Five-time defending Olympic champions in the event, the United States women’s 4-by-400-meter relay team is looking to return to the top of the podium at the World Championships. Two years ago in Moscow, the Russians edged the three-time reigning gold medalist Americans by two tenths of a second, but the U.S. was the dominant team in Saturday’s semifinals and will be favorite in the final Sunday at Beijing.
“I got out and made sure I gave my team a big lead to ensure we moved on to the finals,” U.S. starter Phyllis Francis said. “It was chill, I can’t complain.”
Francis, in her first World Championships, ran the quickest leg at 49.74 seconds, then passed the baton to Jessica Beard, who was a member of the 2009 and 2011 gold medal teams, and the 2013 silver.
“Once I got the lead, I felt I had to maintain and extend it,” Beard said. “I just wanted to finish strong and make sure the other legs didn’t have to overwork. We don’t want to exert a lot of energy because we’re going to have a really fast final tomorrow. We want everybody to be as fresh as possible.”
Sanya Richards-Ross ran the third leg for a split time of 2:32.23, before Francena McCorory ended it at 3:23.05, about nine tenths of a second before Great Britain, which was second in heat two. All from the first heat, Nigeria, Jamaica and Russia were the second through fourth fastest qualifiers, with the Nigerians at 3:23.27.
“We’re just looking to go out there and have fun, my teammates made it easy today,” McCorory said. “Each one of us wants to run the best leg we possibly can run.”
McCorory was a part of the team at the past two World Championships and London Olympics, while Richards-Ross was on the 2003, 2007, 2009, and 2011 World Championship teams and the past three Olympic winners. None of the Russian runners were on the gold medal team from 2013, but Sharon Day was a member of the Jamaican team that won the bronze medal at the London Games. Great Britain returns Elidh Cox from the bronze medal team in 2013, while France, Ukraine and Canada also complete the field for the final. Canada is in the final for the first time since playing host at Edmonton in 2001, where it was eighth.
“We wanted to start off strong and put us in there,” said Canadian runner Sage Watson, who also competes for the University of Arizona. “We all did a good job at relays, we were waiting outside because we got fourth, so when we saw the board, we got super excited because it’s been a long time since Canada has been in a four-by-four in an Olympics or a Worlds, so it’s just an honor to be the team that brings it back.”