Gold rush for U.S. 4x400 relay teams

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United States' Allyson Felix, Mary Wineberg, Sanya Richards and Monique Henderson, from left, celebrate winning the gold in the women's 4x400-meter relay during the athletics competitions in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008.

By Dr. Bob Elliott

What went right Saturday night for the U.S. 4x400-meter relay teams overshadowed what went wrong with the sprint relay teams a few nights ago.  U.S. relay stars arrived at the stadium with a focus and intention to put everything on the line on the final night of track and field at the Bird’s Nest.

BEIJING - What went right Saturday night for the U.S. 4x400-meter relay teams overshadowed what went wrong with the sprint relay teams a few nights ago.  U.S. relay stars arrived at the stadium with a focus and intention to put everything on the line on the final night of track and field at the Bird’s Nest.

The men’s and women’s teams finished on a triumphant note with flawless performances.  Whatever U.S. head coaches Jeannette Bolden and Bubba Thornton said during the afternoon team meeting to energize our athletes must have worked!  Allyson Felix commented, “We wanted to end it on a high note.  We’ve had our ups and downs.  We came out with a new attitude tonight—men and women—and it worked out” 

The women’s 4x400m team’s performance earned them the gold medal, although the Russian team was predicted to grab the win.  Mary Weinberg exploded out of the blocks with a 51-second lap then passed the baton to Allyson Felix who burned a 48.55 and put the U.S. in the lead. Felix handed off to Monique Henderson who produced a 50.06 but the Russians flew into the lead with about 100m left in her lap.  Sanya Richards took the stick but by now the Russians were clearly in the lead.  It appeared to the fans that Richards had too much distance to cover to make up the deficit.  The Russians continued to lead for most of the last lap. 

Then, in one of the most exciting finishes witnessed during these games, Richards discovered another gear during the last 50 meters. Richards passed the Russian with less than 25 meters to the finish in a 48.93 lap.  The U.S. team’s 3:18:54 was the fastest 4x400m relay time in the world for the last 15 years. The Russians earned the silver medal in 3:18.52 and the Jamaicans were once again on the medal stand, earning bronze in 3:20.40.

The U.S. men’s 4x400m relay team was just as energized as the women. LeShawn Merritt rocketed out of the blocks to give the U.S. a substantial lead after the first leg.  As he finished his 44.35 split he handed off the baton to Angelo Taylor.  Taylor clocked 43.70 and David Neville followed with a solid 44.16.  Leave it to Jeremy Wariner to close out the performance with a 43.18, which solidified an Olympic record (2:55.39) and the second fastest time ever run in the 4x400m relay. A record five teams broke 3 minutes. The Bahamas won silver and the Russians captured the bronze.

In the men’s 5,000m there was hope that Bernard Lagat, 2008 Olympic Trials 1500m and 5000m champion, and Matt Tegenkamp, 2008 Olympic Trials runner-up and America two-mile record holder, would be on the medal stand.  However, neither of the Americans placed in the top three.  In the face-paced race, Kenenisa Bekele took command from the beginning and never relinquished his first-place position. Running under a four-minute mile pace during the last five laps, Bekele won in an Olympic record of 12:57.82.  Lagat faded to 9th in 13:26.89 and Tegenkamp ran 13:33.13 for 13th place.

Earlier in the week, fans were disappointed and frustrated in what they perceived to be lackluster performances by our U.S. track and field athletes.  Many news commentators, as well as spectators, accused the U.S. sprinters and field athletes of underperforming.  However, when reflecting on our U.S. track and field team’s performance at the Beijing Games, they matched the medal count from Atlanta and bettered the count of 17 medals collected at the Sydney Games in 2000. The U.S. track and field team earned 23 medals with seven golds in Beijing.  Russia has 18 medals and Jamaica has 11 medals.  There’s lots of work to do but this year’s Team USA can hold their head high.  Great job Team USA!!

We’re packing our bags and heading to the airport in a few minutes. Tomorrow, we’ll send a final report with a summary of our experiences and impressions from the Beijing Games.

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