World Athletics Releases Entries for 2021 World Athletics Relays; USATF Will Not Send a Team

By Jonathan Gault
April 20, 2021

On Tuesday, World Athletics announced the entries for the 2021 World Athletics Relays, which will be held in Chorzow, Poland, from May 1-2. Thirty-seven countries are sending teams, but the United States — who topped the medal table in each of the previous four editions of the meet — is not among them.

At the last edition, held in Yokohama, Japan, in 2019, the US won five of the nine events contested, with stars such as Donavan BrazierNoah Lyles, and Justin Gatlin all competing. Brazier paired with Ce’Aira Brown to win the 2x2x400 relay, while Lyles and Gatlin were part of a US team that finished second in the 4×100 after being upset by Brazil.

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There are a few reasons why the US might not send a team. In October, USATF was among the federations who did not send a team to Poland for the World Half Marathon Championships, the first world championships contested since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Considering the most recent major championships to be held in Poland — the European Indoor Championships in Torun in March — resulted in over 30 athletes testing positive for COVID, USATF may be reluctant to send a team to Poland two months later, even though COVID cases have been dropping precipitously in Poland over the last three weeks after spiking in late March.

The US winning the men’s DMR in world record fashion in 2015 is one of the World Relays’ most famous races — though the DMR is no longer contested at the meet

It’s also possible that with the US Olympic Trials less than two months away, top US athletes may prefer to train and race stateside rather than fly across the Atlantic to compete in Poland. Weather could be a concern. The World Athletics Relays is a sprint meet, with the 2x2x400m and 4×400 the longest events. The average high in Chorzow on May 1 is 61 degrees Fahrenheit, which might not be appealing to sprinters who could compete in guaranteed warm temperatures in Florida or Texas.

Given the depth of sprinting in the US, however, USATF should have been able to field a competitive team in most events even if the top stars opted out.

UPDATE: Here is what USATF had to say when asked to explain why it is not sending a team to the World Athletics Relays.

Athlete safety is our top priority. The decision was based on the information that Covid cases throughout Poland have spiked significantly, the nation’s hospital and health care systems are reported to be in crisis, another 2-week lockdown was recently instituted, and U.S. State Department and Center for Disease Control travel advisory levels are now at four (4) and three (3) for travel to Poland.

Among the teams that are going, there are a number of notable entries. Jamaica is sending Olympic 100/200 champion Elaine Thompson-Herah in the women’s 4×100 and 4×200 and 38-year-old former world record holder Asafa Powell in the 4×100. Nigeria entered NCAA 100/200 champion Divine Oduduru in the 4×100. The Netherlands will send a strong female contingent with two-time world champion Dafne Schippers (4×100) and European indoor 400 champion Femke Bol (4×400, mixed-gender 4×400). Poland has European indoor 800 champ Patryk Dobek running in the mixed-gender 2x2x400, while Kenya will send 2017 NCAA indoor/outdoor 800 champion Emmanuel Korir in the mixed-gender 4×400 and World Championships 800 bronze medalist Ferguson Rotich in the mixed-gender 2x2x400.

The top eight teams in the men’s and women’s 4×100 and 4×400 and the mixed-gender 4×400 will automatically qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

LRC Quick Take Analysis:

Given Team USA’s much-publicized struggles in the 4×100 relay, where the US has failed to register a result on the men’s side in the last three Olympics despite being a global sprint power (two DQs and a DNF), we can understand why some might be perplexed why Team USA isn’t practicing their exchanges at the World Relays but we are going to give them a pass on this one. A pandemic is going on, the meet isn’t exactly next door and it’s an Olympic year so people are very much worried about their individual prospects right now.