The U.S. left Beijing with more track and field medals than any other nation, but without its title as the world’s premier sprint nation.
For the first time, that crown rests squarely on the mantle of Jamaica, which left no doubt as to where the power lies thanks to the dominance of Usain Bolt and their women’s sprint team, which piled up six gold medals and 11 total.
Needless to say, losing hasn’t sat well with the red, white and blue, particularly Olympians Lauryn Williams, who was involved with the dropped baton in the women’s 4x100m, and Shawn Crawford, who watched from the sidelines as his teammates dropped the stick in the men’s 4x100m.
When the American’s stepped onto the track at Franklin Field for the USA vs. the World 4x100m races at the 115th Penn Relay Carnival and were greeted by a crowd of 47,904 clad mostly in yellow and green and feverishly waving Jamaican flags, it was more motivation than this group needed.
“This is American soil,” Crawford said. “I felt like it was war. We can’t let anybody come in here and take the victory from us. It’s not a revenge thing, but you’ve gotta win on your home turf.”
The Americans won, and they won big.
In the men’s 4x100m, Walter Dix, Travis Padgett, Crawford and Darvis Patton teamed to run a blistering 37.92 seconds to win while becoming the first team in meet history to break 38 seconds. Team USAs second squad of Terrence Trammell, Mark Jelks, Ivory Williams, Mike Rodgers finished second in 38.36. Jamaica’s team of Dwight Thomas, Michael Frater, Nesta Carter, and Asafa Powell finished dead last as Powell pulled up with an apparent injury.
In the women’s 4x100m, Williams ran a sensational lead-off leg, Allyson Felix blew the race open on the second leg, Mechelle Lewis held the advantage on the third leg and Carmelita Jeter out-sprinted Jamaican anchor Shelly-Ann Fraser, the Beijing 100m gold medalist, to deliver the U.S. a victory in 42.40. Jamaica, which also ran Brigette Foster-Hylton, Sheri-Ann Brooks, and Kerron Stewart, was second in 42.77.
U.S. Olympians Kerron Clement (44.70), Angelo Taylor (44.60), David Neville (45.27) and LaShawn Merritt (44.26) easily won the men’s 4x400m in 2:59.78 while Jamaica finished fourth almost three seconds behind. The U.S. women were equally dominant as Monica Hargrove (51.90), Natasha Hastings (51.00), Felix (49.64) and Sanya Richards (50.52) crossed first in 3:23.08, a pretty good time considering Hastings lost her left spike and ran barefoot. Jamaica was second in 3:24.57.
“The rivalry with Jamaica is very motivating,” Felix, who was the only U.S. runner to double, said. “Beijing was, in a sense, a wake-up call. Sometimes we take things for granted. Everyone wants to step their game up. Going into these Worlds, we’re going to see a lot of that.”
While it is impossible to say that the U.S. regained its standing with four strong races here – Jamaica ran without Bolt and Veronica Campbell-Brown and the U.S. was minus Tyson Gay and Muna Lee – if the Americans accomplished nothing else this weekend, they planted the seed with Jamaica that there will be no back down come the World Championships this summer.
“People like to go through all different scenarios and say if this happened and this happened then this would have been the outcome,” Crawford said about the Beijing 4x100m. “On that day, we dropped the stick so the world will never know. We’ll try to let you know at the World Championships. We’ll make sure that we get it around so no one will have to ask what ifs.”
One of the scenarios that has been floated is what would have happened had the U.S. opted not to run the injured Gay, who fumbled the exchange with Patton, on the anchor in Beijing? Common sense would indicate that a healthy Crawford would have been a better option.
Yesterday, Crawford let it be known, loud and clear, that he intends to be a part of the 4x100m pool in Berlin.
“Sometimes I come across as arrogant because I feel like if we’re going to get the world record back I’ve got to be on that relay,” Crawford said. “I just feel like that. I run the strong leg. If we stretch it out like we’re supposed to and I’m on the team, we break the record. It sounds cocky, but I’m confident.”
No one on the U.S. side went as far as to say that revenge was on their mind going into USA vs. The World races, but all of them felt like they had something to prove.
Crawford stressed the importance of clean baton exchanges as a primary goal.
“Before we went out there, Darvis said nobody ever ran 38 on this track before,” Crawford said. “I said, ‘Man, let’s go for 37. We’ve got the horses, let’s do it.’ But the main thing was to build chemistry among the four of us and get the stick around. We didn’t stretch out the zones as much as we would have liked to. We played it safe. In Beijing, we dropped the stick. We were focused on not letting that happen. I don’t care how fast you are, if you can’t get the stick around then it’s useless.”
Williams said that her approach to the 4×100 was to stay relaxed and not feel pressured to win. But her actions — Williams ran such a determined opening leg that she was on top of Felix before she could even get out in the exchange zone – spoke of an athlete who isn’t quite over what transpired at the Olympics.
“I said let’s not put everything on the line,” Williams said. “Let’s get the stick around and do what you know how to do from elementary school on up. I made up the stagger a little bit. I was just excited to be out there. There was definitely a little chip on my shoulder, still, that said I had to represent. To the point of me being stressed out about it, it wasn’t like that.”
Richards, who ran for the first time this outdoor season, was more overt in her commentary.
“Jamaica had a great, great team on paper,” she said. “We were all motivated by Beijing. We wanted to prove that we are the best team in the world. Even though I wasn’t on the 4×100, I felt like I was. I feel motivated and amped. I can’t wait to go back to practice this week.”
Neville said he felt like Team USA accomplished its goal of proving that it is too soon for them to be discounted.
“We were able to come out here and showcase our talents,” Neville said. “Everybody came out here and had a great day today. We’re Team USA, the No. 1 team in the world. For us to be able to come out here and do what we did speaks highly of our team.”
The highlight for Jamaica came in the women’s sprint medley relay, where Sheri-Ann Brooks, Rosemarie Whyte, Moya Thompson and Kenia Sinclair rallied to beat the U.S. and set a new world best time – there is no official world record in the SMR – of 3:34.56, breaking the mark of 3:37.16 set by the U.S. at this meet in 2006.
The U.S. led the race until the bell lap when Sinclair, who starred collegiately in New Jersey at Essex County College and Seton Hall University, blew by U.S. anchor Hazel Clark and split 1:57.43 on the anchor. Clark tied up down the stretch and was also passed by Russia’s anchor Maria Savinova.
“Due to the Olympic Games, this was more like Jamaica vs. USA instead of USA vs. the World,” Sinclair said. “We had three Olympians and decided we would give it everything we had. I tried to do my best, and I think my best was just good enough. I thought this was our best chance of winning a relay today against the USA. I knew the world record was based on the 800 leg. I could run 1:58 we would finish in 3:36 or 3:35. Running 3:34 was very surprising, until I finished and heard what I split. It’s very exciting.”
But for the most part, Jamaica was left to lick its wounds – literally and figuratively.
Powell’s status after the meet was uncertain. According to USA Track and Field Communications Coordinator Vicky Oddi, the Jamaican’s said Powell has been nursing “a left leg issue.” This was his first race in four weeks but felt fine before the race and wanted to test the leg out.
On more than one occasion after the races, Jamaican runners were quick to point out that they were not running their best squads and would go back to the drawing board.
“First of all, we represented ourselves well enough,” Fraser said. “It was a team that was not our strongest, but we did our best. We always try to compete to the best of our ability and try to make it work. I’m not disappointed at all, because you win some and lose some. USA was the best on the day. They delivered and executed a proper race. I’m used to coming in second and third and also winning. It just shows we have to work harder as a team.”