On the second and final day of action at the 2021 World Athletics Relays, the British women’s 4x400m relay team clinched third spot, while the mixed 4x400m relay finished fifth.
The women’s 4x400m team matched their best finish at the World Athletics Relays from 2015, finishing behind Cuba and Poland in a time of 3:29.27.
Returning to the women’s team, Laviai Nielsen (Christine Harrison-Bloomfield; Enfield and Haringey) got the quartet off to a brilliant start on the opening lap. Going from lane five, the relay world medallist made sure the squad were in contention from the early stage, handing over to Ama Pipi (Linford Christie; Enfield and Haringey) in a narrow lead ahead of Poland.
Pipi ran a quality second leg to maintain the British lead. Accelerating over the first 100m, Pipi held the advantage as the field hit the break. With the Polish team and the rest of the field lining up behind her, composure was required from the Enfield and Haringey athlete in the closing stages. On only her second GB & NI appearance, she held off the chasing pack to pass the baton to Emily Diamond (Benke Blomkvist; Bristol & West) in first place.
It was an assured performance from Diamond who maintained the leading margin on her leg, working hard to hold off Netherlands, Cuba and Poland who looked the likely contenders for top spot alongside the British squad.
As the baton was exchanged to Jessie Knight (Marina Armstrong; Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow), she faced the stern challenge of the Dutch and Cuban teams who were immediately on her shoulder from the outset as the Polish team had lost some ground. However, Knight maintained the inside lane and held her lead with around 120m to go.
However, the pressure told in the final stages as Gomez of Cuba and Klaver of Netherlands hit another gear to pass the Briton, but the European Indoors silver medallist held on to secure third spot for the team.
Following her final leg run, Knight said, “There were about four of us who got the baton at the same time [at the handover] and I think I got overly excited, and I just went for it, which to be honest in relay running, you’ve got to do. I got to about 250m winning and I felt really good, but I could just feel the pressure coming. It’s the best I could do and I’m really glad I gave it a good go. There were some really strong runners in there, some I’ve never beaten in the individual 400m before and actually I came out stronger on the leg.”
Nielsen added, “I don’t think I’ve ever run a 400m in such chilly weather. We knew that race was going to be close, but we went out there with a winning mindset. On the first leg it is my responsibility to set it up well for the girls. That is all I was thinking about, doing it for the team.
“Watching second, third and fourth legs running is one of the nerve-wracking things. They did such an incredible job and we fought right to the end.”
The mixed relay team finished fifth in a highly competitive race, posting a time of 3:18.87.
Following the heats on Saturday, Lee Thompson (John Henson; Sheffield and Dearne) was switched from final leg to the first leg, and the Sheffield and Dearne athlete got the team off to a clean start, handing over to Zoey Clark (Eddie McKenna; Thames Valley) in third position behind Italy and Brazil who would eventually finish in these positions.
Clark and Yasmin Liverpool (Stewart Marshall; Coventry) were called in to the mixed relay team for the final – Clark after helping the women’s team qualify for their final on the previous day – and both performed solidly on leg two and three respectively.
The Scot took up the baton from Thompson and the multiple relay medallist powered around the bend with her eye on reaching the break first. From lane three, Clark achieved that goal and put GB & NI in the lead as they hit the 200m mark. A fast-finishing Brazil and Italy moved passed the Scot on the home straight, but she handed to debutant, Liverpool, level with Belgium.
Liverpool ran a strong first 100m, overtaking the Brazilian team with her sights set on the leading team from Italy. As the leg progressed, the chasing pack narrowed the gap on the Briton with the Dominican Republic coming through into second on the final bend.
With a lot of traffic to negotiate at the final changeover, the Coventry athlete confidently handed to team captain, Rabah Yousif Bhkeit in fourth position with five teams in contention for second and third place. A one lap battle ensued with Yousif in third ahead of Kevin Borlee (BEL) and Alison Dos Santos (BRA) until they hit 100m to go. As the Brazilian athlete moved passed the Briton, Borlee soon followed, so Yousif Bhkeit brought the team home in fifth place.
Clark said after the race, “Lee put me in a really good position. Obviously on second leg you want to get ahead at the break because it sets the team up for the rest of the race. My target was to get us in a good position which luckily I managed to do.
“It was a really tight race with a lot of the girls coming back at me. I wanted my legs to give it a little bit more at the end, but I was just trying to handover to Lee as well as I could.
“I was in the women’s race yesterday and we had a much clearer run, basically by ourselves. So, I knew this was going to be a lot more competitive so that’s why I knew I had to get in front so that really spurred me on to go out hard.”
Yousif Bhkeit added, “If I had a couple more races in my legs, I would have sealed the deal. It was a better race than yesterday, for me. But I still have to progress through the season.
“My teammates did an absolutely marvellous job. They put me in a good position but unfortunately, I’m still not race sharp, but I appreciate their hard work and I promise next time we will bring it home.”
“I am absolutely proud of every individual in this team. They are a young group of talented athletes. They have turned up here, and I wouldn’t say they have surprised me, it is what I expect from them, but I am proud of them.”
Additionally, following their placings at the 2021 World Athletics Relays both the women’s and mixed 4x400m relays qualified teams for the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Results from the 2021 World Athletics Relays can be found here: https://www.worldathletics.org/competitions/world-athletics-relays/silesia21/timetable
Ryan Thomas Williams