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Will Jamaica Get Its Baton Passes Right This Time?

Now that the Olympic Games are just days away and relay discussions are in the air, I am hoping that some of Jamaica’s performances by senior athletes at the last Penn Relays were not a sign of things to come in London. The fact that four Jamaican stars – Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, Veronica Campbell-Brown – did not compete at this year’s carnival does not suggest that the baton changes would have been better. As in the case of other competitions, the passes we saw pointed to the need to use meets such as Penns in the US and the UTech Classics in Jamaica as practice to become more familiar with the exchanges.

The passes at the Relays demonstrated that work needed to be done if the theory to be followed is that the most effective way to move the baton around the track is to keep it from slowing down. I saw athletes infringing basic relay rules: moving off at pedestrian pace, going out too soon, or attempting to look back to take the baton. For the most part, teams relied on safe-stick passes, in which the change is done in the middle of the exchange zone. This strategy has quite the opposite effect of the more efficient baton pass at the top of the zone or after the middle. In the latter case, the runner is already going fast when receiving the baton, and thus the baton will not slow down.

Mistake in Some Changes

If the outgoing runner does not leave the mark in a hurry, the incoming runner will have to slow down tremendously to make the pass. That was the mistake in some of Jamaica’s exchanges, highlighting the need to capitalize on all opportunities for relay races so as to have greater effect for crucial encounters such as the upcoming Olympics. Despite missing the mark a few times, our main competitor, the US, has fielded unquestionably the most successful relay teams in history because, as the expression goes, practice makes perfect.

London 2012 will be exciting, and fans are already speculating that the men’s sprint relay world record could be broken in the final track event of the Games. The match-up between Jamaica and the US promises to be one of the main attractions. Of note is that having the four fastest men or women on a team does not guarantee a win. The country with great baton changes may very well be the victor and, of course, these teams should be among the best in the world.

And in echoing the sentiments of many Jamaicans, Maurice Wilson, head coach for the Jamaican team to London, acknowledged recently that “We cannot have a relay team that doesn’t practice together. These situations are normally resolved right after the selection of the team so you know who are going. There will be adequate preparation.”

Well, the team was named just under ten days after Trials, allowing a small window of time to get things right.

When Ego Gets in the Way

Another issue that could negatively affect the relays is ego raising its head as in the 2009 Berlin World Championships, when rumors swirled that one member of the women’s sprint relay squad had an issue with the leg she was chosen to run. Wilson also noted that such scenario would not reoccur because steps were in place “to ensure egos are tempered” before the Games.

He further pointed out that decisions will be made based on the best position for the athlete in relation to the team.

One conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Jamaican Federation needs to have a better handle on making decisions about who runs where and not the coaches of the respective athletes. The latter case only breeds discontent.

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