|Sanya Richards-Ross anchors the USA 4x400m team to win gold|
at the 2012 London Olympic Games
Michael Steele/ Getty Images Europe
If we can name the event the United States has dominated the most in one century of Olympic history, it is arguably the male 400m. However, in the last four years, the biggest track and field powerhouse has failed to keep its traditional stranglehold at the distance, succesfully challenged by a number of talented quartermilers, mainly coming from several countries of the Caribbean area. We have assisted to the rise and fall of LaShawn Merrit, eventually overcome as number one in the distance for teen prodigy Kirani James, and also to the historical defeat of the US 4x400m squad in London Olympic Games, well beaten by the Bahamas. As a result, the 400m is not anymore a one nation affair but instead has become an open one in which it is even possible the victory in global championships of athletes coming from such exotic countries as Grenada or Botswana. And indeed the acclaimed victories of Kirani James and Amantle Montsho were the first ones in any sport for their remote homelands at a major competition of Olympic or World level. On the other hand, in female category the nations with the greatest depth for many years have been Russia, United States and Jamaica but often global champions have come from other disparate countries as it is the case of Amy Mbacké Thiam (Senegal), Ana Guevara (Mexico), Tonique Williams-Darling (Bahamas) and Christine Ohuruogu (Great Britain), before Amantle Montsho and Botswana’s biggest day in Daegu. Besides, it was equally notorious in these years the struggle of the most talented quarter miler of the last decade, USA’s Sanya Richards-Ross to triumph at last in a global championship, which she eventually accomplished at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and then repeated at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
This capacity of the current North American stars to perform big when it matters most explains also their superiority at the 4x400m global competitions. The United States team gapped Russia and Jamaica in nearly four seconds in Berlin and London Olympics. Only in Daegu, with Richards-Ross not at her best and a tired Allyson Felix, Jamaica and Russia were able to challenged them and run the distance in less than 3:20.00 in the process, the only time in four years they accomplished so. In the other occasions Russia and Jamaica were content fighting for the silver medal which the former nation achieved in London and the latter in Berlin and Daegu (here in a national record). Russia, had been really close of a victory at the 4x400m relay at the Olympic Games in Beijing and had upset the North Americans to win gold at the 2006 and 2008 World indoors. This time around, the United States also beat their archrivals at the 2010 World indoor championships, being the next edition in the contest in Istanbul, the only one they lost an important race between 2009 and 2012, when the Great Britain quartet of Shana Cox, Nicola Sanders, Christine Ohuruogu and Perri Shakes-Drayton produced a shocking victory. Russia even lined up only two quartermilers at the single event in Daegu and London Olympic, reserving the others for the 4x400 relay battle. This decision did not pay off; they were defeated the same. The matter of the fact is the Eastearn European powerhouse has not found a world beater quartermiler since Olga Wladykina-Bryzgina (incidentally an Ukrainian but running for the USSR) retired.
|Antonina Krivoshapka on the way to win the 400m final at|
the 2009 European indoor Champs in Torino
Michael Steele/ Getty Images
|Amantle Montsho and Allyson Felix battle to the line the 400m gold medal|
at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu
Andy Lyons/ Getty Images Europe
Montsho’s breakthrough came in 2007, when she won at the All Africa Games in Alger, beating Amy Mbacké Thiam. After a second continental title the following year she made the Olympic final, where she finished 8th and last, the same placement she would get in Berlin. Yet it was clear she could get much more and in 2010 she took a big step to stardom, winning everything in sight, from African Championships to Continental Cup and Commonwealth Games, besides several Diamond League meetings and even reached the 4x400m Commonwealth final with Botswana. She was now ready to face the best at the upcoming Daegu World Champs and London Olympics. Only one athlete had done better during the year: three times 200m World Champion Allyson Felix, who had defeated Montsho four times at the 2010 Diamond League. No less than a black beast to her, Felix was dominating Montsho 12-
Elsewhere the surprising Indian 4x400m team achieved a groundbreaking victory at the Commonwealth Games held at home, thanks mainly to their new national star Ashwini Akkunji, who had started the third leg more than
Meanwhile, Russian quartermilers were proving they had no match at continental level. Although Krivoshapka was not at the same impressive shape of the past year, she could still managed a bronze medal position at the European Championships in Barcelona, in a race won by her experienced compatriot Tatyana Firova in 49.89, just holding that year revelation Kseniya Ustalova. The closest challenge to the Russians was Italian Libania Grenot. As expected, the Russian 4x400m squad finished a world ahead of the other medallists Germany and Great Britain. However, Russian invincible quartermilers were upset in following area contests: Czech Denisa Rosolova, a former long jumper and heptathlete (and future hurdler), produced a flawless race at the 2011 European indoors to defeat former World indoor gold medallist Olesya Krasnomovets and former European champion Vania Stambolova of Bulgaria. Still more shocking and marvellous indeed for the future of athletics was the victory at the 2012 European outdoors in Helsinki of up-and-coming athlete Moa Hjelmer, over favourite Kseniya Zadorina, smashing her PB and setting a new Swedish record of
The Daegu World Championship final really fullfilled the expectations of the most demanding fan, it was a battle for the ages. Amantle Montsho and Allyson Felix entered the homestretch well in advance of the rest, with the Bostwanan one stride ahead. Running side by side for a long time, Felix pushed to overcome Montsho but the latter managed to hold until the finish line to win narrowly 49.56 to 49.59, both times huge PBs. Allyson was visibly dissapointed: she had done her best, she had run to her limits and still had been defeated. On the other hand, Amantle was understandably in extasy, after her first global victory which was also the first for her country. Well behind, the 200m World champion back in 2003, Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, won the fight for the minor of the medals for Russia, ahead of Francena McCorory and Krivoshapka. The defending champion Richards could only manage a seventh place, splitting Jamaicans Shericka and Novlene Williams. It was an excellent result, which confirmed her progression for McCorory, the woman who had set an area record (50.54) to win the NCAA indoor final the year before. On the other hand, other collegiate champions at the distance were more unlucky: Jessica Beard, who won the prestigious Bowerman award to the best female athlete of that year, after having run the best split ever in an NCAA 4x400m race to give Texas A&M the overall title, did not go further than the semi-finals for the second World Championship in a row. Natasha Hastings and Joanna Atkins, former NCAA stars, did not even reach the target of qualifying for Daegu.
|Ashley Spencer gets an emphatic victory at the 2012 World junior championships in Barcelona, while|
defending champion Shaunae Miller finishes out of the medals
David Ramos/ Getty Images Europe
Teenage sensation Ashley Spencer declined to try her chance at the US Olympic trials, stating she would rather go step by step and Allyson Felix decided to focus in shorter sprints for London. Sanya Richards-Ross proved she was back to her best, winning that competition in 49.28. After some lacklustre years, former Olympic and World finalist Dee Dee Trotter made also a remarkable comeback, booking her ticket to London in an excellent 50.02, while McCorory got the third spot for the Games. However, the answer to Richards-Ross world lead came from Russian national championships, where Antonina Krivoshapka won the title in 49.16! beating Yuliya Gushchina (49.28) and Tatyana Firova (49.72). Nazarova, Kapachinskaya, Vdovina and Livinova also ran the final in less than 51.00. In Jamaica, the results where not as impressive. Novlene Williams won the trials in 50.60, ahead of Rosemarie Whyte and Christine Day, who left Shericka Williams out of the 400m Olympic team. On the other hand, Montsho improved her PB to 49.54, when winning the African championships in Porto Novo.
All three US quartermilers, Jamaicans Williams-Mills and Whyte, Krivoshapka of Russia, World champion Amantle Montsho and defending Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu qualified for the final. Krivoshapka, the fastest in the semi-finals decided to go for the gold medal, running as someone explained as if it was a 200m race. She just committed the same tactical mistake than Sanya Richards in Beijing. The Russian champion entered the homestretch ahead of the field but soon her legs ran out of lactic acid and she faded to sixth, being overcome first by Dee Dee Trotter, then by Richards-Ross, who went straight to win the elusive Olympic title in 49.55, just 28 years after Valerie Brisco-Hooks, the only other USA athlete who had climbed to the top of a 400m podium. Christine Ohuruogu ran her usual smart race, progressing to an excellent silver medal in 49.70, while Dee Dee Trotter grabbed the bronze in 49.72. On the other hand, a dissapointing Amantle Montsho had a day off and ended up out of the medals. At the 4x400m, Sanya Richards-Ross won a second gold medal, with her mates Trotter, McCorory and Allyson Felix, who ran 47.8! in her leg, although the USA squad was not as lucky as the 4x100m team, for their winning time (3.16.87) was one second off the old world record of the USSR. Russia won silver and Jamaica bronze and the best of the rest was Ukraine, who finished ahead of Great Britain, France and Czech Republic. Nigeria was also in the final, but Belarus, Germany and the Pan American champion Cuba, among others, failed to qualify.
Dee Dee Trotter
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