Aberdeen’s Zoey Clark could have three shots at Olympic glory this summer as a new sprint event has been added to the athletics programme.
Barring injury, the Aberdeen athlete is a certain pick for the women’s 4x400m relay squad, which has regularly featured on the podium at major championships in recent years.
She will also be gunning for an individual 400m spot and that’s well within her capabilities as the required qualifying standard of 51.35secs is only a hair’s breadth outside her best of 51.36secs set in 2018.
But the third opportunity comes in the form of the mixed 4x400m relay, which features on the Olympic programme for the first time.
The principle is straightforward, but intriguing: each 4x400m relay team is made up of two women and two men, who can race in any order.
Clark competed in a mixed relay at the 2019 world championships in Doha where she teamed up with Rabah Yousif, Martyn Rooney and Emily Diamond to finish fourth behind the US, Jamaica and Bahrain.
She may have the chance to try her hand in this event once again at next month’s world relays in Chorzow, Poland.
Clark has been selected for a strong Great Britain squad of eight for the women’s 4x400m relay but she could still end up doing the mixed race as well.
She said: “I ran in the final of the mixed relay in Doha and I really enjoyed it. It was a fun thing to do.
“At the moment, for the world relays in Poland, we have all just been selected for the relay pool. So, we don’t know which race we’ll be in. It could be the women’s, the mixed, or both.
“The world relays isn’t a major event on the same level as the world championships or the Olympics, so the staff will use it to try different people on different legs.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they use it to test out different teams and mix things up slightly.
“So, they may choose to run some of us in the heats of one relay then in the final of another. I don’t know at this point.
“There’s to be a mixed relay at the Olympics for the first time, so that could be an extra opportunity for me and it’s a fun thing to do, so it’s good from that point of view.
“Selection will be on the same basis as it has been for the world relays. People will be picked for the women’s and men’s relay squad. Then a decision will be made as to who from each pool will be in the mixed relay.”
One of the key strategic aspects of this new event for team managers is in deciding on the order in which the athletes will run.
It is estimated that on average at elite level, men are about six seconds quicker than women over the distance (44-45 secs for men compared to 50-51 secs for women).
The choice of order is completely open. Two men can run first, followed by two women, or the other way round, or alternating between men and women.
In Doha, most teams opted to start with a man, followed by two women, with a man then running the anchor leg.
But Poland decided to start with two male runners, which opened up a sizable gap of nearly 50 metres over the chasing pack at the halfway point.
The Poles held the lead on leg three, but their final stage runner was overwhelmed by the male opposition and eventually finished fifth.
USA won in a time of 3min 9.34secs to beat the inaugural world record they had set in the heats by more than three seconds.
Great Britain finished fourth with Yousif going off first, followed by Clark and Diamond, before finishing with the second male, Rooney.
Clark to run alongside familiar faces
Zoey Clark, who is coached by Aberdeen’s Eddie McKenna, is joined by some familiar faces in the GB team for next month’s world relays in Poland.
Jessie Knight (Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow) and Ama Pipi (Enfield and Haringey) were alongside Clark in the silver medal-winning quartet at the European indoor championships in March.
The squad also includes Olympic relay bronze medallist Emily Diamond (Bristol and West), 2017 world silver medallist Laviai Nielsen (Enfield and Haringey) and world indoor and European relay bronze medallist Amy Allcock (Aldershot Farnham and District).
Yasmin Liverpool (Coventry) and Jess Turner (Amber Valley and Erewash) complete the eight-woman squad.
The world relays will be held at the Silesian stadium in Chorzow on May 1-2.