LONDON – The Team USA women’s 4x400-meter team was in such a class by itself at the IAAF World Championships that anchor leg Phyllis Francis looked like she was racing the camera vehicle instead of the rest of the field.
“That driver, man, he kind of motivated me that last 100 to keep going,” Francis said.
Quanera Hayes, Allyson Felix, Shakima Wimbley and Francis won by the largest margin of victory in world championships history – male or female – to capture the first Team USA gold medal in the event since 2011. The United States won silver medals in 2013 and 2015.
Team USA finished with a time of 3 minutes, 19.02 seconds, followed by Great Britain in 3:25.00 and Poland in 3:25.41 as the IAAF World Championships closed Sunday night at London Stadium.
That translated to a distance of about 50 meters.
“It’s always very, very sweet,” Felix said, “when you’re able to have a lead and be able to see the anchor come home and it’s not even close.”
The previous greatest margin of victory for the women’s relay was Team USA over Jamaica in 2009 (3.32 seconds) and for the men's relay was Team USA over Kenya in 1993 (5.53 seconds).
Team USA posted the fastest time in the world this year. The previous best was Team USA’s semifinal time of 3:21.66.
“First of all, Quanera opened it up,” said Francis, who won her second gold medal of the championships after also claiming the crown in the women’s 400-meter. “Then Allyson pulled away and Shakima, she just went on for it, so I was like ‘Wow.’ Now most people would normally just chill, but I was like, ‘You know what, let’s try to break a record and lower the time down,’ so I kept going for it.”
This event has always been a Team USA specialty. The United States won three straight world medals in the 4x400 from 2007 to 2011 and has won six Olympic gold medals in a row.
Team USA has won 12 medals in the event at the world championships, four more than Jamaica, which has eight.
Felix, who ran a very fast unofficial split of 48.70 seconds, now has 16 world championship medals, more than any other athlete in world championships history, male or female. Her 11 golds match Usain Bolt.
Felix's haul is 11 golds, three silvers and two bronze medals while Bolt has 11 golds, two silvers and a bronze.
“I feel like this sport has really given me so much and I hope I’ve given a little bit back in return,” said Felix, who won gold medals here on the 4x400 and 4x100-meter teams and a bronze in the 400. “It’s just a special thing to be able to look back and kind of see what I’ve done over the years and to be proud of it.”
So, did the second gold medal make up for her bronze in the 400, a race in which she was defending champion? “No,” Felix said with a laugh. “Unfortunately that’s not how it works. That’s not how I am, but it’s special in its own right. I love the relays. It’s just a perfect way to end the meet.”
Team USA had its best performance ever at worlds, snaring a total of 30 medals, more than its previous best of 28 in 2011 (originally 25, but three were reallocated after doping violations). The final tally is 10 gold, 11 silver and nine bronze medals. The U.S. record for gold medals is 14 in 2005 and 2007.
Felix, who was competing in her eighth world championships at age 31, has been on every world 4x400-meter team since 2007 except 2013, when she was injured. She has also run on the last three Olympic 4x400-meter teams.
“She’s definitely a role model and she’s definitely into the team spirit,” Francis said. “She talks with us, encourages us, so it’s great to have someone like that with Team USA to kind of guide us.”
Hayes said that Felix even helped her out of a tough spot with her younger sister, Quashera, “who was a fan of hers before I was,” Hayes said. “My sister was asking me when I got here, ‘Have you seen Allyson yet?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I was just eating dinner with her. ‘ And my sister got so mad at me. So I told Allyson, and she said, ‘Oh, that’s cute.’”
Felix FaceTimed with Quashera, who has recovered from a motorcycle accident earlier this year, and encouraged her.
“That truly meant a lot to me,” Hayes said, “My sister is still on cloud nine. That showed me who Allyson is a person. She’s such a sweet soul. A sweet spirit and she’s just a good person to look up to. She’s just Allyson."
Hayes said that her sister became a Felix fan first because she was originally "more into track and field than I was. This was just something that all of the people in my family pushed me to do. So, look where I am now.”
Before the race, Hayes did what she usually does: she sang a worship song.
“It keeps me calm and it keeps me at peace,” she said. “I think I did pretty well. I can never really tell because the stagger is so big when you’re on the first leg. When Allyson grabbed the baton and I saw how she got out so well, I was just like, ‘OK, I did my job, I did a pretty good thing.’”
Jamaica had a slight lead when Hayes handed off to Felix, but Felix took command. Then Jamaica’s second leg, Anneisha McLaughlin-Whilby pulled up with an injury on the curve and Felix extended her lead.
“The 4x4 is kind of crazy,” Felix said, “because even if you’re by yourself, you’re always on your toes because the last thing you want to do is have someone come from the back to get you. So you always want to keep going for sure.”
Wimbley was next.
“I felt that my teammates had already got me off to a good lead, so when I got the stick, I got off the curve and I just went for it,” she said. “The crowd was pumping me up and I just wanted to finish strong.”
The full house of about 55,000 spectators roared as the British team gave chase.
“I was just feeding off of the crowd’s energy, because they were cheering,” Francis said. “So I was pretending that, ‘Oh, they’re right on me. Pick it up. Run faster.’”
Once she crossed the finish line, Francis was no longer alone. Her teammates swarmed around her and then they all – slowly – took their victory lap.