Athletics: ‘Messy’ changes upset Lee McConnell after relay defeat

LEE McConnell questioned the standard of track officiating as Great Britain’s 4x400m quartet failed to medal at the European Championships in Helsinki.

McConnell and fellow Scot Eilidh Child joined forces with former world medallist Nicola Sanders and British No 2 Shana Cox last night but were left cursing how their race had been managed.

Child ran the anchor leg and couldn’t quite overall bronze medallists the Czech Republic as France took silver and the Ukraine gold. However, both queried how the race had been run, track officials presiding over chaotic scenes at the handovers.

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“We could easily have had a handful disqualified. If you look at my changeover, we were swapping and moving and you’re not allowed to do that,” said McConnell. “In all my years of relay racing that was by far the messiest one I have ever been involved in.

“I went out very hard because that’s my style, but I couldn’t get past the French girl. I didn’t enjoy that race at all and I’m really not happy with my leg either.”

Child was also far from impressed, although what has been impressive this week is her flat speed, an encouraging sign as she prepares for her debut Olympic Games in London this summer.

“The track officials put me in the wrong position. I should have been third but they moved me out,” she said. “I feel like we were a little bit hard done by. I preferred running lead-off in the semis to the anchor leg, it’s a lot cleaner and it’s just all down to me at the end.”

Great Britain’s 4x400m men did win silver in the final race of the Championship but the day after Britain’s women failed to secure a place at their home Olympics in the 4x100m relay, the men’s quartet failed to finish their final after the experienced duo of Christian Malcolm and Dwain Chambers did not exchange the baton following the first leg.

Malcolm took full responsibility for the flop but it doesn’t make it any easier for Britain to take. Indeed, last night’s failure is the latest in a long line which includes dropped batons at the Olympics in Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) and the World Championships in Edmonton (2001), along with a disqualification at the last Olympics in Beijing and the World Championships in Daegu (2011).

They also went out in the first round at the last European Championships in Barcelona when a poor changeover between Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis saw them finish fifth in their heat.

This time the baton never even got that far as Malcolm lost momentum around the bend and was unable to get it to Chambers, who was anxious to get a good start with France’s individual 100m champion Christophe Lemaitre on his outside.

“I will take responsibility,” Malcolm said. “I lost momentum and it’s my job to get the baton into Dwain and I didn’t get it done. It was an opportunity for us all and we have messed up.

“We thought we were going to win and we were all up for it today. It’s nothing to do with a lack of practice, it’s just one of those things. I know we like to play the blame game in our country and I will take responsibility.

“No doubt we’ll get slaughtered in the press for it but it’s not for want of trying.”

Chambers added: “It’s disappointing. The conditions were perfect and we had great preparation, but the cards that we were dealt were just not great cards.

“As much as Christian wants to take the blame we are all a team here. We as a team are to blame – if one falls, we all fall. We will bounce back though.”

Earlier in the night, Jo Pavey claimed an impressive silver medal in the 10,000 metres at the age of 38.

The veteran Devon athlete was unable to stay with eventual champion Dulce Felix of Portugal when she made the decisive break with eight laps to go, and found herself third at the bell behind Ukraine’s Olha Skrypak.

But she overtook Skrypak in the home straight to secure silver in 31 minutes 49.03 seconds, with Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton in fourth. Pavey’s team-mate Charlotte Purdue was sixth in 32mins 28.46secs, with Gemma Steel ninth in 32:46.32.

Pavey only returned to track action after her Olympic marathon gamble backfired in April. She opted to miss the London Marathon and hope that her time from last year’s race was enough to claim the last available place alongside Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi, but watched on TV as both Claire Hallissey and Freya Murray eclipsed her time, with Hallissey subsequently selected.

“It’s been a real blessing in disguise,” said Pavey, who is likely to run both the 5000 and 10,000m at the Olympics.

“I would have taken a marathon place if I was given it because it would have been a massive gamble not to accept it.

“It was kind of nice not to have any choice and it’s made me feel young. I’m really thrilled to get a medal. Doing track this year after two years on the road has been really fun.”

The men’s 4x400m relay quartet looked on course for gold after Nigel Levine, Conrad Williams and Rob Tobin combined to give Richard Buck a healthy lead, but he was overhauled on the final leg by Belgium’s Kevin Borlee, the individual champion from two years ago.