RIO DE JANEIRO -- The U.S. men’s 4x400-meter team ruled the track in Rio on the final night of competition in Olympic Stadium.
Anchored by LaShawn Merritt, the U.S. 4x400 team regained the gold medal that it lost in 2012 at the London Games, with a time of 2:57.30. Jamaica finished second in 2:58.16, and the Bahamas — the defending Olympic gold medalists — rounded out the podium in 2:58.49.
“This was about Team USA, a great group of guys I ran with,” Merritt said, with the gold medal around his neck. “They made my job easy. We wanted this gold, we didn’t get it in the last Olympics. I just told everybody go out and do your job.”
Since the 4x400 was added to the Olympic program in 1912, the U.S. men have been on the podium in the every year but three (excluding the 1980 boycotted Games). They last won gold at the 2004 and 2008 Games.
Arman Hall led off, running in second place, and passed the baton to Tony McQuay, who took the race lead in the first corner. McQuay also competed on the relay at the London Games. He passed the baton to Gil Roberts, who held the lead. Then it was Merritt’s turn.
But Merritt has had one of his busiest track meets ever in Rio. He competed in the 200 and 400 before he even got to the 4x400 relay — more than he ever competed even in college.
Earlier this week, he finished sixth in the 200 and won bronze in the 400.
“Before I got the baton, I knew I had some mileage in my legs,” said Merritt. “But I love the 400, and I knew it was about a team and about USA at that moment. I just wanted to do my job. I got down on the back stretch well. Coming down the home stretch, I opened it up a little bit and just brought it in comfortably.”
It’s Merritt’s fourth Olympic medal and third gold. The sprinter also won the 400 and 4x400 at the 2008 Beijing Games, and bronze in the 400 here in Rio. Although he made the 2012 Olympic team, he pulled out of a 400 heat with a tweaked hamstring.
When asked how it felt to win gold after the disappointment in London, Merritt focused again on the team.
“It’s special,” he said. “To win this for the U.S. as a team, that’s the special part. You have your individual events that you want to do well in and be successful in. But when it comes down to the end result depending on every man doing their job, that makes it special.”
The men's 4x400 gold medal gives the U.S. a total of 31 track and field medals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the highest total since the Americans won 31 in both 1952 and 1956. The most track and field medals won by the U.S. at a single Olympic Games was 35 at the Berlin 1932 Olympic Games.
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.