LONDON >> What Carmelita Jeter could not do on her own she did with her teammates. Together, they defeated their rivals from Jamaica in the women’s 400-meter relay Friday at Olympic Stadium, and they did it in world-record time.
For the first time since the 2000 Olympics, the U.S. completed its full lap around the track and crossed the finish line. They treated the baton like the Crown Jewels.
Jeter, also-ran in the 100 and 200, accepted the baton with no hesitation or wasted motion and powered down the straight to a gold medal. The U.S. smashed one of the sport’s oldest and most suspicious records with a time of 40.82. East Germany had owned the mark of 41.37 since 1985.
“You know what, I knew these women were going to do their job, they were going to make it happen for me,” Jeter said. “All I had to do was bring the stick home.”
Jeter finished second in the 100 to Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and third in the 200, behind teammate Allyson Felix and Fraser-Pryce. She sprinted an extra 100 Friday, carried along by a surge of joy after she pointed at the clock and screamed.
“I was thinking Olympic record and when I saw world record I said, ‘Oh, my, gosh,’ ” said Felix, who ran the second leg and won her second gold. “This is crazy.”
Tianna Madison of Sanford, Fla., beat Jamaica’s Fraser-Pryce out of the blocks and Felix extended the lead against Sherone Simpson. Jamaica finished second in national-record time of 41.41.
The U.S. women had problems staying in the exchange zone and holding onto the baton at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. They hadn’t won the event since 1996. On Friday, they were flawless. They had been fine-tuning handoffs with relay coach Jon Drummond and were determined to avoid embarrassment.
“We had a cloud hanging over us with people saying, ’They can’t do it, they’re going to drop the stick,’” said Jeter, who pushed a five-meter lead to 10. “We did it!”
But, obliteration of a 27-year-old record, yellowing in the books since it was set by the GDR sports machine, which was revealed to be fueled by steroids after the Berlin Wall fell?
“A pleasant surprise,” said Bianca Knight.
For the U.S. men, an unpleasant surprise. With their top two quarter milers injured and unable to compete, the Americans cobbled together a team for the 1,600-meter relay.
Hurdler Angelo Taylor, straining and spent four days after he ran the 400 hurdles, was passed with 50 meters to go on the final leg by the Bahamas’ Ramon Miller. After winning the Olympic event 16 times, the U.S. was second best, again upstaged by a small island nation.
“The U.S. guys know we’ve been just behind them or thereabouts for a long time,” said Miller, a Nassau native and Dickinson (N.D.) State graduate.
During the past week, the U.S. men took bronze in the 100 behind two Jamaicans; fourth in the 200 behind three Jamaicans; zero medals in the 400 won by Grenada’s Kirani James and one in the 400 hurdles won by the Dominican Republic’s Felix Sanchez. They finished 1-2 in the 110 hurdles and have a chance to unseat defending Olympic champ and world-record holder Jamaica in the 400 relay on Saturday.
The U.S. could not forge a solid lead on its first two legs with Bryshon Nellum and Joshua Mance, although Tony McQuay of West Palm Beach was in first when he handed off to Taylor. Miller was right on Taylor’s tail through the back straight and pounced in the home stretch. The winning time was 2:56.73 and Taylor was .33 behind.
“It was tough,” said Taylor, two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400 hurdles who placed fifth here. “I thought I could get home but it was exceptionally close.”
Bahamas, silver medalist in 2008, has a long history of track and field excellence. Four of the five Olympic gold medals it has won are in athletics.
The U.S., which holds the world record, did not have its fastest foursome in the final. The team’s top quarter miler, 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt, went out during his 400 qualifier with a hamstring injury. Then Jeremy Wariner tore his hamstring during practice. Manteo Mitchell broke his shin bone halfway through his heat Thursday but still managed to finish.
South Africa, which had been obstructed by Kenya in the semis, was reinstated for the final and started in Lane 1. By the time Oscar Pistorius received the baton for the final lap, his team was lagging in last place and he couldn’t make up the gap. Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.
The U.S. men’s 400 relay team qualified with the fastest time and an American record of 37.38 with former Florida Gator Jeff Demps leading off and Justin Gatlin anchoring. Jamaica, with Yohan Blake in its lineup, ran 37.39.
American Morgan Uceny, who tripped and fell in the 1,500 meters at the world championships last summer, fell again, her heels clipped just as the runners were going into the last lap in a tight bunch. Turkey’s Asli Cakir Alptekin won her country’s first track and field gold medal in 4:10.23. A slow, tactical, messy race was made less satisfying by the doping suspension on Cakir’s record.
Ethiopia’s Deseret Defar upset teammate Tirunesh Dibaba in the women’s 5,000 meters. Dibaba was attempting to win both the 10,000 and 5,000 in consecutive Olympics.
Overall, with nine finals to go, the U.S. leads the track and field medals standings with 26 total and eight gold.