“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships”. These were the words of one of the greatest basketball players in history, Michael Jordan.
Teamwork and intelligence usually serve as the foundation of strategy for the most successful teams in sports especially when it comes to athletics relay.
Sean Safo-Antwi, Benjamin Kaweku Azamati, Martin Owusu Antwi and Joseph Amoah are four names that Ghanaians will remember for a long time.
The quartet won gold in the men’s 4X100m relay at the ongoing African Games in Morocco. They recorded a time of 38.30 seconds which is just 0.18s shy of the Ghana national record of 38.12s, set at the Athens World Championships on 9 August 1997 by Abu Duah, Eric Nkansah, Aziz Zakari, and Emmanuel Tuffour.
The order in which they ran was: Safo-Antwi started, then passed on to Azamati, and then Owusu-Antwi went through the bend before anchorman Amoah powered to the finish.
According to Sean Sarfo-Antwi, this was the second time the four of them were running together. So how exactly did the Ghana team make up for the lack of competition experience as a team?
The celebrations at the end of the race didn’t depict a team shocked at the result. Rather, each of the quartets exuded so much confidence and self-belief. Two hours prior to the semi-finals of men’s 4×100 relay, Joseph Amoah and Sean Antwi-Sarfo had competed in the men’s 100m finals.
Despite both athletes missing out on a medal (Joseph Amoah – 4th and Sean Antwi-Sarfo – 5th), they had their heads lifted high as they prepared for the semi-finals of the men’s 4×100 relay.
Joseph Amoah, speaking to AIPS Young Reporter Akosua Addai Amoo, about the way forward, said: “I’ll just go and take some rest, come back and do better”.
In the same interview, Sean Safo-Antwi also added, “We’re just going to focus on the relay and try and bring a gold medal home for our homeland Ghana”.
From the onset, the objective to win a gold medal in the men’s 4×100 relay was engrained in the Ghana team. Nigeria came into the relay final as favourites given how good their team was and the fact that they possessed Africa’s fastest man, Raymond Ekevwo. Raymond won the 100m final with a time of 9.96s and another member of the Nigerian 4×100 men’s relay team, Itsekitri Usheoritse finished third with a time of 10.02s.
Knowing how much of a threat the Nigerian team possessed. Ghana’s anchor Joseph Amoah spoke of the strategy they adopted in order to topple Nigeria in the final.
He stated: “We knew Nigeria had a very fast team with sub-10 guys. We let each other know that relay is not about your times, but getting the stick to the last person”.
The personal bests of the Nigerian team compared to Ghana prior to the final established a gulf in class between the two countries.
If relay is not really about individual times, then how exactly did the Ghana team get the baton to the last person and eventually win the race?
Prior to 2018, the baton had to be passed within a 20-meter changeover box, preceded by a 10-metre acceleration zone. With a rule change effective November 1, 2017, that zone was modified to include the acceleration zone as part of the passing zone, making the entire zone 30 metres in length. The outgoing runner cannot touch the baton until it has entered the zone, the incoming runner cannot touch the baton after it has left the zone.
The baton change for years has been one of the most defining factors for relay winners. The ability to change over a baton in a relay race is imperative given the fine margins races come with.
In previous years, the baton change technique has been Ghana’s Achilles heel in championships. This year, Ghana’s quartet made ground with quick and smooth baton changes. The incoming runner held one third of the baton, dropped the last one third in the outcoming runner’s palm leaving enough space between the incoming runner’s & the outcoming runner’s palm.
The speed with which the Ghanaian runners switched batons was another key area in their success. The quickest changeover of 0.6s came between Sean Safo-Antwi and Azamati Benjamin Kaweku. The highest changeover of 0.8s came between Owusu Antwi Martin and Joseph Amoah.
Choosing Joseph Amoah (Ghana’s fastest runner in the 100m finals) as the anchor of the relay team paid off as Ghana won the race in the last stretch. Despite boasting of the fastest runner in Africa runner Raymond Ekevwo, Nigeria chose Usheoritse Itsekiri to anchor the relay. In the last 100m, Joseph Amoah and Usheoritse Itsekiri received the baton at virtually the same time. However, the sheer will and power of the Ghanaian was enough to bring gold home.