Australian women's relay team chasing history
The Australian women’s 4x100 relay team could break an 18-year Australian record at GC2018 according to their coach Jodi Lambert.
Lambert should know, it’s her record.
The former sprinter is now in charge of the next generation of Australian relay athletes and is excited at the prospect of what they can produce at the Commonwealth Games on home soil.
At the Queensland International Track Classic on Wednesday night the team of Sally Pearson, Maddie Coates, Riley Day and Melissa Breen ran 43.76, the fastest time for seven years and the third quickest for 16 years.
It followed a training camp in Brisbane late last year, the team ran 44.04 which was the fastest time by an Australian women’s team in four years.
But there is plenty of improvement left in the team according to their coach.
The long-standing record of 42.99 set by Lambert, Rachael Massey, Suzanne Broadrick and Melinda Gainsford-Taylor in Pietersberg in 2000 before the Sydney Olympics is now well and truly a motivating factor for the current team hopeful of medalling in front of a home crowd.
“The 42.99 is definitely a time that the girls are aiming for, it is a big thing that we have put on the board,” Lambert told GC2018.com.
“We want to break that Australian record, it has been there for a long time and it is time that it was broken.
“I certainly have been encouraging the girls to look to that record, and if they can break that record, that will make them very competitive.
“We still have a way to go, it would be good to knock a second off that Brisbane time, and that seems like a lot, but you can easily make up two or three tenths of a second in every baton change.”
Reigning champions Jamaica won the gold medal at Glasgow in 41.83 and look the team to beat with Nigeria, England and the Bahamas also competitive.
But if the Australians can break the national record, it would put them right in contention for a medal at GC2018.
“With the girls coming into Comm Games, they’ll be running faster as they get into competition. So you have increased flat speed and time you can make up on changes,” Lambert explained.
“It is not unrealistic to think we can break that record.
“There are some strong sprinting nations in the Commonwealth, but sub 43 is probably where we need to be running to medal, but you never know.
“For me it would be lovely to be involved with the team that broke that record.
“I love this sport and you want to see it moving on. It has been 18 years since we broke that record. It has been a long time and it is time it went.
“I can see the potential of the girls and they could break that record. To break it at a major Games, in front of a home crowd would be amazing.”
The IAAF have recently introduced a tweak to the rules in the relay, removing the 10 metre run-in box and leaving a 30 metre box where athletes can change the baton. Essentially the rule has made the event simpler for officials, athletes and spectators.
While Lambert doesn’t believe it will have a dramatic impact on times, it does give teams a bit more flexibility and strategy.
The Commonwealth Games will be the first major meet the new rule is in effect.
“As we’ve been adjusting to the new rule, the girls instinctually look for the start of the box and they don’t even know they are doing it,” Lambert said.
“It’s something they’ve done for so long, but it is one less thing to think about.
“It does give you more flexibility on where you change the baton. You might want your strongest runner to run a bit further. You might get them to get the baton slightly earlier in the box and then change later at the other end.
“But you still want your athletes at speed when they are changing the baton.
“10 metres isn’t a lot of room to get up to speed, so I don’t think you’ll see a massive change.
“At a grassroots and junior level though, it is fantastic. It is so much simpler. For teaching relay and introducing them to young kids. It is fantastic.”
The fundamentals of the relay remain, it is all about clean changes and doing them at speed. It is here where selection of the team and positioning will be critical to Australia’s chances.
It is why Lambert tries to fly athletes across the country to get them together into camps. Practice and cohesion is just as important as flat speed in the relay.
“It is crucial, what happens in that exchange zone is what wins and loses a race,” she said.
“You often see teams that don’t have the fastest four runners winning, because their changes are so slick and they can get that baton around.
“You want the baton to not slow down the whole way around, that is the ultimate aim. If you can change that baton at speed with no fumbles, the baton is keeping that pace up. When you don’t get that change right, that’s when you lose a lot of time.
“Some girls run the bend better, some are better starters, and some are better at baton changes than others, that is just a reality. So you need to figure you the best combinations. While athletics is an individual sport, this is our team element.”
This article was updated on 29 March, 2018 and was first published on 23 January.