Questions abound about Canadian 4x100m relay team selections at athletics worlds

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Canada’s (left to right) Aaron Brown, Jerome Blake, Brendon Rodney and Andre De Grasse bite their bronze medals from the 4x100m relay at the Tokyo Olympics. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
Canada’s (left to right) Aaron Brown, Jerome Blake, Brendon Rodney and Andre De Grasse bite their bronze medals from the 4x100m relay at the Tokyo Olympics. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

With injuries mounting at the World Athletics Championships and the men's 4x100-metre relay heats set for Friday, questions abound about what the competing countries' lineups are going to look like.

Canada's sprinting superstar Andre De Grasse withdrew from the 200m event, having contracted COVID-19 for a second time less than a month ago. De Grasse has said he'll be good to race the relay.

Italy's Olympic champion in the 100m Marcell Jacobs withdrew from the final of the event due to injury. Italy won Olympic gold in Tokyo in the relay.

Yohan Blake, one of Jamaica's top runners, didn't run the 200m semifinal on Tuesday night due to what's been reported as a foot injury. Blake, however, was practicing handing off the baton at a track near Hayward Field on Wednesday afternoon.

WATCH | Canada's chemistry a factor ahead of 4x100 relay:

And American Fred Kerley, who won the 100m world title earlier at worlds, failed to advance in the 200m semi on Tuesday evening after pulling up during his heat. Kerley was visibly in pain after the race. He has, however, told reporters it was just a cramp and that he should be able to race in the relay for the heavily-favoured Americans if selected.

Athletics Canada head coach Glenroy Gilbert, who was part of that unstoppable Canadians relay team in the mid-90s winning two world titles and Olympic gold, says the relay team competing in Eugene, Ore. will be determined Thursday night.

"All our guys are available, let's put it that way. Including Andre. He hasn't pulled out of the relay," Gilbert told CBC Sports.

And Gilbert says whoever is in the lineup in the relay heats for Canada will go the rest of the way.

"Who lines up on Friday, barring any injuries, will be the same people in the final. I don't like to move pieces around, especially when you only have two rounds," he said.

At this point of the world championships fatigue is certainly starting to set in — it's also been extremely hot with temperatures soaring above 30 degrees.

Aaron Brown, who has three relay medals for Canada between worlds and the Olympics, is running the 200m final on Thursday evening. It'll be his sixth race at worlds.

WATCH | Aaron Brown qualifies for 200m final:

"You're going to be tired. Everyone is getting to that point. Aaron is going into his sixth race but this was something he wanted to do. I was prepared for that," Gilbert said.

"He might be looking at eight runs. It's something Andre did at the Olympics and Aaron did that in Doha."

Canada has six sprinters who could potentially be part of the team. Brown, De Grasse, Brendon Rodney and Jerome Blake won silver at the Olympics one year ago — there is still a likely chance it could be these four competing for gold in Eugene.

And Gilbert hinted at that.

"It's one race at a time. We can't put ourselves in the final yet. But this team won Olympic bronze and silver medal," Gilbert said.

"These guys are the same guys. However, regardless of how many times you've done it, you have to do it again. As long as we stay focused on ourselves we should be OK."

Gilbert says Malachi Murray and Benjamin Williams are also ready to go should one of the aforementioned not be able to race.

"Malachi ran 10.19 at nationals last month. He's healthy and has been training and doing his thing these past couple of weeks. Ben Williams is the other member of the squad."

The team plans to hold a pre-meet Thursday in Eugene. It's expected De Grasse, Blake, Rodney, Murray and Williams will all be there. Brown will be preparing for his 200m final.

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Gilbert says after Brown's race they'll make a final lineup decision.

"It's critical to iron out any kind of steps and zones and communicating on the track. We need that," Gilbert said.

"You know what it is about relay running, on paper the teams are quite good and competitive but you don't know what's there until you run the race. As a team you can't think that you know because that will lead you down the wrong path."

And Gilbert is very aware of the high-powered Americans but that's nothing new to him. They were also favoured on home soil at the 1996 Olympics when Canada won gold.

It still comes down to executing the race, says Gilbert.

"The USA has more than 10 sprinters deep that any four could go out there and run well. Jamaica. China. Japan. Brazil. They're all very capable of running fast. For us, just take care of the baton and the zones and the fundamentals," he said.

"If we stick with that, I think we can be successful. If we try to reinvent the wheel out there because the pressure is mounting, that's where you get into trouble."

WATCH | CBC Sports' Morgan Campbell reviews top stories from worlds:

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