of 69.33m in the hammer. In the other non-final of the night, Team GB’s female 4x400m team qualified for the final in a time of 3.25.05, which was enough for third in their semi-final.