The women’s 4x400m relay was the final track event of the games, and the stadium crackled with anticipation as eight teams were marshalled onto the track.
Spectators, mostly Brits, remained well past sunset to watch some of the world's fastest women sprint for medal glory.
Anticipation hung in the air as many British fans hoped to witness a long-awaited mile relay gold for Great Britain. But a major lane violation by the British team would deny the anticipative spectators that experience while a nascent Canadian team would rise up and claim the title in a dramatic fashion.
On a coolish August night following a slight delay with the completion of the men’s javelin, blocks were set, sprinters at their mark with Canada, in lane 5 and Natassha McDonald poised to run the team’s first leg.
“My job as a lead leg is to set the tone. Being the first runner means I have to put the team in a position for us to fight. The goal is ultimately to set the tone and show the competitors, the crowd, and the other runners on our squad that we are in it. I know my teammates trust me, just as I trust them. I knew that if I gave the baton off to Ayanna in a good position the team would carry the rest.”
McDonald, this year’s 200m Canadian champion, handed off the baton to Aiyanna Stiverne in third place within striking distance of Great Britain and Jamaica. Each team would sprint a total of a metric mile (1600m).
Aiyanna Stiverne, the 2022 Canadian 400m champion, easily took the baton from McDonald, rounded the first turn in her lane then cut in down the back straightaway.
“I think the most challenging part is keeping your composure when you’re running for a spot after the break. It’s easy to panic when you feel or see the other girls cutting in, but you have to stay within your plan in order to give your team a good position coming home.”
Stiverne did just that. Great Britain began to pull away from the group of three but Canada was on the heels of Jamaica when the second smooth exchange took place between Stiverne and Micha Powell, a NACAC bronze medalist who was named to the team less than a week before the start of the Games. “Once I pulled Aiyanna in and got a clean exchange from her, we were in a solid third position and I knew I could get us as close to Jamaica and England for Kyra to get us in contention for silver if not a gold medal. Once I came around the second curve, I was focused on finishing strong and handing off to Kyra as smoothly as possible so she could chase down England who had a lead on us, and that she did!
Funny enough, Kyra and I only practised our exchange once before that race since I found out only 3 hours before the relay that I was going to be running the third leg.
Powell, who happens to be this writer’s daughter, edged team Canada up, handing off the baton to Kyra Constantine, just about even with Jamaica while Britain held a clear lead. The race appeared to be for silver. Constantine, who is a 400m Tokyo Olympic semi-finalist, grabbed the baton for the final and most exciting leg of the race.
“Yes, Micha and the rest of the team did a great job of getting me the baton in a good position. I knew I had to take it out hard and try to keep getting closer and closer to England.”
Kyra's signature 'kick' has been catapulting her across finish lines since she was a kid.
“When I was younger I used to run the 800m and I would love to hang back and then kick at the end. I transitioned into more of a sprinter, but I’ve always kept that mentality. I love the chase. I love the thrill and challenge of trying to catch someone. Once I feel like I’m in a good position I will always go for it no matter what event.”
Constantine’s unrelenting kick on the final 100 metres brought the crowd to its feet. She made up a 15-plus metre deficit and was running stride for stride beside Great Britain challenging for the title. The roar of the crowd was deafening as both runners seemed to cross the line dead even. It would be a minute of high anticipation as officials would review the photo finish. Britain would initially be given the win by 1/100th of a second but a few moments later, a blatant lane violation by Great Britain’s second runner would put Canada at the top of the podium for the first time in 36 years.
The four women, all first-generation Canadians, whose cultural background stems from the Caribbean, the U.S. and Nigeria, used teamwork, talent and toughness to win a well-deserved Games title. All hail the young sprint queens!
Canada’s winning time:3:25,84