LONDON – The women’s 4x100-meter was serious business for Team USA.
While the teams from other countries happily mugged for the camera during their introductions at the IAAF World Championships -- the Swiss team even did a pirouette -- Aaliyah Brown, Allyson Felix, Morolake Akinosun and Tori Bowie didn’t crack a smile. Forget about a wave.
“I deferred to the younger ones,” Felix, who is competing in her eighth world championships at age 31, said with a laugh.
Akinosun, 23, a world championships rookie, said she and her teammates decided their demeanor should reflect the gravity of the situation.
“It’s not a game,” she said. “We weren’t here to mess around. We’re here to get the job done.”
“Now we’re all smiling,” said Felix, who won a record 10th gold medal among female world championships athletes and broke a tie with Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey for overall medals with her 15th.
They definitely got the job done on a night that saw Bolt hobbled by an injury and lying prostrate on the track in his farewell race.
Team USA won its first title in the women’s 4x100-meter since 2011, clocking 41.82 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. Great Britain thrilled the home crowd at London Stadium by placing second in 42.12, followed by two-time defending champion Jamaica, which ran without Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, in 42.19.
On the men’s side, the Team USA men were just happy to “help break the curse,” said Justin Gatlin, in their 4x100-meter. “Usually at championships, we’re either getting DQ'ed or sticks fall, but it’s just all about a synergy thing. It’s all about a bond. And I trust these guys. These guys trust me. We get the stick around, we get the job done.”
Team USA won the silver medal behind Great Britain, as Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake outraced Christian Coleman on the anchor leg.
“I got the stick and I was just trying to go as fast as I can,” said Coleman, who lost his form at the finish line. “I saw Nethaneel on my outside and it was a good battle. He’s a great runner. I just came up a little short.”
The British team finished in 37.47 seconds, with Team USA next at 37.52 followed by Japan in 38.04. Jamaica did not finish because Bolt suffered a cramp in his left hamstring on the final leg. He turned down the offer of a wheelchair to carry him off the track.
Gatlin said the schedule and conditions in the stadium were to blame for Bolt’s cramp.
“I understand TV magic, and I understand that we have to be ready on the time,” he said, “But I think we took our clothes off a little too early in the back, under the stadium. It’s chilly out here, and I think that’s where the cramp came from. He suffered that by having his clothes off too early. We lost all of our heat, all of our sweat and we went out there cold.”
The women’s race had its own drama as the final handoff between Akinosun and Bowie came dangerously close to the end of the zone.
‘We just got a little bit deep into the zone, but I was really confident I was going to get the baton to Tori even if it was going to be a little bit late,” said Akinosun.
Added Bowie, “I think I was a little impatient, but overall it worked out.”
This was Bowie’s first appearance since she won the 100-meter on Sunday and tumbled onto the track past the finish line. Bowie cited lingering injuries from the fall in pulling out of the 200.
She dueled Daryil Neita of Great Britain down the homestretch for a convincing victory.
The U.S. women won their seventh gold medal in the event, which is more than any other country. Jamaica has four.
The London track felt like home for the Team USA women. Five years ago, a fearsome American foursome set the world record at the Olympic Games London 2012, and that mark of 40.82 still stands. They then defended their title at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
But a world championships gold had been more elusive until Saturday.
The common denominator at the last two Olympic Games and at world championships in 2007 (gold), 2011 (gold), 2015 (silver) and Saturday night was Felix.
Felix said it “feels really special,” to be the most decorated athlete in World Championships history. “It’s a privilege to step on this track and do what I love and I don’t take any of it for granted,” she said, “but tonight was just about this medal and running with these ladies. We just wanted to make the USA proud.”
Felix is expected to run on the 4x400-meter team on Sunday night, and could get a 16th medal.
She also won a bronze in the 400-meter. Did her gold in the relay make up for the disappointment of not defending her 400-meter title?
“Nah,” she said, shaking her head with a smile. “But it’s still very sweet.”
Mike Rodgers, who ran leadoff for the U.S. men, called their silver medal in the relay “bittersweet.”
Team USA had hoped to play the spoiler once again in Bolt’s final appearance before retiring from the sport. A week ago, Gatlin and Coleman went 1-2 in the 100-meter -- with Bolt coming in third. That gave Team USA hope it could break free of the misfortune that had dogged it in the past decade.
At the Olympic Games Rio 2016, Team USA thought it had wrapped up the bronze medal, but was disqualified for running outside the zone.
Team USA was also DQed at the 2015 and 2009 worlds, had a collision and did not finish the 2011 worlds and dropped the baton at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008. The silver medal from the Olympic Games London 2012 was stripped due to a team member’s drug suspension.
In recent years, the only medal was a world silver in 2013.
What was the difference Saturday? “Young guys,” Gatlin said.
Rodgers ran leadoff followed by Jaylen Bacon, in his first major international race, and Coleman.
“It’s hard getting four guys who compete with each other all year long to be able to cooperate together and put the egos aside and say, ‘OK, guys, let’s get the job done together,’” Gatlin said. “I think we can consistently get on the podium from now on.”
As the veteran at age 35, Gatlin said the others look to him for guidance. “I just kept their heads cool and told them it’s just about the simple things,” he said, “to just go out there and when that guy hits the zone coming in, make sure you take off and make sure you get the stick and get around that track.”
He said Great Britain was helped by the crowd of more than 55,000 at London Stadium.
“When you’re in your home country, you get 10 bonus points in energy,” Gatlin said. “It’s like a video game. You get the energy of the crowd. They’re cheering for you, so it can either go up or it can go down. They took that energy and they didn’t let it become pressure and they did a great job. The women did a great job as well. I can’t wait till 2021 (when the world championships come to Eugene, Oregon). I might not be running, but I can’t wait to see these guys running on home soil as well.”
From his vantage point, Gatlin could see Bolt go down.
“I’m a runner just like he is, so I understand what it means to sustain an injury,” he said. “Especially his last race, my heart goes out to him. You don’t want to go out with a hamstring tear or anything like that. I hope it’s just a cramp, he’ll be able to rub it off and enjoy his night and enjoy his legacy.”
And come back after a year?
“Oh yeah,” Gatlin said, “he’s going to come back. You owe me $100.”