U.S. Women Shatter 4×100 World Record
LONDON — As Carmelita Jeter sprinted across the finish line in the women’s 4×100-meter relay Friday night, she turned to her left and pointed at the electronic clock beside the track as if to say, “Look what we just did.” A beat later, the board flashed the news: NEW WR.
Jeter’s final leg capped a sparkling race for the United States, which won its first gold medal in the sprint relay in 16 years and did it in remarkable time. The Americans’ time, 40.82 seconds, shattered the previous world record, 41.37, which was set by East Germany in 1985. Jamaica finished second, and Ukraine took third.
For the United States women, traditionally strong in the sprints, the 4×100 had been a relative blight. It was the only one of the four relays the United States had not won in this century, with its last gold coming at the Atlanta Games in 1996. Since then, a series of dropped batons and missed exchanges had produced years of a disappointment.
The Americans were not alone in their struggles though. The Jamaicans failed to win a medal in 2008, too, though they at least waited until the final to have their poor pass; the United States slipped up during the heats.
On Friday, though, the Americans were perfect. Tianna Madison broke quickly from the blocks, then passed cleanly to Allyson Felix, who won the 200 this week. Bianca Knight ran the curve on the third leg before passing to Jeter, who took silver in the 100 and blazed toward the finish, where she celebrated just as she crossed the line.
It was a stunning finish in an event in which the United States found itself embroiled in a bit of controversy before it even ran. Jeneba Tarmoh was part of the quartet that ran in the preliminary round, but she did not run in the final. Tarmoh’s inclusion in the heats means she will win a medal, but these Games seem destined to be a bittersweet experience for her as she was part of the contentious dead-heat finish in the 100 at the Olympic trials that ultimately left her on the outside of the American sprint team. She was later added to the relay team.
On the men’s side, no one denies the dominance of Jamaica and the United States when it comes to sprinting, but avoiding the perils of baton passing during the relays is never guaranteed. After six clean passes Friday night, however, the powerhouses of track and field set up another sprint showdown that should be a worthy finish to the meet at the London Games.
In the first heat of the 4×100-meter relay, Jamaica raced away from the field to finish in a time of 37.39 seconds, just over three-tenths of a second off the world record. A few moments later, the United States ran a clean circuit as well, beating Jamaica’s time by one one-hundredth of a second and easily qualifying for the final with a time of 37.38.
Despite the stars available on both teams, neither country used its top quartet in the opening round, opting for one star apiece: Yohan Blake, the silver medalist in the 100 and the 200, ran the third leg for Jamaica, while Justin Gatlin, who finished third in the 100, ran the anchor leg for the Americans in the next heat.
The teams should look different in Saturday’s final, as Usain Bolt – who has already won gold medals in the 100 and 200 here – is expected to join the Jamaican team. Tyson Gay, who finished fourth in the 100, should feature for the United States.
Strange as it might sound, simply making it through the preliminary heats could be seen as a victory for the United States, which has had an awful run of fortune in the sprint relay. After poor passing caused the Americans to finish second at the Athens Games in 2004, they failed to finish their heat in Beijing, were disqualified in the heats at the 2009 world championships and did not finish again at the world championships in 2011.
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