Till a month ago, there was no specific plan for the women’s 4×100 metre relay team ahead of the Rio Olympics. The focus was on the longer relay — the women’s 4×400 metres — an event around which anticipation increases before a major competition though the last time they reached an Olympic final was 12 years ago in Athens.
However, one race forced the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to look beyond the quarter-milers and take a closer look at what the sprinters were doing. This particular race was the women’s 100 metres final at the 20th Federation Cup held in New Delhi.
Dutee Chand broke the 16-year-old national record of Rachita Mistry but equally encouraging were the timings of Srabani Nanda (11.45 seconds) and HM Jyothi (11.46). All three had clocked sub- 11.50 timings and had set their personal best with Dutee missing the Olympic qualifying mark of 11.32 by one-hundredth of a second.
Over the next few days three international meets were identified for the women’s relay team to participate in. The objective was to get the team to qualify for the Olympics and while the Rio dream for the 4×100 squad remains just that currently, the fourth place finish at the IAAF World Challenge in Beijing shows progress.
On Wednesday, the Indian women’s 4×100 relay team broke an 18-year-old national record — which was set by Saraswati Dey, Rachita Mistry, EB Shyla and PT Usha at Fukuoka in 1998. The anchor leg was run by Dutee, who was preceded on the track by Srabani, Jyoti and Merlyn Joseph as the team clocked a timing of 44.03 seconds.
China won the gold and bronze as their ‘A’ team clocked 42.65 and the ‘B’ team was timed at 43.89. Japan took the silver with 43.81.
Dutee and Srabani have had a healthy rivalry over the past year in the two sprint events. Both have pushed each other in the 100 and the 200, while Jyoti, the mother of a four-year-old girl, is in the form of her life and has emerged as the third force. For Merlyn, being part of a record-breaking relay team was redemption after she suffered a confidence-shattering blow two years ago.
She had broken the 100 metres national record during the semifinals of the Open Nationals in Ranchi and even though the AFI technical committee approved the mark, it was not ratified at the AGM because officials felt there was too much of inconsistency in her timings during the heats (12.07), the semifinals (11.35) and the final (11.95).
The Indian relay team’s performance is an improvement on the 44.92 (season best of 2015) and the 45.72 the Indian team registered at the Asian Athletics Championships in Wuhan last year but the team will have to run in the range of 43.45 seconds or faster to be able to finish in the top-16 in the world, a criteria to qualify for the Olympic Games.
For a national team to qualify for the relays (the top-eight teams at the IAAF World Relays in Bahamas have automatically qualified), the average of the two best timings achieved between January 1 last year and July 11, 2016 at an international meet must be good enough to be placed between No.9 and 16 in the world. As per the current position of teams around the world, the France’s 4×100 women relay team is 16th with an average timing of 43.71 seconds.
The Indian team will be hoping to go faster at Taiwan where they will participate at the Open Athletics Championships.