RIO DE JANEIRO — The winning streak started 20 years ago, and it’s still going strong.
In the final night of Olympic track and field in Rio, the U.S. women’s 4x400-meterteam won its sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Allyson Felix anchored the team of Courtney Okolo, Natasha Hastings and Phyllis Francis to the gold-medal six-peat in 3:19.06. Jamaica finished second in 3:20.34 for the silver medal — one place better than they finished in London. And Great Britain brought home bronze in 3:25.88.
Felix and Francena McCorory, who ran in the 4x400 heat for the U.S. yesterday, also competed on the 2012 Olympic relay team that won gold in London. Hastings won gold with Felix on the 4x400 team at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“I knew when I got on that home stretch to try to just bring it home strong,” said Felix. “We have such a rich history in this event, just wanted to continue the legacy.”
Since the women’s 4x400 made its Olympic debut at the 1972 Games, the U.S. has had a long history of standing on the podium. They have won seven gold medals and four silvers — a medal in every Olympic Games except 1980, when the U.S. team boycotted the Moscow Games.
The current streak began at the 1996 Atlanta Games, when Felix and Hastings were still in elementary school, or in Francis’ case, pre-school. Okolo was only 2 years old then.
“I didn’t know about the winning streak before the meet went off,” said Okolo, who ran the lead-off leg. “I definitely felt a lot of pressure because I knew these ladies have been here before, and I didn’t want to mess it up. It was the right amount of pressure to get the job done. I’m glad we came away with the gold.”
The 4x400 gold was the third Olympic medal for Felix in Rio. She won a silver in the women’s 400 and gold in the 4x100 relay. It’s her sixth gold overall and ninth total Olympic medal. And the list of superlatives is long.
By winning three golds in the 4x400 (2008, 2012, 2016), she equaled the mark of Evelyn Ashford (USA) and Sanya Richards-Ross (USA), as the only women to win three Olympic gold medals in the same track and field event, with Ashford doing so in the 4×100 and Richards-Ross in the 4×400.
With nine total Olympic medals, Felix moved into a tie for the title of most decorated track and field woman, equaling Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey — although Ottey never won any Olympic gold medals. Felix is now tied for third among all track and field athletes, trailing only Finland’s Paavo Nurmi with 12 and Carl Lewis with 10.
Felix’s six gold medals move her into a tie for fifth among all women in any sport. The Olympic best is held by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, who has nine.
The American sprinter also moves into a tie for fifth among all Olympic track and field athletes and all female Olympians, with six gold medals.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Felix. “I’m just grateful. [This is] not an individual medal, I did it with my teammates. It makes it very special in a very tough year. I’m happy to be able to close it out like this.”
Okolo was in awe of Felix’s accomplishment — and the fact that she had just competed on a relay with the track and field icon.
“It blows my mind because the first Olympics I watched, it was 2008 and she was on the 4x4 and they won gold,” said Okolo, who won her first Olympic medal, at her first Olympics, in the 4x100 in Rio. “Now I’m here, and it’s like wow, dreams become a reality.”
For Hastings, who competed in the 4x400 relay with Felix in Beijing, winning her first Olympic gold medal there, the responsibility of competing for Team USA was more on her mind than continuing the 4x400 winning streak.
“There’s an expectation that we’re going to come home with the most medals, we’re expected to win the medal count,” Hastings explained. “We’re expected to medal in just about every event because we are the toughest team in the world. There’s definitely that expectation that we need to perform well and that we need to send out a statement to the rest of the world.”
“Obviously I know we have a legacy of winning the 4x4 and winning at the Games,” she added. “But that actual number, no. We just went out there and focused on going for the gold again. We know that there’s a legacy that we want to continue. But we just focused on the process and focused on executing the race.”
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.