“My role on this team has changed so much,” Felix said. “It was about doing my job and passing that baton.”
The U.S. women’s 4x400-meter relay team closed the track and field portion of the Tokyo Olympics in appropriate fashion. It provided both a resounding victory by an epic collection of women from the United States and a kaleidoscopic view of the past, present and future of the sport’s standard bearers not only in their home country but in the world.
McLaughlin, Felix, Muhammad and Mu ran four times around the National Stadium oval in 3 minutes 16.85 seconds, delivering on the anticipation generated by the formation of a dream lineup. Mu sprinted across the line with an acre separating her and the rest of the field. Poland, the silver medalist, crossed nearly four seconds after Mu. By the time Jamaica won the bronze, the U.S. women were already high-fiving in celebration.
The gold medal pushed Felix’s career total to 11 one night after her remarkable bronze in the 400 meters had nudged it to 10, which made her the most decorated Olympian in women’s track and field history. Saturday’s gold broke the tie between her and Carl Lewis for most medals in American track and field history.
“It’s an amazing group of women right here,” McLaughlin said. “Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The four women had ratcheted up anticipation that they might run together with standout performances throughout the week. McLaughlin lowered her world record in the 400-meter hurdles. Muhammad, who had started the year with the best-ever time in the event, won silver in a time that broke McLaughlin’s old record. Mu established herself, at 19, as a force in the sport with a dominant 800-meter gold. Felix is Allyson Felix, and you better never forget it.
Muhammad felt honored when she learned the lineup. Felix considered it a special team not only for its talent but its competitive diversity. They’re not 400 specialists: Felix rose as a short sprinter, Muhammad and McLaughlin are hurdlers, and Mu ran the 800 meters in Tokyo. When USA Track & Field announced the lineup, it referred to the quartet as the Dream Team.
Running on her 22nd birthday, McLaughlin started and seized a lead that would only grow with a 50.21-second lap. Felix ran a strong lap despite it being her fourth 400-meter race in five days. Muhammad’s third leg made it a rout. Mu provided an infomercial for her quest to double in the 400 and 800 in Paris in 2024, running the anchor leg in 48.32 seconds, the fastest lap in the race. The winning time was the fifth-fastest ever and fastest since 1993.
The gold capped a dominant track and field week for the U.S. women. They captured 15 medals, five of them gold. (The U.S. men won 10 medals and two golds, including no individual track golds for the first time.) If the U.S. women’s track and field team was its own nation, it would rank 18th in medals and 17th in golds.
“It was awesome,” Felix said. “The women showed up. I think we’ve been showing up — on the track, off the track, in all of the ways. I loved it. I loved seeing it. Sitting back, seeing each woman perform, it was inspiring. Like, okay, who’s up next?”
The United States did not provide the only unforgettable female performances, owing foremost to a gaggle of Jamaican sprinters and the herculean week of a lithe, Ethiopian-born Dutch super-runner named Sifan Hassan. Hassan captured bronze, gold and gold in the unthinkable treble of the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters. The task required her to run 24,500 meters over six races, and Saturday night the last 150 in the 10,000 proved electric.
Around the final turn of her final lap, Hassan bolted around Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey, the woman who broke her world record in June two days after she had set it. Gidey faded for bronze, Kalkidan Gezahegne of Bahrain remained steady for silver, and Hassan sprinted for the finish line, all by herself.
Hassan crossed the line for gold. She held her arms out wide, gazed into the sky and collapsed. Hassan waved off a wheelchair from a medic who was wise to offer, limped with assistance to the edge of the track and collapsed again. She stayed on her back for minutes, intermittently applying an ice bag to her head. At last, she could stop running.
“Until I crossed the line, I had doubt,” Hassan said.
For the U.S. women running four laps together, there was no doubt. At the finish line, they huddled in a circle, their heads touching, and said a prayer together. They would all travel home. They will race with and against one another in the future. They will never have something quite like what they had Saturday night. They shared a track, a podium and the final moments of an idol’s career.
“We’re going to look back on this,” Muhammad said, “and just think about how special this moment really was.”