English Gardner, Allyson Felix, Tianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie celebrate winning gold in the women's 4x100-meter at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on Aug. 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
RIO DE JANEIRO — When given a second chance, don’t waste it.
That’s what the U.S. women’s 4x100-meter team did in Rio’s Olympic Stadium. After qualifying for the relay final in a first-of-its-kind-at-the-Olympics re-run — and then running in the undesirable Lane 1 — the team of Tianna Bartoletta, Allyson Felix, English Gardner and Tori Bowie won gold.
“We got out there and everyone did their jobs,” said Gardner, after she had won her first Olympic medal. “Everyone executed the way they were supposed to. We were patient, we trusted each other. “We came out with a ‘W.’”
“It was special,” added Felix, who won her eighth Olympic medal and fifth gold. “I felt like we were really strong tonight. The race yesterday made us even more determined. We just kept fighting the whole way.”
Their time of 41.01 seconds outdistanced rival Jamaica, which claimed its second consecutive silver medal in 41.36. Great Britain won the bronze medal in 41.77.
It was the second-fastest women’s 4x100 relay ever, second only to the relay at the 2012 Olympic Games, which the Americans won in world-record-setting fashion. Bartoletta and Felix ran on that team too.
The back-to-back golds are the first repeats since the 1980s and 1990s. The American women won four consecutive gold medals from the 1984 to 1996 Games. In the early 2000s, the team mangled exchanges or dropped batons, leaving them out of contention (although they won a bronze medal at the 2000 Games).
In Rio, the U.S. women did not initially qualify in their heat, in which Allyson Felix was bumped by a Brazilian runner. Felix dropped the baton, and it looked like the U.S. had reverted to its baton-dropping days.
Officials agreed that Felix had been impeded prior to the handoff and granted the U.S. a re-run — alone under the bright lights at Olympic Stadium Thursday night. They ran the second fastest qualifying time. But they were assigned Lane 1 for the final — the inside lane where the corners are tightest.
When the relay teams were announced in Olympic Stadium, the Americans came out looking all business. No smiles, not waves to the crowd, just hand slaps all around.
“Lane 1 is not exactly an easy lane to run in,” said Bartoletta, who ran the leadoff leg. “So for me, it was definitely all business. I had a big job to set a tone for the rest of the relay.”
Bartoletta handed off to Felix, whose trademark high knee lift and long stride carried her to Gardner. Then Gardner handed off to Bowie, who won a silver medal in the 100-meter and bronze in the 200 earlier this week.
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“I had full confidence in Tori Bowie,” said Gardner. “I knew she was going to be able to get the job done, finish the race. I remember telling her, don’t worry, I’m going to clean up anything that’s left on the third leg, you’ll just have a smooth ride home. All you’ve got to do is hit gear five and go straight down.”
Bowie did just that, except she was running against Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion in the 100 and the 2016 100 bronze medalist. But she had watched the 2012 Olympic relay, where the U.S. won gold and set the world record. And she knew now had to fill the anchor leg that Carmelita Jeter ran in 2012.
“I was determined, I know how competitive Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is,” Bowie said of Jamaica’s anchor runner. “I was determined to not let her catch me. I think my teammates did a wonderful job on the first three legs. I for sure didn’t want to be a disappointment.”
Stars in their own right individually, three of the four U.S. sprinters had already won solo medals earlier this week, though none were gold. The relay win served as redemption for the four, who had come to Rio with gold-medal hopes in their individual events.
For Bartoletta the 4x100 gold made up for not qualifying for the final of the 100 earlier this week. Although she won an Olympic gold medal in the long jump, she also wanted one on the track.
“It feels amazing, especially because it was a team effort,” she said of the relay win.
Gardner made the final of the 100 earlier this week, but then finished seventh.
“My luck is turning around I guess,” she commented.
It was the first gold of the Rio Games for Bowie and Felix, as well. Bowie now has a complete set of Olympic medals from her Olympic debut.
Felix won a silver medal in the 400 earlier this week in Rio — not the result she was aiming for in her first Olympic 400 final. But she has won gold medals in every relay that she has run at the Olympic Games.
“Yesterday proved that you never know what you’re going to get,” said Felix, who became the most decorated female Olympian in U.S. track and field history in Rio, now with eight Olympic medals and counting. “But sometimes adversity makes you stronger. We each have had a rocky road here. A different journey, a unique experience. We just came together.”
The U.S. men’s 4x100 team of Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Trayvon Bromell had a particularly rocky road. They crossed the finish line in third place and thought that they had won the nation’s first Olympic medal in 12 years. But film review showed that Mike Rodgers, in the leadoff leg, passed the baton out of the zone to Justin Gatlin.
“Looking at it, it seemed like I didn’t have full possession of the stick going into the zone,” said Gatlin. “And it looked like Mike Rodgers still had his hand on the stick.”
USA Track & Field filed an appeal.
The last time the U.S. men stood on podium was the Athens Games in 2004.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the U.S. men dropped the baton and were listed as DNF. They also misplaced their race bibs before the event and wore pieces of paper with USA written in black magic marker.
Four years ago in London, the American men set a national record in winning the silver medal. But the relay team was disqualified in 2015 because of Tyson Gay’s drug suspension. Gay had accepted a one-year ban and the loss of his results going back to July 2012 for testing positive for anabolic steroids.
The other U.S. members losing medals were Trell Kimmons, Justin Gatlin, Ryan Bailey, Jeffery Demps and Darvis Patton.
Of the 2016 men’s relay team, only Gatlin has won a medal in Rio — a silver in the men’s 100.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn is in Rio covering her fourth Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.