5 Things We’re Looking Forward To At the 2017 World Relays — And 2 Things That Need to Be Fixed

By LetsRun.com
April 21, 2017

This weekend should be a great one for running fans. The 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon, annually the world’s most competitive marathon, will be held on Sunday, and as if that wasn’t enough, it will be sandwiched by two days of elite competition at the 2017 IAAF/BTC World Relays in the Bahamas. Sprint stars Andre De Grasse (Canada), Yohan BlakeElaine Thompson (Jamaica), Justin Gatlin, Noah LylesLaShawn MerrittEnglish Gardner (USA) and Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahamas) will all be in action, while mid-d studs Ferguson RotichAlfred Kipketer (Kenya), Adam KszczotMarcin Lewandowski (Poland), Clayton MurphyErik SowinskiCharlene Lipsey and Laura Roesler (USA) will all feature in the 4 x 800 relays – the lone mid-relay at this year’s event.

We’re definitely excited about the meet, which will take place Saturday and Sunday night (the Bahamas is on U.S. Eastern Time), but we’ve got a few complaints as well. Below, we analyze the 4 x 800s in detail (this is LetsRun.com after all), highlight the other marquee races and offer some thoughts on the third edition of the meet.

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What: 2017 IAAF/BTC World Relays

Where: Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, The Bahamas

When: Saturday, April 22 – Sunday, April 23

How to watch: In the U.S., the meet will be streamed live online through NBC Sports. Right now, we believe you’ll be able to watch both days (coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET each night) for free as long as you subscribe to NBC Sports Network. But it’s possible that in order to watch the meet, you’ll need to sign up for NBC Sports Gold’s “Track and Field Pass,” which costs $69.99 for the 2017 season. We’ve asked NBC Sports to clarify the situation but they have not responded yet.

For the rest of the world, check out our TV/streaming page to find out how to watch.

*Schedule, entries & results *All LRC coverage *2015 LRC coverage


Saturday, April 22

19:35 19:35 W 4×200 Metres Relay Heats
19:59 19:59 M 4×100 Metres Relay Heats
20:31 20:31 W 4×400 Metres Relay Heats
21:12 21:12 M 4×400 Metres Relay Heats
21:48 21:48 Mixed 4×400 Metres Relay Heats
22:00 22:00 W 4×800 Metres Relay Final
22:12 22:12 M 4×100 Metres Relay Final B
22:21 22:21 W 4×200 Metres Relay Final
22:36 22:36 M 4×100 Metres Relay Final

Sunday, April 23

19:35 19:35 M 4×200 Metres Relay Heats
20:00 20:00 W 4×100 Metres Relay Heats
20:22 20:22 M 4×400 Metres Relay Final B
20:35 20:35 W 4×400 Metres Relay Final B
20:47 20:47 M 4×800 Metres Relay Final
21:11 21:11 W 4×400 Metres Relay Final
21:29 21:29 M 4×200 Metres Relay Final
21:46 21:46 W 4×100 Metres Relay Final B
21:55 21:55 M 4×400 Metres Relay Final
22:13 22:13 W 4×100 Metres Relay Final
22:30 22:30 Mixed 4×400 Metres Relay Final

We’re Excited For…

1) Men’s 4×800 (Sunday, 8:47 p.m. ET) *Full entry list

Here are the leading four teams in the race.

Kenya     Poland
Name PB 2016/2017 SB Name PB 2016/2017 SB
Kipyegon Bett 1:43.76 1:43.76 Jakub Baldyka 1:48.94 1:48.94
Job Kinyor 1:43.76 1:45.9h Mateusz Borkowski 1:47.11 1:47.11
Alfred Kipketer 1:42.87 1:42.87 Adam Kszczot 1:43.30 1:43.76
Timothy Kitum 1:42.53 1:44.51 Artur Kuciapski 1:44.89 1:48.14
Ferguson Rotich 1:42.84 1:43.43 Marcin Lewandowski 1:43.72 1:43.73
Top 4 average 1:43.00 (6:52.00 total) 1:43.64 (6:54.57 total) Top 4 average 1:44.76 (6:59.02 total) 1:45.69 (7:02.74 total)
USA     Australia
Name PB 2016/2017 SB Name PB 2016/2017 SB
Charles Jock 1:44.67 1:45.40 Mason Cohen 1:47.41 1:47.41
Brannon Kidder 1:45.58 1:46.22 James Gurr 1:46.09 1:46.09
Cas Loxsom 1:44.92 1:45.93 Luke Mathews 1:45.16 1:45.16
Clayton Murphy 1:42.93 1:42.93 Joshua Ralph 1:45.79 1:46.69
Erik Sowinski 1:44.58 1:45.35 Jordy Williamsz 1:46.77 1:47.26
Top 4 average 1:44.28 (6:57.10 total) 1:44.90 (6:59.61 total) Top 4 average 1:45.95 (7:03.81 total) 1:46.30 (7:05.20 total)
The U.S. men were golden in 2015

The U.S. men were golden in 2015

With apologies to Australia, the three other teams listed above — Kenya, the U.S. and Poland — have crossed the line in 1st, 2nd and 3rd in some order at the past two editions of the meet (Kenya was second in 2015 but was later DQ’d). While it’s possible the Aussies could break into the top three — they should still be in good shape considering the Aussie champs were three weeks ago — they don’t have the firepower required to actually win the race.

On paper, Kenya is the clear favorite. All five of their potential runners have broken 1:44 (compare that to two for Poland and one for the U.S.) and they’ve got the guys who finished 5th and 7th at the Olympics (Ferguson Rotich and Alfred Kipketer) plus the World U20 champ (Kipyegon Bett). It is early in the season, but all four men broke 1:46 at the Kenyan World Relays Trials on April 1 (Bett led the way in 1:44.2). Minus David Rudisha, this is basically Kenya’s A squad, and that should scare the rest of the world. If the Kenyans run smart, they should win, but that’s not always the case, especially with Kipketer, who almost coughed up a big lead in this race in 2014 after going out in 49.0 and splitting 1:48.8 on the anchor.

This U.S. team should be competitive, however. Murphy just ran 1:43.60 at Mt. SAC, the third-fastest time ever in the month of April, so he’s clearly ready to roll. Loxsom set a world indoor best over 600 meters indoors, and Sowinski beat Loxsom to win the U.S. 600 title, so we expect them to run well here (they were also one-half of the victorious 2015 U.S. squad, along with Duane Solomon and Robby Andrews). For the fourth leg, we’d take Kidder over Jock. Kidder was second behind Murphy in the 1k at US Indoors. He’s a safer bet than the inconsistent Jock — though as Jock showed at the Olympic Trials last year, he has a flair for the dramatic. If the U.S. can keep it close through three legs, Murphy is fit enough — and a strong enough tactician — that we like their chances for gold. But that will require big runs from the U.S.’s first three legs, as you’re asking a bunch of 1:44-1:45 guys to hang with a bunch of 1:42-1:43 guys.

It’s a shame that Donavan Brazier isn’t on the US team. He’s run 1:44.63 already this year and wanted to run but didn’t make the cut as he was only 6th at USA Indoors (selection priority went to 2016 US Olympians and top 2 finishers at USA Indoors before looking at 2016 outdoor times).

Poland will have a hard time beating the USA and Kenya, but they’ve taken silver the past two years and we wouldn’t be surprised to see them do it again in 2017. Kszczot and Lewandowski can run with anyone in the world, and both won European titles indoors (Kszczot at 800, Lewandowski at 1500). But no one else on their roster broke 1:47 last year, and that may leave Poland’s two studs with too much work to do against the deeper U.S. and Kenyan teams.

There’s a $50,000 bonus for a world record, which currently stands at 7:02.43 (1:45.61 per leg). The U.S. managed to run 7:04.84 in 2015, so it’s not inconceivable that this year’s stacked Kenyan squad could run half a second faster per leg and threaten the mark.

LRC prediction: We’ll go with Kenya FTW, but if Murphy gets the baton within a second of the lead (assuming he anchors), we like the U.S.

2) Women’s 4×800 (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. ET) *Full entry list

USA     Kenya
Name PB 2016/2017 SB Name PB 2016/2017 SB
Kendra Chambers 2:00.76 2:00.76 Sylivia Chesebe 2:00.76 2:00.96
Charlene Lipsey 1:58.64 1:58.64 Josphine Kiplangat 2:03.54 2:03.54
Chanelle Price 1:59.10 2:00.38 Mary Kuria 2:01.67 2:04.6h
Laura Roesler 1:59.04 1:59.54 Eglay Nalyanya 2:00.98 2:00.98
Chrishuna Williams 1:59.59 1:59.59 Emily Tuei 2:00.10 2:00.10
Top 4 average 1:59.09 (7:56.37 total) 1:59.54 (7:58.15 total) Top 4 average 2:00.88 (8:03.51 total) 2:01.40 (8:05.58 total)

Team USA has won this event the past two years, and they should complete the hat-trick on Saturday. Unlike the men’s 4 x 800, Kenya isn’t sending anything close to an A squad in the women’s race as no one on their roster has ever broken 2:00. Considering two of the Americans (Lipsey and Roesler) have already broken 2:00 this year, we expect the U.S. to win, and don’t expect it to be particularly close. If you subbed in Kenya’s two studs (Olympic bronze medallist Margaret Wambui and 2013 world champ Eunice Sum) into their lineup, this race would be a lot more interesting as it would pit the U.S.’s depth against Kenya’s top-end talent. Sadly, that won’t be the case on Saturday, and with only three other teams in the field (Australia, Belarus and Poland), expect the U.S. to coast to a third straight gold.

LRC prediction: The U.S. will win. The only question is whether they can break 8:00. In 2015, the American squad of Price, Maggie VesseyMolly Ludlow and Alysia Montaño ran 8:00.62.

3) How will Team USA fare under new relay coach Orin Richburg?

For several years, USATF has taken flak for having Dennis Mitchell as its head relay coach — not just because Mitchell served a two-year doping ban during his career, but because his teams struggled to meet expectations, with the men’s 4×100 alone getting DQ’d at the 2014 World Relays, 2015 World Champs and 2016 Olympics. Mitchell’s contract expired after the Olympics, and in March USATF hired former New Mexico State coach Orin Richburg to replace him. Richburg will ultimately be judged for how the U.S. runs at Worlds, but we’ll be watching the U.S.’s handoffs in the 4×100 and 4×200 carefully this weekend to see if there’s any difference from the Mitchell era.

4) Men’s 4×100 (prelims Saturday, 7:59 p.m. ET; final Saturday 10:36 p.m. ET) *Full entry list

All the sprint relays should be good races, but the 4×100 is the one they run at the Olympics and Worlds and only the 4×100 will feature Olympic 4th placer Yohan Blake running for Jamaica. Blake is the only man returning from Jamaica’s Olympic gold-medal squad (he’ll be teamed with Kemar Bailey-ColeEverton Clarke and Jevaughn Minzie in the Bahamas), which means that the U.S., which upset a Usain Bolt-led Jamaican squad in 2015, has a shot at redemption. Team USA is strong (Ronnie BakerMarvin BracyLeshon CollinsJustin GatlinMike Rodgers) and will be favored to win the gold here. But, as always, it will come down to the handoffs for the Americans.

Don’t sleep on Canada, either. They return the entire bronze-medal-winning squad from Rio, fronted by triple Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse. Sadly Japan is sending a B squad as none of the four guys on their Olympic silver medal team are entered here. They’ve entered a very young squad with the oldest runner being just 20.

5) The Bahamian fans

At the last two editions, the Bahamian fans created some of the best atmospheres of any track and field meet and we expect them to deliver once again this weekend. Though the Bahamas has never won a race at this meet, they could have a very strong squad in the meet’s final event, the mixed-gender 4×400. Steven Gardiner set a Bahamian national record and 2017 world leader of 44.26 on April 8 and he’ll be joined by Michael Mathieu (a member of the Bahamas’ Olympic bronze medal team last summer) and women’s Olympic 400 champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo. If the Bahamas can win the final event on Sunday, they’ll bring the house down.

We’ve loved going to this meet in the past as there is nothing like covering a track meet in the Bahamas.

Things That Could Be Done Better

1) Better coordination with federations

South Africa has one of the best men’s sprint corps in the world right now (four men at 10.12 or faster so far in 2017, including 400 WR holder Wayde van Niekerk and Olympic 100 5th placer Akani Simbine) but South Africa didn’t send any teams to World Relays this year as the South African Championships are this weekend. The IAAF and Athletics South Africa should have been on the same page and given stars like van Niekerk and Simbine the chance to compete at both meets.

You may be surprised to learn that it was the South African federation that wanted its stars to run this meet and it was the athletes who wanted to stay home and put on a show at their national champs.

2) More teams need to show up in the 4×800

The IAAF doesn’t have any problems attracting teams for the 4×100 and 4×400 relays since the top eight finishers in each event not only receive prize money, but automatic qualification for August’s World Championships. And considering the 4×200 squads mostly consist of 4×100 and 4×400 runners, those fields don’t have a problem with size, either. But there are only seven teams entered in the men’s 4×800 (and that includes the Athlete Refugee Team) and only five entered in the women’s 4×800.

We’re placing the blame on the federations. The IAAF pays out prize money to the top eight teams in each event and holds the event in the Bahamas, one of the most appealing destinations on the planet. Those are pretty good incentives, which means it’s up to the federations to enter teams.

The only good thing is that the Athlete Refugee Team is guaranteed $6,000 in prize money as long as they finish the race. And considering the IAAF won’t be paying out prize money for eighth place in the men’s 4×800 or sixth, seventh or eighth in the women’s 4×800, we suggest that the IAAF take the prize money they would have paid out for those places ($22,000) and give it to a refugee project like the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. Either that or increase the money for the teams in the 4 x 800.

P.S. What Happened To The DMR?

We don't think anyone will be as excited about the mixed-gender 4x400 as Kyle Merber was for the U.S.'s DMR win in 2015

The men’s DMR was a thriller in 2015

We’re sure some LetsRun.com fans are disappointed that the distance medley relay has been scrapped in 2017, replaced by the mixed-gender 4×400. We personally aren’t too upset by it as we’ve never been big fans of DMRs. We’ve always loved the 4 x 800 much more than the DMR. The DMR is often kind of a boring race that turns into who has the best miler 9 times out of 10 – but that certainly didn’t happen in 2015.

Here is a brief reminder of what has happened distance-wise during the first two editions of the World Relays.

At the inaugural World Relays, in 2014, there were both men’s and women’s 4×1500 relays, and they were incredibly boring as the Kenyans pasted everybody. Recognizing that a 15-lap relay race is rarely going to produce an exciting finish, the IAAF swapped the 4×1500’s out with the distance medley in 2015. While the women’s race was a blowout (it would have been much better if Kenya entered an A squad), the men’s race was a thriller, with Ben Blankenship running down Kenyan anchor Timothy Cheruiyot to win the race and break the world record by .06 of a second. It was the most exciting race of the entire meet, and it was way better than the usually tactical DMR at NCAAs since the Kenyans went out recklessly fast. How fast? Ferguson Rotich ran the first 400 of the 800 leg in 47.84. Even with a running start, that’s suicidal.

Regardless, the IAAF has scrapped the DMR and replaced it with a mixed-gender 4×400. While we don’t mind having a mixed-gender race, there is already a men’s and women’s 4×400 in the meet. We think the mixed gender race could be cool if one thing happens – the studs run on both the 4 x 400 and mixed-gender relay. If people start opting for one or the other, we don’t like the addition. We want to see one-lap stars such as LaShawn Merritt and Steven Gardiner racing each other twice — but it’s possible that they may not race at all, depending on which races they’re entered in.

So if the mixed gender 4 x 400 results in us seeing the best 400 runners compete more often, then we like it. If it results in us seeing three sub-par races (M 4×4, W 4×4, Mixed 4×4) instead of two great races (M 4×4, W4x4), we’d rather see it scrapped. But we applaud the IAAF for changing things up. Maybe every time they hold this meet, they can change out one race and add a new one. The mixed-gender relay is certainly interesting this year as we know the hometown star, Olympic 400 champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, is going to run. Track needs stars to be exciting so it’s good for this year but the schedule screw-up that prevented Wayde van Niekerk from being here is a big one.

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