Championship medals don't happen by chance, especially in an event with as many variables as the sprint relay. At the recently held Pan Am Games in Toronto, Trinidad and Tobago came home with two relay medals, gold in the men’s 4x400 and bronze in the men’s 4x100. Sprint relay events are always tricky because of the number of variables involved. Not only do competitors have to run fast, they must also get the baton around the track without leaving their lanes, and in the case of the 4x100 within a clearly demarcated “take over zone.” Failure to do either of these things can result in disqualification.
Putting together a successful relay team is also not simply a matter of selecting your fastest runners. Nic-Connor Alexander, Olympian, former NCAA Division 2 champion in the 100 and 200metres and a certified USATF and IAAF coach, who is based at ZC Athletics in San Fernando was in charge of the men’s 4x100 team at Pan Am. Of putting together the relay team Alexander who has over fifteen years of sprinting experience, and who gave up a vacation to coach the team said, “Putting together a relay team is not as easy as one would think. As coaches we need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the six people that make up the team. With the absence of Richard Thompson and Marc Burns, we had to rebuild the team and get it right within a few days. During practice everyone ran in different positions before we came up with the final order. For the semi-final race we had four possible combinations that that we could have run depending on the outcome of races that ran earlier that day.”
The relay team of Keston Bledman, Rondel Sorillo, Emmanuel Callendar, Dan-Neil Telesford and silver medallist in the men’s 110 hurdles Mikel Thomas qualified easily for the finals by winning their semi-final in a time of 38.52 with few hiccups in getting the baton around the track. On the night of the finals, Thomas was given a well-deserved rest with Rondel Sorillo, Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callendar and Dan-Neil Telesford stepping up to finish the race in a time 38.69. Unofficial results had them as fourth, an agonizing .01 seconds outside of the medals with Canada first, the United States second and Brazil third. Alexander however like his coaching counterparts from the USA and Brazil had spotted an infraction by the Canadian team during their third hand over.
Along with coaches from the USA and Brazil, Alexander asked for a formal review of the race and was told that each coach would have the opportunity to review the race individually. Alexander spotted the infraction after a close review and told the guys, “We may get a medal so don’t worry,” although he was really thinking I am not leaving here without a medal. When the race referee refused to let an official from the USA review the race after Alexander and his Brazilian counterpart spotted infractions, a formal protest was launched. That challenge was ultimately successful and Canada was disqualified for leaving their lane. Antigua and Barbuda were also disqualified for passing the baton outside the takeover zone, leaving the United States with the gold, Brazil with the Silver and Trinidad and Tobago with the bronze.
While we are no stranger to medal upgrades, Alexander insists that Trinidad and Tobago has the quality to consistently medal in the relays on the international stage. “There is one change that we need to make before we head to the World Championships in August. All we have to do now is practice, practice and practice some more and we should be coming home with another medal in the men's 4x100m.”
Sprinter and relay bronze medallist, Callendar added, “There are rules in every sport and we have to abide by it. It’s not the way we expected to win but we’ll take this bronze; and continue moving forward to every meet, trying to perfect our chemistry so by the time world championships comes around we can get the gold.”
The world Championships are scheduled to take place in Beijing China from August 22nd to August 30th 2015, and Alexander believes that more training camps for our relay athletes throughout the year can only be an asset in building the chemistry and belief that is needed for relay success.