London • For the past three Olympics the 4x100-meter relay has been a source of embarrassment for the U.S. women and consternation for fans back home.
Anchored by 100-meter silver medalist Carmelita Jeter and featuring 200-meter gold medalist Allyson Felix, the U.S. women shattered a world record that stood since 1985.
“The world record is older than I am,” said Bianca Knight, who ran the third leg.
It was, that is. Team USA broke a record set by a country that no longer exists (East Germany) with a time of 40.82 seconds in winning gold. And they were able to defeat rival Jamaica, which swept the 100-meter gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and took gold and bronze here.
As she blazed down the home stretch, Jeter knew something memorable was unfolding.
“As I’m running, I’m looking at the clock and I’m seeing this time that’s like 37, 38, 39,” Jeter said. “In my heart I said, ‘We just did it.’ I didn’t know we went 40.82, but I knew we ran well. When I crossed that finish line I just had so many emotions because we haven’t been able to get the gold medal back to the U.S. since 1996, and we just made history.”
At Sydney in 2000, a U.S. team featuring gold medal winner Marion Jones had to settle for bronze in the relay because of a sloppy second exchange between Torri Edwards and Nanceen Perry.
At Athens in 2004, they bungled the second exchange again, this time failing to finish because Lauryn Williams started too early and Jones passed her the baton beyond the legal zone. And at Beijing four years ago, they didn’t even finish the qualifying heat.
All three failures were shocking because the U.S. women had won the event nine of the 16 times it was held before 2000. The shock Friday night was the way that record went down, by a huge margin. The previous mark was 41.37.
“I saw the huge lead that we had, I looked up at the time on the board and I was just so confused for a second,” Felix said. “I was like, ‘That is not a 4 x 1 time, what is going on?’ Then I saw the world record, and I was just like, ‘This is insane.’ It was just a beautiful thing to see. As soon as Bianca passed to ‘Jet,’ I knew she was going to get it done.”
Even the Jamaicans, who claimed silver in 41.41, were happy for the Americans.
“As a woman who have a mandate to promote gender equality in our sport; I’m very pleased that America break the world record because I hope that may start to shed some light on us females,” said Veronica Campbell-Brown, who ran third for Jamaica. “We work hard and we do not get the same level of respect as a male counterparts do. ..”
The men’s 4x100 team did its job Friday night, too, advancing to the final. Four years ago the U.S. men didn’t make the final — another bungled exchange — and they had to settle for silver in 2004. But a team anchored by 100-meter bronze medalist Justin Gatlin won its heat Friday in a U.S. record 37.38. In the final Saturday they must face a Jamaican foursome almost sure to include gold medalist Usain Bolt and silver medalist Yohan Blake, a team that set the world record last year at the world championships in South Korea.
“This is all about America against the world,” Justin Gatlin said. “If we stick together, we can break records, like today. I’ve got a bronze, but that’s bittersweet and I’m longing for gold.”
Meanwhile, it will be said that the U.S. men’s 4x400-meter team failed Friday night. But maybe they didn’t lose the gold so much as they won silver.
Yes, they lost the lead on the home stretch when Ramon Miller of the Bahamas took the lead from Angelo Taylor with about 60 meters to go. But it was a team without LaShawn Merritt, the world’s top-ranked 400-meter runner who pulled up lame in a prelim of the individual 400. It also was a team that reached the final when Manteo Mitchell ran 200 meters of Thursday’s semifinal with a broken fibula in his left leg.
The Bahamas, winning their first ever gold medal, ran a 2:56.72, 0.33 ahead of Team USA.