Beijing Men's 4x400
Sat 05 September 2015
USA were the favorites to win the gold medal in the Mens 4x400 relay finals at the Beijing World Championships. Surprisingly Jamaica was a very close second best team on paper when we sum the season best 400m times of each of the team legs - with Trinidad in third. Great Britain was fourth best on paper - slower than Jamaica by 1.84 seconds.
Sum of Individual Seasons Best Time By Team
However races are not on on paper. Great Britain had two experienced mile relay runners in Delanno Williams and Martyn Rooney while for Jamaica only Javon Francis has been proven in mile relays. Also much of Jamaica's advantage was due to the unexpected 43.93 national record by Rusheen McDonald, a run that it's fair to say was unrepeatable in the short term. There was a bit of pre-race fortune, or mis-fortune from the persepective of Belgium, who had to replace Dylan Borlee with Antoine Gillet - a modest athlete with a 2015 season best of 46.25.
Here is a box plot of the season best times of each team heading into the finals. It shows that Jamaica was the second best team on paper with each of the legs clustered around 44.5. Belgium had a huge variation in quality with the worst leg having a season best over 46 seconds.
Jamaica went with a running order of Peter Matthews-Ricardo Chambers-Rusheen McDonald-Javon Francis. Tactically using Ricardo Chambers on the second leg was a mistake given that Jamaica was assigned lane 9 in the finals. That lane assignment called for an aggressive runner to motor around the 1st 200m and gain position on the cutover. As it turned out Chambers - who has a 200m PB around 21 seconds - quickly found himself in a 10 meter deficit against McQuay who beat Delanno Williams and Lalonde Gordon in a sprint to the cutover. Rusheen would have been a better fit for the 2nd leg as he has more speed, so he should have been switched with Chambers.
The anchor leg by Javon Francis has been a topic of much debate. It's either one of the great 400m legs in history, or a leg that cost Jamaica a medal. could it be both? Let's see.
The 43.52 run was the fastest 400 split time among all the legs at the World Championships - in fact it was the fastest leg since Tony McQuay's 43.41 leg at the London Olympics in 2012. That run is nothing to sneeze at - and you would be very unreasonable to make the argument that Javon could have run faster than 43.52. Personally I don't think he could.
However in track and field what matters is not your time that matters but the difference between your time and your opponents. You can win a gold medal with a time slower than your opponent ran in the semis (Usain Bolt), by being the 8th fastest hurdler in the world in 2015 (Danielle Williams), or you can even take a water break in the middle of a World Championships finals (Mo Farah). Time is a result - as Usain Bolt says repeatedly - he runs to win and never worries about time. Tactically, the leg was a miss.
Could he have run faster than 43.52
Maybe. In the 400 meters it's really, really hard to run a specific time on your own - more likely you run a fast time based on hat your competition does. Maybe if he had tucked in behind Merritt and Cedenio and then tried to close the gap on the straight his time would have been very fast. But this is impossible to know. But refer to the above - a time is a result not a cause.
Should Javon have passed Merritt and Cedenio
No. Having made the first pass around Martyn Rooney and Antoine Gillet Javon was now in third. With Gillet a non-factor Javon could have tucked in behind Merritt and Cedenio and set up a sprint to the finish with Rooney. In any event he was unlikely to have overcome a 1.31 second deficit to beat Cedenio or Merritt - he had never beaten them in a flat 400m with no deficit. And to have beaten Merritt he would have needed to run a split of 42.84 - a world record 400m split. So that pass should never have been made.
Did Javon cost us the medal
Indeterminate. The race lasted 3 minutes and many factors contributed. The biggest cause as probably the 45.3 second leg. Also Martyn Rooney ran the race of his life - though of course he was helped by Javon's astonishing anchor. But a relay is a team effort and as anchor Javon should (privately) share some of the responsibility with his team. This helps build trust - team mates are more likely to work hard for an anchor leg who fight's and dies with them.
Jamaica is in great shape. The team is solid on paper, young but with enough older athletes to tide us over until the Chris Taylor/Akeem Bloomfield/Nathon Allen generation is ready.
|Athlete||Age (2015)||Personal Best|
The team has also made a lot of progress recently. There was always the need for Francis to get the baton close enough to the leaders so he would not have to work so hard. This has happened. Compare the deficit in the 4x400 heats at the World Relays 2015 to the deficit in the Beijing 4x400m finals.
Congratulations for making it this far. You can watch the race and make your on conclusions.
The official race IAAF Official Report Men's 4x400