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#SJA2017: the night Britain’s men’s sprint quartet made history

The voting has opened for Sportsman, Sportswoman and Sports Team of the Year at the SJA British Sports Awards sponsored by the National Lottery. As far as CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE is concerned, there is only one team in contention and that’s Britain’s men’s sprint quartet.

After a year of spectacular team performances in British sport, one stands head and shoulders above the rest – and it happened in a moment when this writer and many others were focused on something else.

The athletics world championships in London in August had not exactly been the medal feast the same stadium witnessed five years previously at the Olympics.

Indeed, save for Mo Farah, there were no medals to speak of for British Athletics as the penultimate day arrived.

Farah even bowed out himself on that evening with a silver in the 5,000metres, bringing an end to his phenomenal golden run over six years.

However, the women’s 4x100m relay team flew out of the blocks and kept up pace with the Americans to upgrade their Olympic bronze from Rio to silver on home turf.

That raised the roof of the London Stadium and would be worthy of claiming this award – were it not for what was to follow.

Following the upset of American Justin Gatlin beating Usain Bolt in the men’s 100m earlier in the week, the attention was focused on the duo once again as they met in the men’s 4x100m relay for the Jamaican’s final major race.

The Brits were in lane seven, and that was seen as significant achievement enough for the likes of C J Ujah (23), Adam Gemili (24), Danny Talbot (26) and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (23).

DONE IT: Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake crosses the finish line (Getty Images)

Ujah got off to a blistering start, but so did the Americans and Jamaicans. The worry would be that come the final leg, it would be the familiar two-horse race.

Even as Talbot rounded the bend, level with Gatlin, the thought prevailed that once Bolt received the baton from Yohan Blake there would only be one outcome and it would be a glorious finish to a glorious career.

But only a few strides in, the sprint king suddenly pulled up sharp and collapsed to the track clutching his hamstring, leaving the crowd in the stadium and around the world aghast.

As the triple Olympic and world champion lay prostrate on the track, Mitchell-Blake crossed the finishing line seemingly at the same time as Christian Coleman of the USA.

An eerie silence descended as one took in the spectacle of arguably the greatest athlete ever ending his career face down on the track. There was also the wait in finding out who had actually won.

TAKING A TUMBLE
SAD GOODBYE (Getty Images)

The screen burst into life, and so did the stadium, as it was announced the home foursome had indeed pipped the Americans to win Britain’s first world sprint relay title and smashing the national and European record in the process (37.47 seconds).

Not since the upset of 13 years previous at the Athens Olympics had the tables been turned so spectacularly in elite relay sprinting.

Mitchell-Blake jumped in wild celebration as British Athletics surely breathed a huge sigh of relief that despite early concerns, the future of the sport without Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill et al did indeed look promising.

For the young quartet, it was each of their first medal at world or Olympic level. It surely will not be the last, but the least they deserve right now is to be awarded SJA Team of the Year.

Voting closes on Wednesday November 8.

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The SJA charity partner for the British Sports and British Sports Journalism Awards is Alzheimer’s Society.  Unite now – text UNITE to 70677 to donate £3 a month or visit alzheimers.org.uk/donatetoday

 

 

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