The history of the women’s 4x400m relay at the Commonwealth Games
The first Commonwealth women’s 4x400m was held in Christchurch in 1974. England, led off by teenagers Sue Pettett and 17-year old Ruth Kennedy, were clear winners. The 400m silver medallist, Verona Bernard, anchored them with a 50.4 final leg. Jannette Roscoe was the other English team member. Australia, anchored by 800m winner Charlene Rendina, and Canada, who had 400m champion Yvonne Saunders, on their final leg, took the other medals.
Bernard, now Elder, was second individually in 1978 in Edmonton and combined with champion Donna Hartley, Kennedy and Joslyn Hoyte, to be clear winners in 3:27.19. Hartley, who died recently, ran 50.0 on the final leg. The medallists were the same as four years earlier with Australia seven seconds clear of Canada.
The Brisbane Games in 1982 finished with a great race as Canada’s 100m champion Angela Taylor’s 50.8 held off Australia’s 400m Champion Raelene Boyle’s 50.7 to win gold by two hundredths of a second. England dropped the baton and were fourth as Scotland, fielding former British recordholder and Olympic finalist Linsey MacDonald, were surprise bronze medallists.
Canada won again in Edinburgh in 1986, but this time by a big margin. England held on for second by just four hundredths of a second. Kathy Cook ran a 51.0 finale and won her seventh Commonwealth medal, though her first in the relay, as she beat 400m
hurdles champion Debbie Flintoff in a four-team final.
The Australian upgraded her relay medal to silver in Auckland in 1990 as she won her seventh Commonwealth medal but finished
some way down on England, for whom 400m hurdles winner Sally Gunnell and 400m runner up Linda Keough opened up the big winning margin after Angela Piggford and Jenny Stoute got them off to a good start. Keough was the quickest in the race with a 51.06 as surprisingly only four teams again lined up.
Keough and Gunnell returned in Victoria in 1994 and won gold but only after original winners Australia, with 200m and 400m champion Freeman, were disqualified for obstructing Nigeria’s Fatima Yusuf, though the latter were also disqualified. For the third Games running, only four teams officially finished.
In 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, Australia had a clear run and, anchored by 100m medallist Tania Van Heer, who clocked an unpressed 50.6, they won easily by exactly two seconds from England. Two years before she was to run a sub-50 in the 400m in the Sydney Olympics for fourth place, Donna Fraser ran the fastest leg with a 50.2 anchor.
Australia won again in Manchester in 2002 despite not having a single 400m finalist. They took gold by just over a second from an England team anchored by junior Lisa Miller. Future world 800m medallist Jenny Meadows ran in the heats.
In Melbourne in 2006, Australia took gold again after a dominant England were controversially disqualified. At the start of the third leg, Natasha Danvers-Smith moved inside the Australian runner Tamsyn Lewis prior to the changeover when the England runner moved past Australia on the second leg but contrary to their official positions 200 metres out. Australia protested and the final leg by 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu counted for nothing. India ended up with silver behind the Australians.
In Delhi in 2010, Nigeria looked to be heading for an easy gold on the third leg but, much to a screaming home crowd’s delight, it was surprisingly India who proved the strongest and they won clearly. Nigeria were second across the line but later disqualified and England moved up to second. Sally Pearson, the 100m hurdles champion who was disqualified from the 100m, ran the final leg
and ultimately missed out on a medal by 0.09 of a second.
Gold medal winners
1974: England 3:29.23
1978: England 3:27.19
1982: Canada 3:27.70
1986: Canada 3:28.92
1990: England 3:28.08
1994: England 3:27.06
1998: Australia 3:27:28
2002: Australia 3:25.63
2006: Australia 3:28.66
2010: India 3:27.77
Gold: 1974 (Eng), 1978 (Eng), 1990 (Eng), 1994 (Eng)
Silver: 1986 (Eng), 1998 (Eng), 2002 (Eng), 2010 (Eng)
Bronze: 1982 (Sco)
Most successful nation: England have won the most golds with four titles and four English women (Elder, Kennedy, Gunnell and Keough) have won two relay golds.