Ghana will participate in the 4x100m relay final at this year’s World Athletics Championship on Sunday after picking an automatic qualifying spot on Friday.
The team finished third in the first heat to book what will be a fourth major final for Ghana’s relay team in three years.
So many fans following the team are quite used to seeing the them in finals these days, however there has been a major discussion about why Ghana got Lane 8 in the heats and gets the same lane in the final.
This question is important because it is common knowledge, Lane 8 gives an athlete the shortest curve at the beginning and the longest curve at the end.
Advantages and disadvantages
Let’s get to educate ourselves about how the rules have changed a bit at this year’s Championships in Eugene.
Why bother about lanes in short-distance races like the 4x100m relay?
It’s a personal preference. Some athletes have enough confidence in their ability that they don’t feel a lane can decide how fast they run.
In principle, athletes who run faster times in earlier heats are assigned to middle lanes in later heats. In other words, the fastest runners are rewarded with what are, supposedly, better lane assignments.
The advantage of running in the middle lanes (3, 4, 5 or 6) is that you have a clear view of the race at any point. You see athletes pacing in front of you, which effectively gives you a target ahead and you’re aware of those pushing up behind you. This makes it easier for the athlete to regulate speed and apply his race strategy to the latter.
In effect, the middle lanes afford the athlete real control of the race and nothing takes you by surprise.
Lane 1 has a tighter bend, which means that athletes on the outside of the track can carry their speed better. The difference isn’t huge, but that is why you don’t often see athletes winning medals from Lane 1.
In Lane 8, you are ‘running blind’ and cannot see your competitors. The athlete becomes the target for everyone – which means competitors will chase you and running really fast really becomes a prerequisite. Racing in Lane 8 means starting “ahead” of the other competitors to allow for the extra distance on the bend.
At a top meet like the World Athletics Championships, the norm is that the fastest four qualifiers to the 4x100m relay final tussle for the middles lane (3, 4, 5, 6) and the next fastest times (5th and 6th) ballot for lane 7 and 8. The least times in the final run in lanes 1 and 2.
What happened at this year’s Championships?
There have been pretty chaotic scenes at technical meetings with the first one ending abruptly because many coaches disagreed with the many tweaks to what the World Athletics accepts as the norm with regard to rules of lane placement.
For example, 48 hours before the 4x100m relay semis, technical handlers sent a text to the coaches announcing a rule change in seeding. Normally, this is by ranking. However, they decided to weigh 50% by ranking and 50% by the average of your top four finishers.
That birthed a contentious technical meeting and though there was a promise to get back to team coaches, the World Athletics technical team just went ahead and published the heat sheets. Regardless, Ghana raced in Lane 8 as result, in the heat, and qualified for the final.
Similarly, there was no official technical meeting to decide the criteria for seeding ahead of the 4×100 relay final. With Ghana ending up in Lane 8 again, the educated guess is that officials made choice using time – Ghana recorded the slowest time in the heats (38.58s).
USA had 37.87s, Canada clocked 38.10s, and France had 38.09s. The trio had top three times in the heats and will now occupy lanes 3, 4 and 5 respectively. Brazil (38.41s) with the fifth fastest time are in Lane 1, South Africa (38.31s) in Lane 7, Jamaica (38.33s) in Lane 2 and Great Britain (38.49s) in Lane 6.
Team Ghana has Lane 8, rather than Lane 1, because of the tightness of the curve, however, the quartet will need to execute their race in their allotted lane as fast as they can.
There may be documented challenges with the lane, but the sport has so much room for men who dare to be different.
The 4x100m relay final is on Sunday at 2:50am Ghana time.