Major withdrawals have hit this weekend’s World Athletics Relays in Poland but it should still be a fun and important event as the Olympics approaches

Competition is returning to normal but not quite in time for the World Athletics Relays. The event takes place in Chorzow, Poland, this weekend (May 1-2) but has been hit by a number of disappointing withdrawals due to the pandemic – most notably the United States, Jamaica, Canada and Trinidad & Tobago.

Such are the absences, there is an argument to say it should have perhaps been moved to an end-of-summer date. Still, there is a busy programme of races on Saturday and Sunday with a number of well-known athletes included in teams who will be battling to earn automatic qualifying spots at the Tokyo Olympics and next year’s World Championships in Oregon.

The event was first held in the Bahamas in 2014 followed by the same venue staging the event in 2015 and 2017. It was staged in Japan in 2019 but this year has moved into Europe.

Laviai Nielsen (Mark Shearman)

Britain has only sent 4x400m teams to Poland. The GB women’s squad includes Zoey Clark, Emily Diamond, Yasmin Liverpool, Jessie Knight, Laviai Nielsen, Ama Pipi and Jessica Turner and they will take on strong teams such as the Netherlands and host nation Poland.

In March the Dutch team struck gold at the European Indoor Championships and the same quartet of Lieke Klaver, Marit Dopheide, Lisanne de Witte and Femke Bol are in Poland.

Femke Bol (Getty)

The GB men’s team, meanwhile, includes Joe Brier, Dwayne Cowan, Charlie Dobson, Efe Okoro, Kevin Metzger (replaces Martyn Rooney), Lee Thompson, James Williams and Rabah Yousif. They will face tough opposition though in the 4x400m from Belgium, Colombia and Poland.

In the women’s 4x100m the Swiss squad includes European indoor 60m champion Ajla Del Ponte. The Dutch team again is strong with Daphne Schippers, Jamile Samuel and hurdles star Nadine Visser, while Italy should also challenge in this event.

Ewa Swoboda, the 2019 European indoor 60m title winner who had to pull out of the 2021 European Indoors due to coronavirus, is in the Polish teams for 4x100m and 4x200m.

Watch out for Nigeria, too, led by Blessing Okabgare, who won the 100m at the Continental Tour Gold in Eugene last weekend.

The men’s 4x100m features Brazil, South Africa and Italy among the favourites. South Africa includes Akani Simbine, who has run inside 10 seconds for 100m several times this year, while Italy has European indoor 60m winner Marcell Jacobs plus Filippo Tortu.

Other big individual names due to race in Poland include world 200m champion Ramil Guliyev, world 400m runner-up Anthony Zambrano and Commonwealth Games 400m champion Isaac Makwala.

Finally, the mixed 4x400m is always entertaining due to the tactics and it is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer. This weekend will see teams try to qualify for those Games, of course, whereas there are some non-championship qualifying races too like the mixed 2x2x400m (with one man and one woman tackling two legs each), mixed shuttle hurdles relay events and the 4x200m races.

The action starts 7pm local time (6pm BST) on Saturday May 1 and finishes with the mixed shuttle hurdles relay final at 9.58pm. On Sunday May 2 the action starts 7.20pm with the mixed 4x400m final and finishes with the men’s 4x400m at 8.42pm.

The event will be streamed on the World Athletics YouTube channel. However, it will be geo-blocked in some countries where broadcast rights have been sold.

For British fans, it is being shown on BBC red button and online.

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