Two all-English sprint relay teams took silver and bronze on day eight of the Olympics athletics programme in Tokyo.
Both quartets knew beforehand that gold was within their grasp but equally that a missed baton exchange could leave them with nothing. Ultimately, they kept their cool as the GB men gained silver after their female counterparts secured bronze. In fact, the GB men were denied the title by just one hundredth of a second by surprise winners Italy. Chijindu Ujah (Enfield & Haringey; Ryan Freckleton), Zharnel Hughes (Shaftesbury Barnet; Glen Mills), Richard Kilty (Gateshead; Michael Afilaka) and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (Newham & Essex Beagles) combined to run 37.51 - the third fastest ever by a British squad and just 0.15 off the national record. As favourites Jamaica were floundering due to poor handovers, Mitchell-Blake took over on the final leg in the lead. However, Italy’s Filippo Tortu ran a superb stage and dipped to gold with the last few strides.
Kilty, who was part of a quartet team that finished fifth at the Rio Games, said:
“We’re Olympic silver medallists and we’re over the moon. We wanted to win but we’ll take that silver. It’s an Olympic Games, it’s as big as it gets and it’s one of the best moments of our lives, no matter what way we look at it.”
Ujah, who reached the semi-finals of the 100m, pointed out:
“Every major championships since the last Olympic Games we have won a medal and we’re probably the most decorated team when it comes to 4x100m over the last cycle.”
Mitchell-Blake was initially devastated to be passed on the line for first but was more positive by the time he left the track. The athlete who anchored home Britain’s world gold medallists in 2017, added: “We’ve spoilt ourselves in the past with getting victory and that’s an addictive feeling. The guys did a phenomenal job putting me in the lead and I just wasn’t able to hold on, but it was a competitive time and we can walk away with an Olympic silver medal and that’s not to be frowned upon at all. I’m happy that we’re able to put another medal on the tally for GB and hopefully the country are proud of us.”
Britain’s women’s 4x100m team replicated their bronze from Rio thanks to a great display of sprinting from Asha Philip, Imani-Lara Lansiquot, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita. Despite not the best changeover on the first leg between Philip (Newham & Essex Beagles; Steve Fudge) and Lansiquot (Sutton & District; Steve Fudge),the team held it together to cross the line in 41.88 behind Jamaica, who ran the third fastest time in history (41.02), and USA (41.45). Asher-Smith (Blackheath & Bromley; John Blackie) ran a great bend on the third leg, before anchor runner Neita (Cambridge Harriers; Rana Reider) brought the baton home. Regarding the nerve-inspiring first change, Philip joked:
“We just obviously want to make a scene – we’re not just going to give you something nice, we want you to have pressure, we’re entertainers!”
For Asher-Smith, who missed three weeks of training coming into the Games due to injury, it was not the medal she had at one time hoped for. However, having skipped her favoured 200m to focus on helping the team in the relay, she admitted: “If I’m being honest, on a personal journey, I was on crutches six weeks ago and there was a 10% chance - less than 10% chance - that I was going to be here. I’ve worked incredibly hard, straining my knee, strengthening my hamstring, letting it heal, and obviously to come away with a medal here is honestly something that I could not have even contemplated six weeks ago.”
Elsewhere, Jodie Williams (Herts Phoenix; Ryan Freckleton) took sixth in the final of the 400m in her first year focusing on the event. She had taken nearly a second from her PB with 49.97 in her semi-final and then matched that in the final from lane eight despite an aggressive approach. The Brit looked to be in contention for a medal coming around the final bend but had to watch Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller-Uibo, one lane inside her, pull away for gold in 48.36. The 2010 world junior 100m champion, who moved up to concentrate on the 200m to reach the Rio Olympic semi-final, has found the best form of her life as well as her No.1 event. Williams, whose time has been beaten by only four British athletes in history, said:
“I went for it, I risked it, went out strong and I just didn’t have the legs in the end. This is my first ever final, first year doing the event, I was close. I’ve pulled a performance out of the bag when it matters most every time, right now I’m just gutted that it wasn’t enough to get that medal that would have been just such a nice end to such a great season, but I really can’t be upset.”
Britain’s men's 4x400m team found themselves in a strong heat and could only finish sixth in 3:03.29. They would have needed 2:59.06 just to gain the second and final fastest loser place. Cameron Chalmers (Guernsey; Matt Elis), who ran 45.94 off the blocks, said: “The times show how high the standard is at the moment in this 4 x 400, and we’re not quite where we need to be obviously. Everyone gave it their best and everyone’s always going to do that in a Great Britain vest, but I definitely think this is a developmental squad and it’s an invaluable opportunity for us all to get to run here, and show us what we’re up against, and what we’re going to be up against over the coming years.” Wales’ Joseph Brier then passed on to Lee Thompson (Sheffield & Dearne; John Henson), who was clocked at 45.59. Michael Ohioze (Shaftesbury Barnet; Dan Tomlin), who ran 45.80 on anchor, said afterwards: “It’s an experience of a lifetime, I thank god for the opportunity. I’ve had everybody, my friends, my family, my girlfriend all supporting me, which has allowed me to get here and do the best I can, and I put my heart and soul onto the track and did it for the boys, did it for the country.”