NASSAU, Bahamas - Team USA successfully defended the Golden Baton and the men’s distance medley gave the U.S. their second world record of the meet Sunday night at the IAAF/BTC World Relays.
Wins Sunday in the men’s DMR, men’s and women’s 4x400 and women’s 4x800 brought the U.S. win tally in Nassau to seven of the 10 relays contested. That performance was more than enough to earn the United States the Golden Baton as the top nation at the meet with 63 points. Jamaica was second in team standings with 46 and Poland third with 34.
Another DMR, Another WR
The Pacquiao-Mayweather fight may have been the biggest sports-betting event in history, but had you put money on Team USA to break a world record in the men’s distance medley, you might well have won big money Sunday night.
No World or Olympic medalists? No outdoor national champions? No problem. The U.S. team of Kyle Merber, Brycen Spratling, Brandon Johnson and Ben Blankenship turned in a world-beating performance, with Blankenship’s gamesmanship and grit in the 1,600m leg bringing home a world record of 9:15.50. It was Team USA’s second DMR world record at the 2015 IAAF World Relays, after the women had achieved the feat Saturday night.
In Sunday’s men’s race, Australia led after 1,200m in 2:53.13, with Merber following in second in 2:53.56. Australia (3:38.98) still held a narrow lead after a 45.82 400m split that Spratling (45.95) almost matched. After getting the baton for his 800m turn, Johnson quickly bolted to the lead but Kenya almost immediately took over. Undeterred, Johnson (1:44.75) retook the lead in a tight, three-way race between the U.S., Kenya and Australia heading into the final leg.
Blankenship visibly invited Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot to take the lead as soon as they took the batons, and Cheruiyot obliged. The Kenyan then seemed to go into a sprint to lead by 15 meters by the end of the first lap. With patience to spare, Blankenship slowly closed the gap and took over the lead midway down the backstretch on the final lap. It was a footrace of guts down the homestretch between the 2015 USA Indoor runner-up and Cheruiyot.
That effort paid off with an unofficial 1,600m split of 3:51.24, an American victory and world record.
Women’s 4x800m Breaks AR
In the most dominating performance of the meet, the U.S. women essentially ran a time trial in the 4x800m relay, with Chanelle Price, Maggie Vessey, Molly Beckwith-Ludlow and Alysia Montaño winning in 8:00.62 to break the American and meet record of 8:01.58 set here last year. Poland finished second in 8:11.36, with Australia third in 8:13.97.
Price led off and immediately went to the front, towing the field around the track under very breezy conditions. Cuba sprinted to the lead down the stretch, and Price handed off to Maggie Vessey a step behind first, splitting 2:01:30.
Vessey regained the lead 300m into the second leg and put the hammer down between 400 and 500 meters to gap the field. Vessey split 2:00.92 and had at least 15 meters on the field. From there, the U.S. dominated. Beckwith-Ludlow (1:59.50) kept the throttle open and Montano showed she is back in full form after giving birth to a daughter last August by opening with 54.95 for the first lap and splitting 1:58.90.
Women’s 4x400 Turns Heads
Phyllis Francis, Natasha Hastings, Sanya Richards-Ross and Francena McCorory turned in an eye-opening win in the 4x400m. Francis gave the U.S. a slight lead at the first exchange (51.40 split), and Natasha Hastings (49.93) bolted to the lead on the first turn of the second leg. Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills tried to challenge on the backstretch but Hastings got to Sanya Richards-Ross with a 3m lead.
Richards-Ross showed stunning early-season form, adding another 3-4m to the U.S. lead with a blazing split time of 48.79. World Indoor champion Francena McCorory (49.27) brought it home in 3:19.39, a meet record and the fastest time ever run in the first half of a calendar year. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics in July, East Germany ran 3:19.23.
Men’s 4x400 Holds Off Hometown Heroes
The meet’s final event was its most exciting. Coming in with the fifth-fastest time from Saturday’s qualifying round, Team USA changed up its lineup for Sunday’s final, with David Verburg, Tony McQuay, Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt on the track.
The Team USA men’s captain, Verburg had a healthy lead at the first handoff with a split of 44.91. By the time McQuay handed off to Wariner, the U.S. enjoyed a comfortable but not insurmountable lead thanks to his 44.00 split - the fastest of the evening - which put the U.S. up on the field by well more than a full second. The Bahamas’ Steven Gardiner quickly surmounted that lead, flying down the backstretch to pass Wariner. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist, Wariner kept his composure and retook the lead in the homestretch (44.80). 2008 Olympic champ Merritt (44.72) then held off Bahamian legend Chris Brown as the crowd roared down the homestretch.
The U.S. finished in a world-leading 2:58.43, with the Bahamas second in 2:58.91 and Belgium third in 2:59.33.
Women’s 4x100 Second To Jamaica
Another USA-Jamaica showdown didn’t disappoint in the women’s sprint relay. Jamaica’s Simone Facey got her team out to a lead as Team USA and Tianna Bartoletta started out of lane 3 to Jamaica’s 6. Allyson Felix made up ground on the backstretch and Kimberlyn Duncan ran a scorching third leg on the curve for Team USA. Coming off the bend, Carmelita Jeter had a lead over Veronica Campbell-Brown, but the Jamaican star caught Jeter, who is returning to competition in 2015 after a season of injury and recovery in 2014.
Campbell-Brown hit the line in 42.14, with the U.S. second in 42.32; Great Britain was third in 42.84. Earlier in the night, Jamaica had won heat 1 in 42.50 with the U.S. winning the second heat in 42.63.
Men’s 4x200 Misstep
A USA-Jamaican battle was in the works for the men’s 4x200m relay, with Team USA’s Wallace Spearmon, Isiah Young, Curtis Mitchell and Justin Gatlin facing off against Jamaica’s Nickel Ashmeade, Rasheed Dwyer, Jason Livermore and Warren Weir.
Running in lane 6, Jamaica held the lead after two legs.jam lead after 1. As Young attempted to pass to Mitchell on the second handoff in lane 5, the baton hit the track. Mitchell ran out to a clear and open lane 6 and picked up the baton,outside the lane and past the legal exchange zone.
On the anchor leg, Gatlin turned in an astonishing effort, bringing the U.S. from a distant last to third. The team was disqualified, however, for passing the baton outside the exchange zone. Jamaica won in 1:20.97, with France second in 1:21.49 and Germany third in 1:22.65.
In the qualifying round the U.S. lineup of Joseph Morris, Young, Justin Walker and Spearmon had run 1:20.78 to win the second heat. Jamaica had the fastest qualifying time, winning heat 1 in 1:20.19. Both times were faster than the winning time in the final.