Plenty has been written and said about the latest British Men’s 4x100m relay failure yesterday. Everyone has their own ideas about what went wrong and how it should be rectified. However, the comment that has prompted me to write this blog was Darren Campbell’s view that British Athletics should consider cutting funding for athletes paid to run relays. I completely disagree with this.
If you had to give a one word answer why the sprinters make mistakes in global finals, surely that word would be – pressure. This is not just limited to relays. At these very championships, why did Justin Gatlin overstride and lose ground in the last ten metres of the 100m final? Why did Christine Ohuruogu go off way too quickly in the 400m final? The reason was that whilst already under the pressure of running in a major final, Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix found ways to increase that pressure so Gatlin and Ohuruogu didn’t think clearly and lost enough physical control to make a mistake.
Now imagine how the 4×1 relay runners felt: ‘I’m in a major final. I’ve worked my life for these 13 or so seconds. I don’t want to let myself down. I don’t want to let my country down. I don’t want to let my team mates down.’
Darren Campbell wants to add these thoughts ‘If I mess this up I lose my funding. I may have to get a job. Perhaps my parents will need to re-mortgage their house so I can keep training full time. How will I support my kids?’ Is that more or less likely to make mistakes occur?
But what do I know? Why would you listen to me, an ok middle distance coach and largely unsuccessful team manager? Why not listen to a man who’s been there and made the same mistake? Craig Pickering wrote an outstanding blog http://craigpickering.com/2015/08/what-is-wrong-with-the-great-britain-mens-relay-team/ Read it. After every point he makes, like me, you’ll probably say ‘yeah, that totally makes sense.’
A team can train and train and train but you cannot recreate the adrenaline of being in a major final. However, you can drastically reduce the chances of errors occurring by practising in as high intensity a situation as much as possible. There are opportunities for this – the World Relays and the Diamond Leagues where 4x100m relays are available. James Ellington, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, Danny Talbot and Richard Kilty will never win a global individual medal over 100m or 200m. They are very unlikely to ever make a final. However, Adam Gemilli, James Dasaolu and Chijindu Ujah are very likely to make individual finals and have a decent shot at medalling. If they don’t want to attend relay practise sessions, go to the World Relays or run 4x1s in Diamond League, then that’s fine leave them to focus on the individual event. It will probably help them.
Ellington, Aikines-Aryeetey, Talbot and Kilty could be a very good team. They’re fast and they love the 4×1. That’s enough for me. The 0.10 they might lose over their leg, they can more than make up with a quick, slick changeover. Keep them on the relay funding, look at the Diamond League calendar, pick the ones they can compete in a 4×100 in and book their flights.
The other major mistakes, which completely ruined the team, were changing the running order and not telling the team until so late on. That was a recipe for disaster. Why are we blaming the team for that? Why threaten to cut their funding and not that of the relay coach or manager? What is the point in practising, and funding people to practise when you change what they’ve practised?
Remember when Britain picked some talented youngsters and trialled putting together a specialist relay quartet for the last World Championships? That team was Dina Asher-Smith, Ashleigh Nelson, Annabelle Lewis and Hayley Jones. They won a bronze medal – despite having slower individual pbs that many of the teams they beat. It worked. So do it again. The individual members of the team have had varying levels of success since then. But they all have something that Dasaolu, Ujah and Gemilli don’t have (so far) – a global senior medal.
By the way, my British League teams, as a whole, may not have performed as I’d have liked, but I am proud that the relay teams I put together almost always perform a lot better than the sum of their parts.