An incredible final surge by Jakub Krzewina saw him sweep past USA’s Vernon Norwood in the final metres to take the 4x400m title for Poland, setting a superb world indoor record* of 3:01.77 in the process.
It was an astonishing performance that nobody had seen coming, but one that was as impressive as it was unlikely.
The USA, unbeaten in global indoor championships for 14 years and featuring, in Michael Cherry and Aldrich Bailey, two of the individual 400m finalists, had held the lead virtually from the gun and had looked likely to take the record themselves until the closing stages.
Indeed, their 3:01.97 clocking was itself underneath the 3:02.13 that a different US quartet had set in Sopot at the World Indoor Championships four years ago.
And it had all started so well for the USA, with Fred Kerley, the 2017 USA outdoor champion, building a huge advantage following an opening 400m timed at a swift 44.84. Poland’s Karol Zalewski had performed well to stay within 10 metres and had created a sizeable gap between himself and Dylan Borlee of Belgium.
Cherry, the individual silver medallist, took over from Kerley and, despite a strong leg, couldn’t quite shake off the challenge of Rafal Omelko, while Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards moved into third place, just ahead of Jonathan Borlee.
On leg three, Aldrich Bailey, who was fourth in Saturday’s 400m, ran a controlled leg for the USA, with Poland’s Lukasz Krawczuk closing slightly and Asa Guevara of Trinidad and Tobago appearing to consolidate third place.
Vernon Norwood anchored the USA to victory in Portland two years ago and was again entrusted with the task of bringing home the baton, this time with a four-metre lead at the takeover, which made that outcome a distinct probability.
But Krzewina had other ideas.
With an indoor best of 46.15 set in Torun in February, not many in the stadium gave the 28-year-old much of a chance of hunting down 25-year-old Norwood, who had superior bests than the Pole over 400m both indoors and out.
But hunt him down he did, edging past Norwood in the closing metres as the US sprinter visibly tired, flinging his arms wide as he crossed the line, partly in delight, partly in disbelief.
Behind, Belgium edged Trinidad and Tobago for bronze by one hundredth of a second in 3:02.51 as both teams set national indoor records.
Omelko spoke for all of his teammates when he expressed his surprise at the result.
“It is a big shock and surprise for us,” he confirmed. “We were targeting the European record but really did not expect a result like this and never dreamed about the world record.”
While it was a team effort, the 29-year-old was quick to heap praise on the anchorman.
“I think the last lap with Jakub Krzewina was the crucial one. He pushed it so hard and he is very, very strong this year. He helped us to win the most.”
Omelko was also quick to highlight the value of four individuals committing together to win a team medal.
“We all worked hard together. We met two weeks before the championships to train together for the relays and had a lot of exchange training.”
“We are used to running at these championships, we compete in Poland and we try to run every competition the best we can. We also had our own events, we have our own coaches, we are four individuals so it was challenging.”
Source: Dean Hardman for the IAAF