Jamaica’s national 400m record holder Jermaine Gonzales made an interesting comment to the media recently. He has been trying to convince his club-mate Usain Bolt to run on the 1600m relay team at next year’s London Olympics. Bolt’s contribution, he believes, would greatly increase Jamaica’s chance of taking the gold medal.
There’s nothing strange or new about Bolt running the 400m or a leg of a mile relay. Neither is it far-fetched that Jamaica can beat the US in the event. Whether Bolt likes the individual 400m, the fact is he ran 45.35 in 2003 when he was 16, and he has a personal best (PB) 45.28 established in 2007. He also ran the anchor leg of the 4x4 for his club at the 2010 Gibson Relays in Kingston, clocking a 43.58 split.
Jamaica’s capacity to perform in the 4x4 was on display at the recent World Championships in Daegu, as the country’s relay squad with only one athlete meeting the ‘A’ qualifying mark, ran a season’s best 2:59.13 for second behind the US (2:58.82) and just ahead of South Africa (2:59.21) in the preliminary round. In the final, Jamaica led well into the home straight until hurdler Leford Green was overhauled some 50 meters from home, and what looked like sure gold turned into bronze, with a time of 3:00.10 behind US (2:59.31) and South Africa (2:59.87). As a trend, whenever Jamaica won a medal in the 4x4, whether it’s Olympics or World Championships, the team was always a distant second or third behind the mighty US.
Gonzales, whom Bolt convinced to join Racers Track Club after years of Gonzales being plagued by injuries, is now trying to persuade his friend (who wants to be a legend) into adding another event to his repertoire.
What makes Gonzales’ statement interesting and calls for a double-take lies between the proverbial lines. The fact that Gonzales really wants Bolt to consider the 4x4, suggests that it is being discussed at the administrative level at Racers. If this is so, Bolt may just yield to the “pressure,” depending on what effect an additional event might have on his Olympic workload. As is in the case with the sprint relay, he would be called upon to perform just for the final if the team qualifies.
Gonzales also makes another statement that strengthens the possibility of seeing Bolt on the team: "He [Bolt] loves the 4x4 and I wish he would give us a leg ..." That Bolt loves the event and seeing where his inclusion could give Jamaica gold might be all the motivation he needs.
Speed, Endurance, Acceleration Ability
In all of this speculation, though, there is one person who is being overlooked here who, with Bolt, could put Jamaica out of reach in the 4x4: World 100m Champion Yohan Blake. As a high school 100m and 200m sprinter, Blake ran on his school’s 4x4 and, of course, the 4x1 that ran fast times at Champs and at the Penn Relays. Perhaps Blake’s most memorable run, however, was in the 4x4 at the Penn Relays in 2007, even though his school lost the race. After taking the baton about eight meters behind the dangerous Long Beach Poly High (California) anchor Bryshon Nellum, he closed the gap to within an arm’s length of Nellum. Both anchors registered 45.40 splits.
Blake’s coach, Glen Mills, recently revealed that this year, Blake clocked “30.something secs for the 300m (in training), which is just outside the world record.” A highly motivated and passionate Blake with 19.26secs under his spikes, high speed and endurance, and excellent acceleration ability, shows he gets faster as the race progresses and could add lethal firepower to the 2012 4x4 team.
Dangerous 400m Man in the Making
But the possibilities do not end with Blake. There is another upcoming superstar who is being forgotten and is thinking of taking on new challenges next season. A fit Nickel Ashmeade, Blake’s high school teammate, who now specializes in the 200m, could be the third 100m-200m sprinter to complete a fearsome trio (Bolt, Blake, Ashmeade) that teams up with Gonzales. This could be reminiscent of Jamaica’s 1952 Helsinki Olympic gold medal team of Arthur Wint, Les Laing, Herb McKenley, and George Rhoden.
Ashmeade, like Blake, has always been a part of the redoubtable St. Jago High sprint and mile relay quartets. For years, fans, as well as his high school coach, have expressed the sentiment that Ashmeade should forego the 100m and take up the 400m because of his immense power and stamina. However, he has ignored the call for a long time, saying he just runs 400m for fun. Since last year, though, he has been singing a different tune: “After doing so many 4x4s, I’ve grown to love the 400m,” he said in early 2011, noting that in 2012 he’d be doing more of the event. Like Bolt and Blake, Ashmeade has terrific 200m speed, and with a PB of 19.91, he is a dangerous 400m man in the making. He has the potential to produce tremendous firepower.
While all of this is pure speculation and might make for exciting daydreaming among Jamaicans, the fact is that after years of drought in the men’s mile relay, riddled by what some harsh critics call “embarrassing performances”, especially after the 2008 Olympics, indications are that Jamaica has a roster of quarter-milers in training not mentioned here and is inching its way back to the glory days of Michael Blackwood, Greg Haughton, Danny McFarlane and Michael McDonald, when Haughton once fell and cart-wheeled in an Olympic final and still managed to claim bronze.
With the return of current number two 44+ man Ricardo Chambers and Dwight Mullings, who also has gone under 45secs and recently went back home from the US to train, Jamaica could well see a 4x4 pool as deep as that of the country’s 4x1.