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"20.71 seconds. Yue Zhao has made a lot of progress again; he has exceeded my expectations. Good job, Dai Li!" Li Xue was satisfied with Yue Zhao's performance.
"Next, Yue Zhao's training plan needs to be adjusted," said Li Xue. "Add some relay race training."
Dai Li nodded. To sprinters in the Asian Games, the 4x100m relay race was one of their tasks. Therefore, before the game started, the national team assembled sprinters to make relay race special training.
To win in a relay race, speed was not the key factor. Sending the four quickest sprinters could not guarantee a medal.
One lap on a standard track was 400 meters long, 160 meters of which were straight, while the other 240 meters were curved. Among the four runners in a 4x100m relay race, the first and third legs (runners) were required to run the bend every time. Both of those athletes had to have outstanding curve techniques.
Here, 200m sprinters had the advantage. They had curve techniques, outstanding speed, and explosive force, which made them capable of being any of the four legs.
In contrast, those without curve techniques were only capable of running the second or fourth leg.
Li Xue continued, "The 4x100m relay race usually only exists in big events, hence why we don't have much of an opportunity to practice. You haven't experienced a high-level relay race, have you?"
Dai Li shook his head. "No. But I learned about it when I was in college. We mainly focused on the baton exchange."
"Tell me what you learned."
Dai Li thought to himself for a few seconds, then answered, "I mainly learned the top-pick and press-down baton-exchange methods. The top-pick requires the receiver to stretch their arm backwards naturally, and form an angle from 40 to 50 degrees with their body. The receiver's palm faces backwards, fingers naturally open, with the part between the thumb and the index finger faces down. The incoming runner's hand should be over the baton and above the receiver's. The advantage of this method is that both receiving and giving are easy to control, and the actions are natural. The disadvantage is that after receiving the baton, the receiver's hand is holding the midpoint of baton. If the athlete doesn't shift the baton to the other hand, when they perform the handover to the next person, that person can only hold the top part of baton, which can cause them to drop the baton and influence the outcome.
The press-down baton exchange requires the receiver to stretch their arm backwards, forming an angle from 50 to 60 degrees with their body. The wrist twists inward and the palm faces up, fingers open. The space between the thumb and index finger faces backwards; the incoming runner then puts the top of the baton into receiver's hand. The advantage of this method is that it's easy for the receiver to run fast with the baton, and handover process is more accurate; but the disadvantage is that mistakes are easily made by tense muscle movement of the receiver's arm.
"When performing the handover, the first and third legs run along the inside of the track, and use their right hand to pass the baton to the second and fourth legs' left hand. The second leg runs along the outside the track, and uses their left hand to pass the baton to the receiver's right hand."
Li Xue nodded. "Um, good. It seems like you paid attention in school. In formal games we mainly use a hybrid of those techniques, depending on each leg's features. For example, the first leg doesn't need to think about receiving the baton; his job is to handover the baton safely to the second leg. The fourth leg only thinks about how to take the baton, since he has no one he needs to pass it to. As for the second and third legs, they receive and give the baton. In order to fit different needs, save time, and reduce mistakes, the second and third legs use different handover methods."
Pausing here, Li Xue changed to a serious look. "No matter which method is chosen, cooperation between athletes is the crucial factor. Any mistake will make the whole team fail.
"Let me give you an example. Before Team Jamaica rose to dominance, the American team had been the strongest in the relay race. Over a long period of time, Americans had a majority of the gold medals in the event. The only way the American team could have lost was if they had lost the baton during the race.
"In world-top competitions, a nice baton exchange can save 0.1 second. Asian athletes are not as competitive as people from the other parts of the world, so a successful handover can save more than 0.1 or 0.2 seconds."
Li Xue paused, seemingly going through his catalogue of memories. Later, he asked, "Do you know of the Asian Games that took place eight years ago? And which team won the gold in the 4x100m relay race?"
Eight years ago, Dai Li had still been a poor high school student living in hell. Everyday he would wake up with the sunrise, and go to bed at midnight. Almost every minute was used to study. How could he have had spare time to watch the Asian Games? Dai Li could only guess. "Maybe the Japanese? Before the Western Asians took their place, the Japanese had been the kings of Asian sprinting for about thirty years."
"The Japanese did rule the Asian sprinting world for thirty years. And, eight years ago, it was the Japanese's late golden period. But no, they were not the champion," answered Li Xue.
"The Saudi, then? Saudi Arabia was strong in athletics," Dai Li guessed again.
Li Xue shook head again.
"The Iranians? Qataris? Wait, at that time the Naturalization Legion hadn't developed yet. How about someone from the Middle East? Or the Koreans? It can't be North Korea, can it?" Dai Li guessed again and again. The countries he mentioned all had big sports names in Asia. However, Li Xue shook his head over and over again.
"You have no idea. It was Thailand," Li Xue answered.
"Thailand? I would believe it if they had won in Thai Boxing, but the 4x100m relay race? How could that be possible?" Dai Li was astonished.
In Asia, South Asian countries were the weakest in sports. The popular activities were cricket and other local games. Southeastern Asians didn't have high sports abilities, either. However, each Southeastern Asian country had at least one or two activities they were good at; for instance, Malaysia and Indonesia were famous for badminton, the Philippines and Thailand specialized in boxing, etc. But in track and field, Southeastern Asian countries had to stand aside.
Therefore, upon hearing that Thailand had won the championship in the Asian Games, Dai Li was dumbfounded.
"Coach Xue, it was the Asian Games—how could Thailand have possibly won the championship? Was it because the strong teams were all absent, or had they all made mistakes, meaning Thailand faced worse opponents?"asked Dai Li.
"Japan, Saudi Arabia, and our team all participated and finished the entire race." Looking as if he had remembered, Li Xue said, "I led the team myself to the race, and I was there to witness the process."
"Four Japanese athletes had all reached the Olympics A-level standard; three of them participated in the Olympics. But Thailand only had one Olympic B-level standard athlete. The other three weren't even B-level athletes. Yet Thailand won, through sound cooperation. The Thais cooperated smoothly. Whenever the athletes were running, the Japanese would always shorten the distance between them and Thailand, but after each baton exchange, Thailand always would widen the gap.
"I can still remember Japanese trump card Sasaki Akita's painful look when he crossed the finish line. He was capable of being in the semi-finals in the Olympics, and was regarded as the best Asian sprinter, yet he finished in second place in the relay race in those Asian Games."
Hearing the story, Dai Li couldn't believe it.
The Olympics 100m sprint A-level standard was 10.21 seconds, while B-level was 10.28 seconds. This meant that there was a 0.7-second gap between A-level and B-level sprinters. Sasaki Akita was regarded as the first "Asian Flying Man," as his score was close to ten seconds. The other Japanese athletes' best scores were around 10.10 seconds.
But Thailand only had one B-level athlete, which indicated that, each Thai runner had a 0.2-second gap between them and the Japanese. The fact that Thailand had won the gold proved that the Thais had been at least 0.2 seconds quicker than the Japanese during the baton exchange.
Standing next to Dai Li, Li Xue concluded, "I use this example to tell you the importance of cooperation in the relay race. Therefore, the essence of relay race training is to develop and enhance cooperation within the team! This is our purpose!"
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