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British Sprinter Pins His Olympic Chances on Bolt Dropping Baton

July 10, 2012

British Sprinter James Ellington

British sprinter James Ellington said, “If I didn’t think I could be here then I would have stopped a long time ago.” Photographer: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images

James Ellington says his British sprint-relay team can upset world record-holders Jamaica at the London Olympics, although they need luck and have to take care of the basics to have a chance.

Britain’s 4x100-meter relay team lost at the European Championships earlier this month when they failed to pass the baton, and had similar trouble at the 1996, 2000 and 2008 games. Jamaica, led by Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt, set a world record last year in Daegu, South Korea.

“If we execute our race and we’re in contention, you don’t know what could happen,” Ellington, 26, said in an interview. “The Jamaicans could drop the baton. Man-on-man the Jamaicans should walk all over us, but if they mess up their changes we can beat them.”

The south Londoner is targeting a relay bronze medal in the games six months after trying to sell his sponsorship rights for 30,000 pounds ($47,000) in an auction on EBay Inc. (EBAY:US) to fund his training. That followed a nine-centimeter tear to his hamstring that threatened his career and led to backers deserting him.

The money-raising ploy didn’t work as the winning bid turned out to be a hoax. On the track, too, he faces a daunting task when the games start July 27. Jamaica features Bolt, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, and Yohan Blake, who beat Bolt over 100 meters in qualifying last month.

They’re the 4x100 meter relay Olympic champions and set a record of 37.04 seconds last year in South Korea. France followed in 38.20, and St. Kitts and Nevis took bronze. Britain didn’t finish after Darvis Patton of the U.S. collided with anchor Harry Aikines-Aryeetey.

Bad Transfers

Things didn’t get any better for Britain at the European Championships in Helsinki after the team bungled a baton change- over on July 1. It didn’t reach Ellington after a transfer from Christian Malcolm to Dwain Chambers faltered. The Netherlands won, followed by Germany and France.

Britain will need to complete the Aug. 11 relay final in 37.9 seconds to win a medal in London, Ellington said, a pace it hasn’t run since the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan. The nation’s best-ever time was 37.73 seconds in the 1999 World Championships.

Jamaica is the 1-4 favorite at bookmaker Paddy Power Plc (PAP), meaning a successful 4-pound bet would bring in 1 pound plus the original wager. The U.S is second favorite at 10-3 followed by Britain at 25-1.


“If we run how we should run, we should get a bronze medal and because it’s a relay there are more chances of things happening like batons dropping, people running out of their lanes,” said the sprinter.

Ellington goes into the games with some local knowledge: He runs for Newham and Essex Beagles Athletic Club after they allowed him to use their facilities in view of his financial struggles to fund training. Newham is home to the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium and Pringle Crisp-shaped Velodrome.

Before he agreed on a sponsorship deal with The King of Shaves Co., a male grooming product maker, Ellington used to end training early to earn money coaching junior competitors. Now, with funding, he also has ambitions as a solo athlete at the games after winning the 200-meter British heats last month.

He says he wants to run the distance in 20.2 seconds and reckons that should get him to the final with Bolt. That would still make him about a second slower than the Jamaican’s world record time of 19.19. Still, he’s not daunted.

“If I didn’t think I could be here then I would have stopped a long time ago,” he said. “The only thing that kept me going was believing that I could make it to the Olympic Games and fulfill my potential.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Spillane in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Blackman at

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