Have you been following the European Track & Field Championships taking place in Zürich this past week? If so, you surely have already seen the final lap of the women’s 4×400 relay. If not, I’d like to recommend you watch it now, before you read any further.
It’s wonderful to hear the French announcers go berserk, n’est ce pas?
But the really incredible thing about the final lap is that there was no earthly reason to believe that the French anchor runner was capable of anything even remotely like it. The anchor runner’s name is Floria Guei, and prior to the 4×400, her lifetime personal best was a decent, but not spectacular 51.42, which she ran last year. Earlier in these EC’s, she competed in the open 400m and barely got out of the qualifying heats before being eliminated in the semi-finals. She didn’t break 52 second in either of her races.
When she took the baton in the relay, she was in fourth place, approximately a second behind the leaders – the anchors from Ukraine, Great Britain, and Russia. She maintained the gap until about 130m to go, when the leaders began to slow down and Guei began to close the gap. But basically, a second is a long time in a 400m, and why would anyone think that Guei, of all runners, would be able to close the gap. More likely, she would fold from the hot pace and be lucky to hold on to fourth.
And basically a miracle happens. As the other three labor towards the line, Guei seems to lift and find a kick. Somehow she overtakes third place, and then in the final meters, inches by the leaders on the outside to win by 0.05. Her split: 49.71, almost a second faster than anyone else in the race. Even for a relay where she has a running start, that is a massive personal best. And remember, this is the woman who didn’t even qualify for the finals of the open 400, who didn’t break 52, for God’s sake.
As the French announcers exclaim, “mais ce n’est pas possible!”
It’s truly rare that you get to see a race where someone just transforms themselves before your eyes into a super-hero (think Billy Mills in 1964). Floria Guei is 24 years old, so maybe this performance was a glimpse of things to come. However, I think it’s also possible that she won’t ever do anything like this again, that this will have been the magic moment when everything came together for her.
If so, if nothing ever quite matches it, it was still incroyable.