By Mitch Phillips
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The mixed 4×400 metres relay has been a bit of a slow burn since joining the world athletics championships in 2019, with star athletes often giving it a miss, but Gabby Thomas said she, and the United States, were taking it very seriously in Budapest.
Thomas, whose 21.60 seconds 200 metres at the U.S. trials is the world lead this year, is among the favourites for that race but is also running the mixed 4×400, the women’s 4×400 and the women’s 4×100.
It is a gruelling-looking schedule with a risk that the relays could adversely affect her bid for a first global gold, having taken 200m bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – where she also won a sprint relay silver – but missed out on her home world championships in Eugene last year following an injury.
But the 26-year-old is keen to embrace every opportunity.
“I think it’s a really important event because it’s a challenge,” she told reporters on Friday a day before the mixed final concludes the opening day’s action on Saturday.
“It’s a way to work with other team mates that typically you don’t get a chance to work with.
“The nature of the event is really exciting because you have new goals – we’re eyeing a world record – and that’s a great new challenge. As athletes we are always looking to push ourselves and challenge ourselves,” she added.
The U.S. won the inaugural event in 2019 in a world record 3:09.34 that still stands but were third on home soil last year, having also only managed bronze on its Olympic debut in Tokyo.
Given the extraordinary depth of the U.S. in one-lap running, on the flat and over hurdles in men’s and women’s events, it is something of a patchy record.
“I think it’s a really special event because it gives a lot of countries the opportunity to really compete, but the U.S. has such a large pool to reach in and grab from,” Thomas said.
“But, given that you only have two athletes of each gender, it provides a really, really exciting competition for everyone to watch. So we’re definitely prepared for that, we’re ready to fight for that win and I think that’s really exciting.”
Usain Bolt spent most of his career telling people that, however physically well-suited he appeared for the 400m, he disliked the pain far too much to take it on. Thomas felt the same until a spur of the moment change of heart.
“Everyone’s always been telling me to run the 400 but I didn’t really want to move out from the fun, fast, exciting events, not that the 400 isn’t, but everyone wants to run the 100 and 200,” she said.
“I trained in Austin and there was a meet happening that day and I just woke up and said I wanted to go and run it. I ran it and it felt really good so I just kind of moved off that momentum and decided ‘I’m going to put myself in the mix’.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to get more medals and to compete. Part of the sport is just really challenging yourself and this is an opportunity to be more disciplined, to do something I haven’t done before and so I’m excited to see what I can do in a 400.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)