Fri, September 20, 2013

Canada relay team eyeing Olympic medal

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Canada's Jared Connaughton of Canada (L) says he and his 4x100-metre teammates are eyeing a medal in Saturday's final. (REUTERS)


LONDON - The Olympic Stadium scoreboard after the semifinal round of the men’s 4x100-metre relay read like a misprint, given the perceived state of Canadian sprinting.

1. U.S. (helped by the absence of Usain Bolt, who was given the night off to rest.)

2. Jamaica. Even with Bolt, they are among the elite in the world.

3. Canada. Canada? Is this suddenly 1995 all over again?

Don’t get Jared Connaughton, who ran the third leg here Friday as Canada finished second to the Jamaicans in their heat with a time of 38.05 seconds, started on that business.

Connaughton, the veteran of the young and promising group of Canadian sprinters, has heard too much about how this generation of Canadian sprinters is hurting the reputation once forged by Ben Johnson, Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey. The longer they go without a sub-10-second runner, the more they are dismissed.

The team will likely have to crack the 38-second barrier to earn a trip to the podium in Saturday’s final, but by recording the third best semi time, they certainly sent a message that they might be in the mix. Add in a couple of sloppy transfers from a usually technically sound team and the prospects brighten that much more.

“We’re ready to win a medal,” said Connaughton. “I’m completely and 100% honest. We’re going to go about our business (Saturday). We’re ready.

“If we all get the stick early, I think we’ll break 38 seconds. We’re here to be contenders, Beijing was just ‘make the final.’ We made the final and then we got kind of lost in the bright lights. This is just a step up to the next level.”

Even without Bolt in the house — he’s likely just resting the sore back he felt following Thursday’s 200-metre gold and is expected back to chase down a third these Games — the Jamaicans were the clear winners of semi No. 1.

The Canadian team also consists of Gavin Smellie, Osuleyi Smith and Justyn Warner, who just missed moving on in the main 100-metre event earlier in the week. And if Bolt is back, he’ll be running down the stretch in his shadow.

“Hopefully he’ll pull me along and I’ll jut have to go get him,” Warner said. “That’s what I’m going to do. As long as Jared gives me the stick and I leave the mark on time, anything can happen (on Saturday.) I’m just excited that we’ve come this far. We’ve put in a lot of work.

“There are a lot of teams that doubt us, a lot of teams that question us,” Warner said. “We’re in there. We sent a message to every one of those teams.”

Though there was some sloppiness Friday, the 38.05 clocking was a season’s best for the Canadian team, which actually finished third in their heat behind Great Britain, though the host team was placed back for a violation. They’ll have to go faster Saturday, though, as sprint coach Glenroy Gilbert predicted.

“We’re going to sit down and discuss the strategy,” Gilbert said. “They’re just going to have to get out there and run even better because I think the final’s going to be really hot.”

For what it’s worth, the Canadians feel like they belong, even if the speed is still a work in progress. The third-best qualifying time certainly helps for motivation.

“It’s from the shoulders up,” Connaughton said. “When you feel like you can compete with the Jamaicas and the Trinidads and the United States, you can.

“This is not the 200-metre final where they all are thoroughbreds. This is a team thing. We rally around that idea and that’s what separates us.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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