Let Thompson-Herah Breathe and Do Her Job on The Track

Now that the track season is over, it is time to reflect on two unpleasant sentiments among Jamaican followers of the sport, one of which has caught the attention of many, even American sprinter Sha’Carrie Richardson.

It is interesting that every time Jamaican senior women compete in a global 4x100m relay, a disturbing level of criticism is directed at the coaching staff and athletes on the team.

In most cases, onlookers, in general, act as if they know what should have been done when they do not see the result they want. After the sprint relay at the July World Championships in Oregon, USA, criticism over what made Jamaica got beaten by four seemingly slower American woman took a turn worse than it was after they won in Tokyo a year ago but didn’t break the world record. But what if the quartet had broken the US-held world record in Oregon, would there be so much finger-pointing to who did not do something? While I understand fan criticism, I don’t get the layman-type analyses by coaches, officials, and journalist who are supposedly knowledgeable about the sport enough to understand what transpired.

US No Pushover

The fact is, the young ladies did what they could with what they had left after competing in the 100m and 200m, and appreciation for the work they did and the glory they brought to Jamaica should be at the center our conversation.

We need to stop thinking that the US female sprinters are pushovers. Have we forgotten that they won the 4x100m final at Rio 2016, running in lane one? Winning a print relay from that lane is almost unheard of. At London 2012 they broke the 4x100m world record with 40.82secs with team members who weren’t all 100m specialists. That team comprised of World long jump champion Tiana Bartoletta on lead-off against Jamaica’s Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce; 200m specialist Allyson Felix on the backstretch against Jamaica’s 2008 100m silver medialist Sherone Simpson; World Junior champion Bianca Knight on third against Jamaica’s Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown; and World 100m champion Carmelita Jeter on anchor against Jamaica’s 2008 silver medalist Kerron Stewart.

Four women between the Jamaica and the USA (Felix and Jeter of the US and Fraser-Pryce and Campbell-Brown of Jamaica) were in the preceding 100m or 200m finals. Well, the American women didn’t drop the baton and they soundly defeated Jamaica. Interestingly, the only talk we heard was “it took a world record to beat us (Jamaica).”

Thompson-Herah The Scapegoat 

Fast forward to the Tokyo Olympics and the Oregon World Championships, and it seems that Elaine Thompson-Herah is always at the center of discussion as the scapegoat for Jamaica’s performance in the 4×100.

In 2022, starting with her performances in the 100m and 200m at the World Championships, the lack of respect for her contribution is appalling. The Jamaican women earned the top three spots in the 100m and top two and seventh place in the 200m; did the critics share these same sentiments last year when an in-form Thompson-Herah led a 1-2-3 finish in the 100m and convincingly won the 200m at the Olympics? Earning a spot to compete at a World Championships and then making a final is a huge accomplishment, especially for one plagued with injuries and niggles throughout the season. Fans of the sport should take into consideration that the performance of the athlete could be the result of an injury that hampers training; with that in mind, leave Thompson-Herah to breathe.

Now to the sprint relay in Oregon. My analysis of the race shows the exchange between Kemba Nelson and Thompson-Herah was good. The idea is to move the baton through the zone as quickly as possible and make the pass as closely as possible to the end of the exchange zone; the result should be that the outgoing runner would be accelerating at a faster rate of speed when the baton is received.

Thompson-Herah had three full strides left in the zone, which was brilliant; however, no mention has been made about the quickness of the change. Instead, all the talk was about her almost running out of the box and whether she left too early. I agree that more practice was needed with the exchanges because all three zones had some form of challenge, which if devoid of those challenges may have resulted in the world record Jamaica anticipates year after year.

Working The Acceleration Zone

One of the drills that the late great coach Dennis Johnson taught us at CAST (now UTECH) was to extend the acceleration zone of the outgoing runner so that the incoming runner would not be able to exchange the baton before the outgoing runner steps out of the zone, then gradually decrease the acceleration zone until the baton can be changed within the last three steps of the outgoing runner before he/she steps out the zone. This is the most effect way to break records. However, this scenario requires much more practice and is best used for non-championship meets such as Drake Relays, Penn Relays, and Gibson Relays.

Another safe way is to divide the exchange zone in half and when the outgoing runner gets to the halfway mark, puts the hand back to receive the baton. This is called the safe-stick method, which is best for the Olympic Games and World Championships.

Is the first scenario a pipe dream because all team members might not be living in Jamaica? 

So let us be on the encouraging side of the athletes because all we praise is success, but success is never instantaneous or automatic; it’s earned over time. Allow athletes in general to do their job as professionals and allow Thompson-Herah, in particular, to do hers.