LONDON — Sprinting across the finish line in the women’s 4 x 100-meter relay, Carmelita Jeter extended her left arm and pointed toward the clock. The time was almost unfathomable. The accomplishment was almost entirely unexpected: 40.82 seconds. World record. The US women earned redemption, then history with its gold-medal performance in the relay.
The US shattered East Germany’s nearly 27-year-old record (41.37), a mark once thought untouchable. It was set during years of systematic doping by East German athletes. The US also rewrote the East German’s Olympic record (41.60) set at the 1980 Moscow Games.
“As I’m running, I’m looking at the clock and seeing this time that’s 37 [seconds], 38, 39,” said Jeter. “Then, in my heart, I said, ‘We just did it.’ I didn’t know we went 40.82. But I definitely knew that we ran well. When I crossed the finish line, I had so many emotions because we haven’t been able to get a gold medal back to the US since 1996.”
From the 1996 Atlanta Games through the 2008 Beijing Games, the US fell victim to bad passes and dropped batons. Although the country boasted many of the world’s best female sprinters, it lacked the right chemistry. At least it did until Friday night at the Olympic Stadium. Leadoff runner Tianna Madison, second leg Allyson Felix, third leg Bianca Knight and anchor Jeter laughed and joked before the race, then left nothing to chance on the track with good communication and perfectly executed passes.
“All of us know that you don’t think about the time or the outcome,” said Madison. “You just think about perfect execution in the race. For this relay, we had to have great handoffs before we could even think about a fast time. That’s what we did today. That’s proof that when you execute, the time comes.”
Added Knight: “We weren’t thinking about any record. Our main goal was to get the stick around. We knew if we got the stick around, it would be lovely and it was.”
Lovely is one way to describe it. Felix preferred insane.
“I saw the huge lead that we had,” said Felix. “I looked up on the board and I saw the time flash. I was just so confused for a second. I was like, ‘That is not a 4 x 100 time. What is going on? I waited to see. Sometimes the clock changes a little bit. So, I’m waiting and then I saw the world record. I was like, ‘This is insane.’ ”
Madison started strong, better than Jamaican 100-meter gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. From that first leg, the other US relay runners sensed it would be a special race. Felix and Knight extended the lead on Jamaica, then let Jeter secure the victory and the records. Jamaica captured silver in a national record 41.41. Ukraine won bronze in a national record 42.04.
The Jamaican women praised the historic accomplishment of the rival Americans. The night after Jamaican Usain Bolt made history as the first man to win Olympic gold back-to-back in the 100 and 200, they were happy to bask in the spotlight the US placed on women’s sprinting.
“As women who have a mandate to promote gender equality in our sport, I’m very pleased that America broke the world record because I hope that may start to shed some light on us females,” said Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown. “We work hard and we do not get the same level of respect as a male counterpart do. I hope this is a step in the right direction. We’re very pleased, we’re happy for them.”
Asked about the US-Jamaica rivalry in the sprints, Fraser-Price added: “The rivalry is healthy. It’s always good to compete against the best. Every time we step on the line with the US, they show up and we show up. We ladies are running wonderful times. Everyone talks about Bolt. Now, we can talk about the ladies.”
The relay victory was part of an ongoing US trend in London: Women winning gold. Entering Friday night, US women overall had won 26 of 39 gold medals.
“It’s about hard work and dedication,” said Jeter. “One thing we wanted to do was definitely add to that medal count for the US. We wanted to bring that medal home because it hasn’t been home in awhile. It’s all about dedication. And when you put everything out there on the line, whatever sport you play from soccer to track and field, and you come out on top, it feels good.”
The US men’s 4 x 400 team did not take gold, failing to win an Olympic final in which it competed for the first time since the 1952 Helsinki Games. By the time the US took the track Friday, it had been decimated by injuries, including three to the original six-relay pool members. The most dramatic injury came during the heats when Manteo Mitchell broke his left fibula. He completed his lap, despite a limb that felt like jello “every time he put weight on it.’’
Mitchell watched the final at the stadium and inspired his teammates, though Bahamian anchor Ramon Miller overtook American anchor Angelo Taylor about 60 meters from the finish. The Bahamas won in a national record 2:56.72, followed by the US in 2:57.05 and Trinidad and Tobago in 2:59:40.
“We definitely wanted to go out there and win gold for Manteo Mitchell, who was out here on a broken leg. He really put himself on the line and ran through, I’m sure, a tremendous amount of pain to even get us there. If he didn’t finish the race, we wouldn’t be here.”
Watching a slow-motion replay of the finish, when Miller overtook Taylor for the gold, Mitchell snapped a picture with his cellphone.
“I took that picture because it inspired me,’’ Mitchell said. “It’s about to be my background [on my phone] as soon as I get a chance to sit down. It will not change until we have that gold medal back in our hands.”
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.