Saturday, September 1, 2007

Relay team stumbles

Relay team stumbles

Botched baton exchanges puts Canadian 4x100 relay team out of the medal hunt
at the world track and field championships

(click to enlarge)
CanWest News Service

OSAKA, Japan — There’s one way to find Canada’s four-man sprint relay atop Friday’s heat results at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics:

Turn the page upside down.

It was a disastrous performance, and nothing less, that a podium-potential team turned in at Nagai Stadium, brutally botching two baton passes in the 4x100-metre relay to finish not just last in its heat, but at the bottom of 13 nations entered.

Not long after this bomb had hit, Canadian relay coach Glenroy Gilbert stood in the dark outside the adjacent practice track and tried to make sense of what he’d just seen.

He hadn’t a clue.

Richard Adu-Bobie of Ottawa, Anson Henry of Pickering, Ont., Jared Connaughton of New Haven, P.E.I., and Neville Wright of Edmonton managed to get the baton around the track, but barely, the second and third exchanges between Henry and Connaughton and the latter and anchorman Wright almost worthy of a playground team.

Gilbert said the second pass “has been done like clockwork, with no issues whatsoever. So when that (error) happened, it was pretty much over, even before the final exchange took too long.”

The coach figured his team was good for a heat of 38.3 or 38.4 seconds, which would have put the Canadians comfortably into the final and been a solid confidence-builder to set the tone for 2008 Beijing Olympic preparations. He wasn’t expecting the bottom-feeding 39.43 turned in, 1.4 seconds behind Jamaica, quickest on the night.

“These guys, in worse weather, in rain, they’ve gone around the track in 38.8,” Gilbert said, seething quietly. He had yet to meet the team in full, and they would be spared the diplomacy.

“They’ve been here almost a month, between (training camp) in Singapore and Osaka, so we’ve had more than enough opportunity to work.

“We’ve actually been working very well together, and I was very excited about the possibilities. I told them to go out there and run, just show what they’ve been doing the last month.

“I’m still quite shocked, very, very disappointed, and really quite upset,” he said. “These guys have to be able to execute and they’re not doing it.

“This is completely unacceptable. These guys want and demand the opportunity, and when you give it to them, they go out and botch the baton like that. There’s no excuse for it in the heats, or the final. They’re fit, they’re in shape, they have very safe (exchange) zones. That should not happen. Ever.”

This quartet had run at July’s Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, winning silver in finishing six-100ths of a second behind Brazil, and solidly in a relay meet in Singapore.

But Friday, after a clean exchange between leadoff Adu-Bobie and Henry, the race came unglued when Henry had trouble getting the baton to Connaughton.

“It was a little bit of a miscue,” said Henry, understating the reality. “At the last second, Jared’s hand started to shake a little bit, exactly why I don’t know. When something like that happens, the race is pretty much done.

“My exchange to Jared has never been a problem, ever, even in practice. We had a nice warmup today and everything seemed fine. The training camp was great and we came out of Rio with a lot of confidence.”

Henry endured three rounds of the 100 metres here, setting a personal best along the way, and his poise was vital to this relay. But his bobble with Connaughton, then a shabby pass between Connaughton and Wright, killed the Canadians’ chances of earning a lane in today’s final.

Gilbert, a two-time world-championship relay titlist and 1996 Olympic 4x100 gold medallist with Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin and Robert Esmie, bit off his words as he tried to analyze the effort, not yet having reviewed video.

“(The competition) aren’t guys we haven’t seen before or run against in U.S. college or on the Grand Prix circuit. This is all very, very confusing to me,” Gilbert said, his anger barely contained.

“We have the potential to run well, and we have many other guys champing at the bit back home. But until guys know how to compete at this level, we’ll always be in situations like this.”

(Montreal Gazette)

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