CANADIAN MEN'S 4X100M RELAY TEAM HAS TURNED CORNER

Heartbreak of 2012 Olympics no longer lingers

By Malcolm Kelly, CBC Sports

Gavin Smellie is one of the veterans on a deep Canadian 4x100m relay squad. 

Still waters may run deep, but in sprint relays it's deep waters that run fast.

That's the advantage Canada's men's 4 x 100-metre track foursome seems to be carrying into a summer that will include the Pan Am Games at Toronto and the World Athletics Championships at Beijing.

Coach Desai Williams not only has all four members of the bronze medal winning team from the 2013 worlds back for another go, he has at least three other runners trying to knock them aside for a place.

"That's the beauty of it," said Williams, just back from a training camp in St. Kitts and Nevis. "The Americans have that situation, so why not us? Once you have six or seven guys who have great speed and are running 10.1, sub-10, 10.0, it's a great situation for everybody."

CONSISTENCY IS KEY

Speed kills, but having four consistent runners all around the 10-second mark who can move the baton around without mistakes usually beats a country with a couple of faster runners who bobble the stick.

"But it also puts me in a difficult spot because you have to make good decisions [on personnel] and I will make the best decision I can," Williams said.

The coach has a lot to choose from, starting with the four men who won that world bronze – Justyn Warner (a best of 10.36 in 2014 and a personal best of 10.09), Gavin Smellie (10.20 last year and a P.B. of 10.14), Aaron Brown (10.07/10.05) and Dontae Richards-Kwok (a 20.81 200m best last season and a 100m P.B. of 10.12).

Then there are youngsters Andre De Grasse (a 10.11 in the NCAA at the University of South California), Akeem Haynes (10.27, plus a quick 6.51 indoor 60m this season), and Brandon Rodney, a 200m specialist (20.27) who also has a 10.29 at 100m.

GREAT SUMMER AHEAD

Just to throw down the gauntlet, De Grasse won both the 100m and 200m at the Mt. SAC Relays in April, putting in a heavy wind-aided (+4.0) 9.87 in the former and tying the Canadian mark in the latter with a 20.16. That matches the time of Trojan and Canadian teammate Brown.

"A lot of guys are now coming out of the woodwork and performing very well," says Smellie, who was on the 2012 Olympic team that finished third before being disqualified for a lane violation, and the 2013 world bronze squad.

"It will be interesting to see who is on the team, and we know that team will have a great summer – a lot of medals will be collected at the Pan Ams and the world championships."

The team seems to have recovered from the London 2012 incident when a bronze medal they thought was won, disappeared a few minutes later after a judge detected a momentary step on the inside white line during the third leg. 

Jared Connaughton, the Canadian runner who stepped on the line, announced his retirement from the sport in 2014. He was lauded for the way he handled himself after the immense disappointment of the DQ and reflected on his career in a podcast with former Canadian teammate Anson Henry

Meanwhile, Smellie — who has watched a lot of track in his 28 years and is defending national 100m champion — believes this may be the best of times for the relay team.

"I've never seen so many guys running the quality times they are running," he said. "We are getting good support, and we understand what it takes to be at that level. Everyone is starting to perform."

Making the final choice by Williams that much tougher.

BE FASTEST WHEN IT COUNTS

It's going to come down to who is running the best as everyone heads for Edmonton and the national championships, July 2-5.

"If a guy runs 10-flat and in July he's running 10.6, due to whatever reason, and the guy who came fifth or fourth (earlier in the year) is running 10-flat, that's the guy I'm going to go to," said Williams.

So, if you want to make the sprint relay team, don't run a 10.5 in July?

"Don't run 10.5. Simple. Simple."

Smellie contends whatever four sprinters make it, the group can set records both this summer and at the Rio Olympics in 2016. That would require beating the famous 37.69 set by the gold medal winning foursome of Robert Esmie, Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey at the Atlanta Olympic Games.