“It was an absolutely unbelievable feeling,” said Allyson Felix, the 200-meter champion, who ran the second leg. “For so long . . . the records have been so out of reach. To look up and see we had a world record, it was just crazy.”
Earlier, the U.S. men running in the 4x100 relay heats made their own bit of history, surprising even themselves. They toppled a 19-year-old American record with Carl Lewis’s name etched on it, setting the stage for a run at Jamaica’s world record in Saturday’s final and a chance to claim the first U.S. medal in the event since 2000.
Only an injury-depleted U.S. men’s 4x400 relay team faltered, ending a streak of seven straight Olympic gold medals with a silver as relay veteran Angelo Taylor got chased down in the home stretch by a hard-running Bahamian anchor.
Yet even that disappointing result showed more team spirit and grit than the customary fractures from recent U.S. relay teams, which have shown time and again that individual stars don’t always make great constellations. The U.S. relay teamwork overrode other U.S. frustrations: Brad Walker, the 2007 world champion, did not get over the bar in the pole vault final, and Morgan Uceny got tripped from behind in the 1,500 final. In medal contention on the last lap, she fell, then left the track sobbing.
Joy, though, radiated elsewhere.
“It’s about Americans stepping out here with red, white and blue on, and it’s us against the world,” said Justin Gatlin, who ran the anchor leg for the 4x100 team. “When we come together, we can come out and break records like we did today.”
The night’s grandest stunner unfolded as Jeter powered through the homestretch in the 4x100 final, closing on the first U.S. Olympic gold in the race since 1996 in Atlanta. Steps before the line, Jeter cocked her head toward the track clock, stretched out her arm and pointed the baton at the time.
Seconds later, the clock confirmed what she had prematurely signaled to the world: “New WR,” it flashed.
“As I’m running, I’m looking at the clock, and I’m seeing the time, it’s like, 37, 38, 39,’” Jeter said. “In my heart, I said, ‘We just did it.’ ”
Jeter, Felix, Tianna Madison and Bianca Knight got the stick around in 40.82 seconds, surpassing the 41.37 put forth in 1985 during the era of systematic doping in East Germany.
“When I crossed the finish line, I had so many emotions,” Jeter said. “We haven’t been able to get the gold medal back to the U.S. since 1996, and we just made history.”