For the past four years British Athletics have targeted the relay events because they regard them as the lowest of low-hanging fruit. And, on the final day of these championships, they once again gorged on the juicy gifts on offer.
Two more medals – a silver in the women’s 4x400m and a bronze in the men’s 4x400m – meant that Britain competed a sweep of relays medals and took their final tally to these championships to six.
That is at the low end of the target of six to eight set by UK Sport. But given that eight days into these championships they only had one medal, from Sir Mo Farah, to their name their performance director Neil Black will be delighted by his late swing in fortune.
The first one last night came in the women’s 4x400m. It had looked a weak race before the start and it became even weaker when the Jamaica’s Anneisha McLaughlin-Whilby pulled up with what looked like a hamstring problem.
In recent years the women’s 4x400m relay has been a full-throated battle between Jamaica and the United States but now the race was blown open. America were streets clear and with Allyson Felix, who ran a staggering 48.7sec leg, driving them on they came home to gold. Almost six seconds behind came Great Britain’s team of Zoey Clark, Laviai Nielsen, Eilidh Doyle and Emily Diamond who took silver in 3:25.03, with Poland third in 3:25.41.
Now it was up to Britain’s men to complete the run of relay medals. The elimination of Botswana, Olympic silver medallists Jamaica and London 2012 champions Bahamas had given them a chance of an unlikely bronze. And they took it.
Matthew Hudson-Smith, who had missed the semi-finals, started strongly for Britain and it meant the team were in second place after the first leg. And while Dwayne Cowan lost a place he still had 20 metres over those chasing him. Rabah Yousif kept the gap and then Martyn Rooney brought home the bronze behind Trinidad and Tobago, who took gold, with the US getting silver.
Rooney, the twice European champion has had a poor season by his standards and has not broken 46 seconds all years, but in the relay he becomes a different animal. And once again he pounced.
The event ended with Usain Bolt doing a last lap of honour, having thankfully recovered from the cramp that caused him to pull up during Saturday night’s 4x100m relay. It was a moment the IAAF president, Sebastian Coe, described as “horrible”. Added Coe: “The athlete in me tells me it’s a devastating moment if you’re in mid-race and something starts not to work, it’s horrible. Whether the Jamaican team were in a medal position or not, the reality of it is you don’t want to see anybody not being to be able to fulfil what they warmed up to do and what they prepared to do.”
But Coe knows it is off the track as much as on it that athletics will miss the larger-than-life Bolt. “What we are going to miss about Usain Bolt is not the three back-to-back Olympic Games or the clutch of world records or the medals, it’s going to be because he has an opinion, he has s view, he fills a room,” he said. “We have some really terrific talent that’s identified themselves at these championships, but that’s not the same as filling that void.”
Bolt’s team-mate Yohan Blake blamed the 30-year-old’s injury on the delay to the race, which started 10 minutes later than scheduled. “I think they were holding us too long in the call room. The walk was too long,” Blake said.
“Usain was really cold. In fact Usain said to me, ‘Yohan, I think this is crazy’.
But Niels de Vos, the chief executive of UK Athletics and London 2017, claimed Bolt would understand. He said: “It’s an unfortunate inevitability that the final event of any world championship is often slightly later than timetabled. I expect Usain himself would be the very last person to complain, not least because often he’s been the cause of events being delayed because of the mass celebration that happens around him.
“I guess what happened last night was the events at the end of the 5,000m [in which Mo Farah won silver]. It’s part of sport and I think most athletes are ready to accept it.”
De Vos also sounded an upbeat note about the performance of the Great Britain team, who have come in for criticism for their lack of medals in individual events. “We are extraordinarily happy,” he said. “We will have more finalists than we have ever had before, that’s a fantastic result.
“We had four fourths on the track that collectively were less than two tenths of a second away from being four medals. They weren’t medals, but this is a team in transition and coming out having our most finalists ever as we push towards the next Olympiad is a great place for British athletics to be in.”