The most compelling combination of speed and focus in track and field hinges on passing a small cylinder used to guide an orchestra — the baton. As both the U.S. men’s and women’s 4 x 100 Olympic relay teams proved in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, even the fastest team in the world can fail at a task so rudimentary as holding onto a stick. The scene is captivating: four phenomenally fast athletes churn their legs faster than the eye can blink, only to reach the seemingly insignificant cylinder towards a teammate’s outstretched arm. Athletes train year-round to better their times, but runners on the relay team train to become the best and most familiar improvisers in hopes of the perfect hand-off.
This weekend, roughly 15,000 athletes ranging from high school squads to the Jamaican national team will compete in the Penn Relays — the oldest and largest meet nationwide. Cornell will be one of 235 schools racing in front of crowds of nearly 60,000 spectators. Last year the pressure cracked the Red’s 4 x 100 team, which failed to finish after dropping the baton.
This season, the Red’s top 4 x 100 team is poised to make a splash. Junior Chase Aaronson, sophomores Jedidiah Adarquah-Yiadon and Bruno Hortelano-Roig and freshman Chris Bain sliced their first place time of 41.22 seconds at Cal-State Fullerton’s Spring Break Invitational to 40.53 seconds at the Upsate Challenge on April 23rd. That new mark is the third-fastest Cornell time ever and second-fastest Ivy League time in 25 years. If the 2010 Penn Relays final times carry over to 2011, the Red needs only to run 0.10 seconds faster to reach a score higher than what it achieved in the other two finals.
“It’ll be interesting to see how we do against the top teams in the country. I think we’re going to be pretty competitive. At least three of the four guys have a shot at making nationals,” said head coach Nathan Taylor.
Hortelano-Roig, who finished first in the Top-100 at the Upstate Challenge — achieving a new Cornell track record of 10.52 — maintains that focus is the biggest key for his team heading into the 4 x 100.
“It’s kind of tough mentally compared to the individual races because you have more responsibility. You have to really know the running style of your teammates. If you run your own race and you don’t finish, it’s on you, but if you drop the baton, it’s a lot more intense,” he said.
Despite the intensity, Adarquah-Yiadon, who placed third in the Upstate Challenge 100-meter with a time of 10.65 seconds, knows the team’s experience will be a crucial factor in the outcome.
“It’s such a technical event with the full-speed exchange, but we’ve been working together for so long we know where the hand is going to be, and we can improvise,” he said.
“The four-by-one is our most important event as a team,” Aaronson added. “It’s the first event, so it really sets the tone for how the rest of the day’s going to go.”
Aaronson, who won the 100 at the Spring Break Invitational with a time of 10.71 seconds, finds himself on his third different 4 x 100 team in three years; however, this team has a chance to remain intact until he graduates, he noted.
“The chemistry of getting a feel for one another, staying close, getting along well and having the same four guys all year is important,” Aaronson said.
Despite the drastic improvement last Saturday, it looks as though Aaronson, Adarquah-Yiadon, and Hortelano-Roig will have to compete without Bain, who strained his hamstring this week.
“If it were my senior year I might try and go for it, but I’ve become really close with these guys and I think we’ll be setting all kinds of Ivy records and hopefully national records in the next couple years,” Bain said.
Bain, who set the Ivy League freshman record for the 60-meter dash this fall, runs the curve of the opening 4 x 100 leg and is responsible for only one hand-off.
Though the Red hopes for national recognition this weekend, the season will ultimately peak with the Ivy League Heptagonals in two weeks. Hortelano-Roig emphasized the need to use the Penn Relays as a building block.
“This weekend we really hope to focus on details, which may bring us down in our time,” he said.
The Red has won outdoor Heps eight years in a row, with Princeton finishing second in seven of those contests. Last year Hortelano-Roig and Aaronson finished first and second in the 100 with times of 10.64 and 10.66, respectively. Hortelano-Roig won the 200 with a time of 21.54. The 4 x 100 team finished first with a time of 40.65 seconds — .3 seconds ahead of Yale; however, at the Indoor Heps this February, despite Hortelano, Adarquah-Yiadon and Aaronson finishing second, fourth and seventh in the 60-meter dash, respectively, the Red finished behind Princeton.
As such, Taylor is waiting to see how his team will respond in the Ivy League championships.
“These guys come to practice every day and work all year for this part of the season. The Heps is for bragging rights, and you cant hold ’em back — almost like caged dogs. They’ve trained so long and worked so hard; they’ll go after anything that moves,” he said.
“It’s a pretty big misconception that people see track as an individual sport with people who care about individual races. It so different — of course we care about our relay team, but we care about the whole team in general,” Aaronson added.
In 2010 the Red earned points in 20 of the 21 events, and in 2011 Taylor hopes to send as many athletes to the IC4As — the meet before NCAAs — as possible.
“Most of the Ivy League schools have qualified 10 or 12 kids. We’ve qualified 50 of the about 1,200,” he noted.
“If everyone runs close to their best these next two weeks, everyone’s going to make the IC4As,” Adarquah-Yiadon added.
The 4 x 100 team has already qualified for the IC4As and hopes to make more noise. While he hopes to return for NCAA Regionals on May 26th, Bain is confident the 4 x 100 team will continue breaking records.
“Our goal from the beginning before the season even started was to run a 39.8 or 39.9 and we think we can do it. Last weekend we ran a 40.5 and we had bad windows, bad weather and the handoffs weren’t too great,” Bain said.
All four members of the 4 x 100 team expect big things from their teammates for the remainder of this season, but Hortelano-Roig can’t help but look forward to next season.
“I see other teams vary their guys and they don’t have as much success — they’re just four guys, but we’re a team,” he said. “Next year we’ll be even faster, just continuing off it’s just going to get scary fast.”
Original Author: Jacob Kose