Emerging victorious in the intense rivalry with Jamaica, the U.S. women’s team retained the 4x100-meter relay title, and Allyson Felix won a record fifth gold medal in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
It was the second-fastest women’s 4x100 relay ever, second only to the relay at the 2012 Olympic Games, where the American team set the world record.
This year’s team, made up of Felix, English Gardner, Tianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie, almost didn’t run. Felix dropped the baton in the preliminaries, which is an automatic disqualification.
However, the Americans protested that a Brazilian runner bumped Felix, and they were able to secure a second chance. The women reran on the track by themselves and bumped team China from the final (the Brazilian team was disqualified).
Unfortunately, Team USA ended up in the undesirable lane 1, where the corners are tightest, but no matter, they still booked it out, and once the baton was passed from Felix to Gardner, they snagged the lead.
It was then lights out as Bowie—who won the 100-meter silver in Rio—ran the anchor leg (see below), going heads up with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, who could not catch her.
The women clocked a time of 41.01 seconds; rival team Jamaica came in at 41.36, and Great Britain won the bronze medal in 41.77.
The men’s team was not so lucky.
In the men’s Olympic 4x100-meter relay final, Justin Gatlin’s hand first made contact with the baton outside of the “takeover zone” when he handed off to Mike Rodgers, which resulted in disqualification.
The men had run the race with a time of 37.62 seconds, .35 seconds behind Jamaica’s winning time of 37.27, and assuring them the bronze (Japan got the silver). After doing a victory lap, Gatlin, Rodgers, Tyson Gay and anchor Trayvon Bromell received the bad news.
The worst part (as if it could get any worse) was that the U.S. team has flubbed handing off the baton event many times before.
NPR reports that at the Beijing 2008 Summer Games, the team dropped the baton and didn’t reach the final; the squad's silver medal finish in the London 2012 Olympics was voided last year over the doping suspensions (both Gay and Gatlin); and Gay was disqualified in 2009 for a bad handoff. There was also last year’s world championship, where a horrible baton exchange reared its head again.
After hearing the news, Gay sounded as if the team might be cursed: “It has to be the worst luck for this country ever. It’s always something weird; stupid; simple—mistakes that always cost us. And I don’t understand. We had great sticks in practice, great chemistry, great everything, and then something so simple. I can think of nothing else to say but bad luck. I mean, it’s weird.”
Team USA has filed an appeal of the disqualification, but as of press time, no determination had been made.
Read more at NPR.