Exclusive: Emily Diamond on the World Relays, individual success and IAAF changes

Some of Emily Diamond’s greatest moments have come with a baton in her hand.

A stalwart in a British team spoilt for 400-metre talent, Diamond has experienced Olympic, World and European success in a relay format that never fails to entertain. Now, the former British champion has her sights set on the IAAF World Relays in Yokohama, joining an exciting troop of sprinters striving for a podium place and safe qualification to Doha.

Diamond spoke exclusively to GiveMeSport ahead of the trip to Japan and is feeling optimistic about Britain’s chances of success in the Land of the Rising Sun. “Yokohama should be really fun because World Relays is such a great competition, it’s a little bit light-hearted and everybody loves relays, so it should be good,” the Bristol & West runner explained.

“Training is going really well. I’m in a new training group this year and a new setup, so it’s been a little bit different to what I’ve done before but I’m really enjoying it and it seems to be going well so far. I’ve got high hopes and I’m in a good place ahead of the season, so I’m just looking forward to getting going now.”

The introduction of the World Relays was a refreshing proposition in 2014 and it has evolved into one of the most exciting competitions on a gridlocked IAAF calendar. It’s move to Japan – having previously resided in Nassau – as well as the inclusion of new events such as a shuttle hurdles relay, promises to make the latest instalment even more thrilling than its predecessors.

Relay success for Diamond

Diamond sunk her spikes into the Thomas Robinson Stadium track for the 2017 competition and is looking to build upon the British team’s fourth-placed finish that year. Eyes on the prize, she explained: “We always like to place among the medals at World Relays but the main aim is to secure qualification for the main championships later this year.”

If there’s one thing that Diamond isn’t lacking when it comes to relays, it’s experience. She summated the Everest of sporting achievement with an Olympic medal in 2016 and – buoyed by a rapturous British crowd – quite literally brought home a silver medal at the following World Championships.

Reflecting on those incredible achievements, Diamond admitted: “Loads of people always ask me which was better – getting the Olympic medal in 2016 or the World silver in front of a home crowd in 2017? It’s always so difficult to compare the two but the home crowd in London, I’ve never experienced anything like it, I can’t put it into words.

2019 World Relays

“I was on the last leg and fighting for the silver medal with the Polish girl and the noise in that stadium was unbelievable. Normally, if there is someone close on your shoulder, you can hear their breathing or their footsteps and hear that they’re coming close to you but because the crowd was so loud, I couldn’t hear anything!”

For all the enjoyment of the World Relays, nothing will touch the cauldron-like atmosphere in Stratford, but that doesn’t mean reuniting with the British cohort is any less exciting. There’s an unspoken camaraderie between the squad that makes for a refreshing change from the lonelier corners of athletics.

“You spend a lot of the time at the track and the gym potentially by yourself and coming into the summer you can be travelling the world by yourself,” Diamond explained. “We’re spending about 10 days out there beforehand, So it will be really nice to travel and compete with everyone. It’s a nice way to kick off the season really.”

However, regardless of the result in Yokohama, Diamond will still have one eye on achieving individual success over the 400m. The Olympic medalist believes ‘overthinking’ was a damaging influence on her 2018 performances and that judging her pace more viscerally – in a similar vein to relay running – will breed success along the protracted road to Doha.

Striving for individual success

When asked about the key to individual success, the sprinter couldn’t help chuckling and replied: “Gosh, I wish I knew! I think with the individual race there’s a lot of pressure because it’s just you on the track and you can almost put too much thought into it and that can go against you, because you can almost overthink things.

“Whereas sometimes, if you’re in a relay and have got a baton in your hand, you just run and do what you have to do. In the individual race you think: ‘right, I have to run the first 100 in this time, go through 200m in this time’ and you don’t tend to think that in the relay, because it’s potentially more about position and where you are. 

“So, certainly last year, I overthought my individual race too much and this year I’m trying to cut it back a little bit, enjoy it again and just run. We’re working on it and I’m hoping this year will be a more successful year.” Yokohama – now just a few weeks away – will provide the perfect opportunity to trial this approach and transfer its philosophy to individual competitions.

There certainly won’t be any shortage of time to perfect race strategy, with the oppressive heat of Qatar shuffling the World Championships back to late September and early October. However, the recent qualification changes from the IAAF will present their own, fresh challenges for athletes trying to get their shot at global glory. 

On the IAAF’s changes

Diamond is amongst a burgeoning group of athletes expressing their scepticism and made her stance clear by remarking: “If changes aren’t necessary, then I don’t agree with making them just for the sake of it. It’s difficult for athletes as it is to get into competitions and with this new system, it could be even harder.

“With our event you only have eight lanes, so you can only have eight people in each competition and if the same eight people travel around and take all the big races, it’s going to be difficult for other athletes to qualify. We’ll see how it goes but it’s a tricky one and hopefully it won’t make it too difficult for too many people.”

There are plenty of moving parts to the new IAAF’s new system – especially regarding the maths behind the rankings – but the goal of relay qualification is far clearer. Alongside a team of talent including Eilidh Doyle and Zoey Clark, the 400m runner will be hoping to leave Japan with the same smile she wore in Rio and London. 

We have little doubt that Diamond will succeed in the individual race this season and we’re equally sure that her blossoming relationship with the relay will continue into 2019. The World Relays will commence on May 12 and don’t be surprised to see the British team thriving on the global stage – they say, after all, that pressure makes diamonds.

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