Athletics: Agony and ecstasy for GB relay teams

The GB women after a fourth place finish which was upgraded to bronze. Picture: PA
The GB women after a fourth place finish which was upgraded to bronze. Picture: PA
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Great Britain’s 4x100 metres relay team were left heartbroken as the latest in a long line of baton blunders saw them stripped of bronze at the World Championships in Moscow last night, although there was the opposite emotion for the women’s team as they benefited from a disqualification to take a surprise bronze.

The British men’s quartet of Adam Gemili, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, James Ellington and Dwain Chambers performed admirably at the Luzhniki Stadium, clocking a season’s best 37.80 seconds. However, it proved irrelevant as the second changeover from Aikines-Aryeetey to Ellington took place out of the designated box and the result was reversed.

A couple of hours later, Great Britain’s women’s 4x100 metres relay squad were promoted to bronze after the French team were disqualified. Britain came home in fourth place but were upgraded following a successful protest against the France team, who were second.

The International Association of Athletics Federations confirmed the French had been disqualified because their second baton exchange took place outside the changeover zone.

The French took their case to the jury of appeal but it was rejected. It meant Britain finished the championships with six medals in total.

The men’s disappointment was the latest in a long line of relay failures for Britain’s sprinters, having been unable to get the baton round properly in six of the last seven major championships.

“It’s heart-breaking,” Aikines-Aryeetey said. “I feel like s***.

“You’re going out there to get your medal and then someone stands in front of you and says ‘sorry to be the bearer of bad news’. We only found out literally when we were walking out for the medal presentation. It’s just like that. It is heart-breaking, you know?”

Asked if he had any inkling they would be disqualified, he added: “No. I still got the baton in his hand, it felt right.

“I can’t imagine how close it must have been. . . I am wondering if there has been a counter-protest. I don’t understand, it just doesn’t feel real. Literally, I gave him the baton, I ran for my life. We are in the industry where this is our bread and butter. This means a lot to us and we worked so hard for this.”

Britain’s disqualification saw Canada promoted to bronze – news that led to loud squeals of joy from their relay team, who moments earlier had come through the media zone looking for any updates. Having changed into everyday clothes immediately after the race, they quickly got into their team tracksuits and were rushed to the medal ceremony. While the Canadians, led by former UK Athletics head coach Peter Eriksson, celebrated, the emotions of the British team could not have been any different. Ellington was led out of the media zone in tears and, with Gemili at anti-doping, Aikines-Aryeetey and Chambers, the experienced head of the team, were left to try and express their feelings.

“It is emotional,” the 35-year-old Chambers said. “To be able to cross the line in third place and secure a medal, we were looking forward to getting on the podium. But this is sport and it is just unfortunate that we were not able to experience what these guys are experiencing on the podium. All we can do now is get back home, build our team spirit back up again and move on to next year.”

Considering bronze had been ripped from his grasp less than 30 minutes earlier, Chambers was impressively philosophical. “Just because we didn’t succeed the way we wanted to, it doesn’t mean you stop,” he said. “When you fall, you get back up again and that is what we’ve got to do. We all look after each other. We’ve just got to be there for each other.

“We are a team, we are not going to make any individual criticisms or individual responsibility. We all go out there together, it is a team effort and we did the best we could.”

If British relay blunders have become expected, so too have Jamaican wins and Usain Bolt took his World Championships career medal tally into double figures by anchoring Jamaica to gold. The indomitable 26-year-old claimed his third gold in Moscow by bringing the Jamaica team home in 37.36secs. Bolt has now won ten World Championship medals, eight gold and two silver, to equal Carl Lewis’ men’s record. Bolt delighted the crowed with a celebratory Cossack dance before parading round the track.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce also completed the hat-trick as Jamaica won the women’s 4x100 relay in the second-fastest time ever, giving them all six sprint golds in Moscow to bring a smile back to the Caribbean island following the doping cloud surrounding the build-up to Moscow. The French DQ helped the US as well as Britain, moving the Americans up to a silver medal.

On a high-quality final day, there was a Kenyan middle-distance double as Asbel Kiprop retained his 1,500 metres title and Eunice Sum took a surprise gold in the women’s 800.

Frenchman Teddy Tamgho delivered the third-longest leap in history as he soared 18.04 metres to win the triple jump and Christina Obergfoell’s javelin victory gave Germany their fourth field event gold.

Having become the fourth-fastest 1,500m runner of all time last month, Kiprop started hot favourite and nobody could live with his long-striding acceleration over the last 200 metres as he triumphed in 3:36.28.

American Matthew Centrowitz took silver and South African Johan Cronje a surprise bronze as both men finished strongly. Sum’s victory was much less expected as her late burst denied Russia’s Mariya Savinova back-to-back 800m titles. She took gold in 1:57.38, ahead of Savinova (1:57.80). Brenda Martinez grabbed third as she overhauled compatriot Alysia Johnson Montano, who had run a brave front-running race but ended fourth, flat on the track and sobbing uncontrollably.

After years of agonising near misses, an emotional Obergfoell took her first major javelin title at the age of 31 after throwing a season’s best 69.05 metres.

Russia topped the medal table with seven golds, although the Americans will promote themselves top under their system after finishing second on six but also gathering 13 silvers in a total of 25. Jamaica also had six golds with Kenya on five, Germany four and Ethiopia and GB three.