How Four Polish Guys Beat the US to Break the 4×400 World Record (3:01.77)

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March 4, 2018

BIRMINGHAM, England — The recipe for defeating the United States in a 4×400-meter relay is simple: hold the race in England.

In a thrilling final event of the 2018 IAAF World Indoor Championships, the Polish quartet of Karol Zalewski, Rafal Omelko, Lukasz Krawczuk, and Jakub Krzewina brought down the house by upsetting the United States and setting a world indoor record of 3:01.77, just ahead of the US in 3:01.97, who also dipped under the official world world record of 3:02.13.* The United States grabbed the lead immediately thanks to Fred Kerley’s 44.84 opening-leg split and held it for almost all of the remaining three legs, only for Krzewina to make a furious comeback on the final lap, powering by Norwood just meters from the line with a tremendous split of 44.9 to cap off a tremendous weekend for Poland.

Despite the home team finishing last in this race, the British crowd knew a great race when they saw it and reacted with cheers and thunderous applause for the brilliant Poles.

Poland world record

Poland world record

Prior to today, the U.S. had won the men’s 4×400 in each of the last six editions of this championship, but just as at the 2012 Olympics in London (when the Bahamas denied the U.S. an eighth straight win*) and the 2017 Worlds in London (when Trinidad & Tobago denied the U.S. its seventh straight title), the Americans saw their win streak end on British soil.

On paper, this was a total mismatch. Poland didn’t even win its qualifying heat (but did replace one of its runner for the final). None of the Poles have ever broken 45 seconds outdoors or 46 seconds indoors. Three of the four Americans have broken 45 seconds outdoors (Kerley, the seventh-fastest man of all time, has broken 44) and all of them have broken 46 seconds indoors (again, Kerley is even better as he’s broken 45).

But tonight, Poland had two of the three fastest legs between the teams as Krzewina split 44.9 on anchor and Omelko split 45.1 on leg 2.

Here’s a look at how the Poles and Americans stacked up, leg-by-leg:

NameOutdoor PRIndoor PRUnofficial Split
Karol Zalewski45.8446.245.85
Rafal Omelko45.1446.0845.10
Lukasz Krawczuk45.6546.2645.90
Jakub Krzewina45.1146.2644.93
NameOutdoor PRIndoor PRUnofficial Split
Fred Kerley43.744.8544.84 (FAT)
Michael Cherry44.6645.5345.27
Aldrich Bailey45.1945.5946.05
Vernon Norwood44.4445.3145.67

*A US team of Kerron Clement, Wallace Spearmon, Darold Williamson ran 3:01.96 at the Tyson Invitational in 2006 but while ratified as the US record it was never ratified as a world record. Earlier this year, a USC team of Zach Shinnick, Rai Benjamin, Ricky Morgan Jr. and Michael Norman ran 3:01.98 to set a new collegiate record but it won’t be ratified as a world record as Rai Benjamin is considered to an athlete for Antigua and Barbuda.

*The U.S. crossed the line first at the 2000 Olympics but were stripped of their medals after Antonio Pettigrew admitted to using PEDs

We’ve redone the table adding in times they ran in the 4×400 heats where runner Patryk Adamczyk ran instead of Rafal Omelko and we also included the times Rafal Omelko and Jakub Krzewina ran in the open 400 semifinals at World Indoors. Both didn’t advacne to the final.

NameOutdoor PRIndoor PRUnofficial Split FinalSplit in PrelimTime in 400 Prelim
Karol Zalewski45.8446.245.8546.47
Rafal Omelko45.1446.0845.10NA46.39
Patryk AdamczykNA46.14
Lukasz Krawczuk45.6546.2645.9046.39
Jakub Krzewina45.1146.2644.9336.2446.69