Why our sprint relay squad is no longer a joke

Change is good. Change is also inevitable. And as we come towards the end of Rio 2016, one thing that has stood out for me in the women’s track and field is the changing of the guard. Our Queen, Jess Ennis-Hill, has stepped down to silver, Stratford stalwart Christine Ohuruogu admitted that her legs aren’t doing what they used to, and double Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce reluctantly backed down to hand over her 100-metre crown to Elaine Thompson.

There is one more change that I am very keen on seeing in Rio. A change I experienced nearly three years ago, but one the world is about to witness. Our female sprinters in the 4×100 metres.

Two days ago I found myself embroiled in a Facebook debate about British sprinters. I was fiercely defensive of the performance of the women in Rio, and that’s when I realised what a huge champion of our fast women I am. What we have in the UK is something that has never happened before. The depth, desire and sheer determination of our sprinters, has resulted in the obliteration of records, a world-leading time in the 4×100 metres and a self-belief that is evident every time they get together.

This afternoon, when they enter the cauldron of the Olympics, that belief has to push through more than ever before. They must do what my era of sprinters couldn’t. Park their egos, personal ambitions and come together with one objective only. To get on that Olympic podium.

After joining the senior relay squad in 2005, I came in naive, brashy and unable to shake the side of my ego which made me so competitive as an individual. When it came to working as a team I lacked the elements to make it a successful campaign. The sad thing was, I wasn’t the only one.

Moving forward to 2008 in Beijing my attitude had changed and I wanted the squad to do so well. Individually I had excelled and made a global final. My confidence was at its peak. What I didn’t realise is how overwhelming that can be for your team-mates. We went in as outside medal hopes and left with a dropped baton and deflated confidence.

By the time I realised how to negotiate my personal ambition, relationships and character to succeed, it was too late. The damage had been done. The women’s 4×100-metres team was a joke. In fact, labelled a ‘disgrace’ by head coach Charles van Commenee. The years from 2009 to 2012 were spent trying to find national coaches willing to take on the poison chalice of the women’s squad. Trying to salvage something that was fundamentally broken.

The dead wood needed to be removed before anything was possible. When this change happened in 2013 it resulted in a bronze world medal; 2014 saw a European gold and national record; 2015 another national record. Now here they are in 2016, poised and ready to show the world why British women sprinters can be great.

Going into the first round of the Games, the girls need to keep their cool, do everything they’ve practised in the last few weeks. Do not get caught up with what could be, but remain focused on the process. A medal is there for the taking if they do it right. I even stuck my neck out and predicted it on Twitter a few weeks ago after seeing them run in London.

That night at the Anniversary Games in the Olympic Stadium, the British quartet of Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita – Bianca Williams, Ashleigh Nelson and Louise Bloor make up the squad in Rio – ran 41.82 for a domestic record.

The beauty of the relay is that anything can happen, magic can be made and lives can be changed in the space of 40 seconds. What could be more wonderful than doing it with a group of women who represent the change that was always needed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanette Kwakye is a former international athlete who holds the British Indoor 60m record, and in 2008 became the first Briton to reach a women’s 100m Olympic final since 1984. Since retiring from athletics in 2013, Jeanette, a qualified journalist, has worked for the BBC and Sky Sports as a sports reporter as well as writing on women’s sporting issues for the Guardian. Jeanette’s latest articles

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