The men's and women's 4x100-meter teams celebrate finishing first and third, respectively at the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Oct. 5, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
DOHA, Qatar -- When Team USA runs the sprint relay at major championships, it's usually medal or mayhem.
It was medals Saturday night at the IAAF World Championships as the Team USA men won the gold in the 4x100-meter, shattering the American record while winning for the first time since 2007, and the U.S. women took the bronze.
“We all wanted to break a generational curse and bring on a new era,” said Noah Lyles, the anchorman for Team USA.
Going into the meet, only once in 32 tries at worlds has Team USA finished the 4x100 final without reaching the podium or being disqualified -- and that was a fourth place for the women in 1999.
The American men had solid handoffs (whew!) to finish with a time of 37.10 seconds, slicing .28 off the American record from 2015 and becoming the second-fastest country of all time behind Jamaica. And that was after running perilously close to disqualification in the first round Friday night.
Christian Coleman, the new 100-meter world champion with the explosive start, was the lead off man, followed by the old world champion Justin Gatlin – well, he is 37. Veteran Mike Rodgers ran the third leg, handing off to Lyles, fresh off his 200-meter gold medal.
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Leave it to Lyles to provide sound effects for the race. As he watched the first three legs from Lane 8, his thoughts were “Dang!” “Dang!” and “Oooo.”
Once he got the baton, he said, “I'm going fast because they're over here doing magic, and I've got to try to make it all worthwhile.”
The U.S. men's team won their eighth title in the event while Great Britain was second with a time of 37.36, an area record for Europe. Japan, which practices its precision handoffs religiously, took third with an Asian area record of 37.43.
The U.S. women reached the podium for the 12th time.
Dezerea Bryant, Teahna Daniels, Morolake Akinosun and Kiara Parker, had such good chemistry in the preliminaries that they also teamed up in the final
Jamaica won with a world-leading time of 41.44, followed by Great Britain in 41.85 and Team USA at 42.10, after holding off Switzerland by .08.
Team USA was the defending champion, thanks to Tori Bowie's tremendous anchor leg in London two years ago. Instead of running the relay Saturday night, Bowie was qualifying for the long jump final, which will be held Sunday.
“It’s an honor to be on this team,” said Akinosun. “You see it year after year after year, there’s just a history of USA women winning medals at the world championships and at the Olympics.”
Ten minutes later, it was the men’s turn.
“You can’t go wrong with that lineup,” Daniels said. “We really knew something amazing was going to happen.”
However, the American men dodged a bullet in their preliminaries when Canada and Italy claimed Team USA did not exchange the baton within the takeover zone on the third and final handoff between Rodgers and Cravon Gillespie, who was due to be replaced in the final by Lyles.
Both protests were denied.
However, the sloppy handoff did slow Team USA down, as the Americans finished third in their heat with a time of 38.03 seconds.
“A lot of things were off yesterday – the energy and synergy between us,” Rodgers said. “So, we just formed up and got a brotherhood going this morning.”
That was thanks to Coleman, 23, who messaged his teammates and told them to come to a breakfast meeting “to kind of reflect on what happened yesterday, and what we can do better, without coaches or outside influences,” he said. “We can have that cohesiveness and open dialogue so we can come together and get the job done.”
Coleman knew he and his teammates had the talent. They just had to take care of business.
They did their job so well, Coleman said. “I started celebrating halfway through.”
After three legs, Rodgers said, Lyles “didn’t really have to do much. I really feel like if we get more practice in and run together more we probably could have got the world record, so that’s something we’ve got to fix for next year.
“We’ve got some things in the works for next year to run together more, so hopefully next year we get the world record in Tokyo.”
After crossing the finish line, Lyles, 22, thrust his right arm into the air. As Team USA celebrated, he put his arm around a smiling Coleman, his top rival in the 100 and 200.
"You stepped up as a leader... I'm proud of you," Lyles said of Coleman as they spoke to the crowd at Khalifa International Stadium. Then Lyles shouted into the microphone, "USA! We're taking all the golds! All the golds!"
Lyles was surprised to find out he and his teammates had set an American record and come so close to the world record of 36.84 set by the 2011 Jamaican Olympic team featuring Usain Bolt.
“And I was looking to the side?” Lyles said of his glance to the left with about 20 meters to go. “Shoot! I was just looking to the side to see where everybody was. I just had that urge. I’m not really supposed to do it, so I’ll make sure not to do it next time.”
Gatlin didn’t need the world record – he just wanted the victory. He has been particularly snake-bit in relays, which may be partially due to his longevity.
“The gold means so much to me, probably a lot more than the a lot of the medals I've won individually,” said Gatlin, who had a temperature of about 101 degrees in the days leading into the relay because of the constant switch between the desert heat and the air conditioning in Doha.
“This gold has eluded me throughout my whole career, high school, college, we always just were right outside the window, just barely not getting the job done. At some points, I feel like maybe it was me. But tonight we all got the job done, we got the stick around, and we all stayed within our own selves.”
In 2005, Gatlin won the 100 and 200 and would have run in the relay final. Unfortunately, Team USA, composed of four other runners, failed to make it out of the rounds for the first time in its world championships history.
In 2011, Gatlin handed off to teammate Darvis Patton, who Patton collided with a British runner on the third leg and fell down. In 2013, Gatlin anchored Team USA to silver behind Jamaica. In 2015, Gatlin was running the second leg as Team USA appeared to finish second, but was disqualified for passing the baton out of the zone on the exchange between Tyson Gay and Rodgers.
And in 2017 Gatlin ran the second leg as Team USA lost to Great Britain.
His Olympic record is equally frustrating. Gatlin won a silver on the 4x100 in 2004 and was stripped of the silver he and his teammates won in 2012 when Tyson Gay received a doping suspension.
Rodgers, 34, also was on the U.S. relay teams at worlds in 2017, 2015, 2013 and 2009, while Coleman anchored in 2017. Lyles was the only rookie.
“I take my hat off to my teammates,” Gatlin said, “for being brave, not being under the pressure or the stigma of Team USA dropping the stick or Team USA not finishing, or something always happening. They broke that curse tonight, and I really appreciate these guys for giving me that gift tonight.”