The United States' women's 4x100 relay team from left, Tianna Madison, Carmelita Jeter, Bianca Knight, and Allyson Felix pose for a photo by the clock showing their world record time after winning the gold Friday at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
LONDON — Eyeing the trackside clock as she approached the finish line, Carmelita Jeter pointed the black baton in her left hand at those bright orange numbers.
She wanted to make sure everyone saw what she saw: The United States was breaking the world record in the women’s 4x100-meter relay — and it wasn’t even close.
Allyson Felix, Tianna Madison and Bianca Knight built a big lead, and Jeter brought it home Friday night, anchoring the U.S. to its first Olympic gold medal in the sprint relay since 1996 with a time of 40.82, more than a half-second better than a record that had stood for 27 years.
“As I’m running, I’m looking at the clock and seeing this time that’s like 37, 38, 39. In my heart, I said, ‘We just did it!’ I definitely knew we ran well,” Jeter said. “When I crossed the finish line, I had so many emotions because we haven’t been able to get the gold medal back to the U.S.”
Felix collected her second gold of the London Games, along with the one she won in the 200 meters, while Jeter completed a set, adding to her silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200.
“I just knew if we had clean baton passes that we would definitely challenge the world record. Smash it like we did? We had no idea,” Madison said, “but I knew it was in us.”
The American quartet erased the old mark of 41.37 run by East Germany in October 1985. Here’s how long ago that was: Jeter was 5, Madison was a month old, and Felix and Knight weren’t even born.
“It’s an absolutely unreal feeling. It just feels like for so long, we looked at women’s sprints and the records were so out of reach. To look up and see we had a world record, it was just crazy,” said Felix, who gets a shot at a third gold in the 4x400 final Saturday. “I didn’t think that was going to happen.”
Jamaica won the silver medal in a national record of 41.41 seconds, with a team of 100 champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 100 bronze medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart.
“All their girls are in top shape this year. You can’t say they didn’t deserve it. They prepared for it and they came out here and they delivered,” Fraser-Pryce said. “For us, it’s back to the drawing board.”
The bronze went to the Ukraine in 42.04.
Madison ran the opening leg, and Felix the second. Then, with Knight approaching for the final handoff, Jeter took nine strides, reached her hand back and took a perfect exchange. Jeter was staring at the clock as she covered the final 10 meters — and she jutted the stick in that direction.
“I saw the huge lead that we have, and I looked up on the board and saw the time flash, and I was so confused,” Felix said. “I was like, ‘That is not a 4x100 time.’ I was waiting, and then I saw the world record, and I was like, ‘This is insane.’ It was just a beautiful thing to see. As soon as Bianca passed to ‘Jet,’ it was done.”
Afterward, the quartet of champions paused to watch a replay of their record performance on the scoreboard at 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium. When Jeter was shown crossing the finish line, Knight punched the air.
The perfect trip around the track ended a string of disappointments for the U.S. in the event.
In Athens eight years ago, Lauryn Williams was involved in a bad exchange in the final, leaving her team without a medal. In Beijing four years ago, the Americans didn’t even reach the final because Torri Edwards and Williams bobbled the last exchange in the semifinals. That marked the first time since 1948 that the U.S. wasn’t involved in the women’s 4x100 medal race at the Summer Games.
This time they were back in the final — and now they’re champions again, too.
“It’s a relief. It’s a joy. It’s everything,” Felix said. “We went into this race and it was the most comfortable I’ve seen this team. We were laughing and smiling. We’ve never been like that. We were confident. We felt good. We were confident in the passes, and it showed.”
And Williams even gets a gold medal this time, because she ran a leg in Thursday’s semifinal.
“Talking about the ‘botched handoff’ is history now,” Madison said. “She has completely obliterated that from her record.”
The U.S. performance was part of a speedy night on the track, even if Usain Bolt wasn’t around: The U.S. and Jamaica turned in two of the five fastest men’s 4x100 relays in history to set up a showdown in Saturday’s final.
And in the 4x400, Ramon Miller of the Bahamas overtook Angelo Taylor of the United States to give his country its first men’s Olympic gold medal in any sport.
Miller powered Bahamas to a time of 2:56.72, 0.33 seconds better than the U.S., which had won that event at every Olympics since 1984. Trinidad and Tobago took third.
The United States was missing three injured runners, including Manteo Mitchell, who finished out his preliminary lap Thursday on a broken leg and was there to watch Friday, leaning on crutches.
“Without him, this wouldn’t be possible,” said Tony McQuay, Mitchell’s roommate in the athletes village. “He held it down for the USA. Sorry we couldn’t give him the gold.”
The South African team finished last, falling way behind before double-amputee Oscar Pistorius even got his hands on the baton for the anchor leg.
In the 4x100 semifinals, dash bronze medalist Justin Gatlin ran the anchor leg as the Americans broke a 20-year-old national record by finishing in 37.38 seconds. The old mark of 37.40 was initially established in 1992 with Carl Lewis on the last leg, and later equaled.
Jamaica ran 37.39 in the other semifinal — and that was without Bolt, who got a chance to rest a day after adding gold in the 200 to his gold in the 100 but is expected to run the anchor in Saturday’s final.
“We’re going to figure out a way to go out there and compete with them,” Gatlin vowed. “We’re not scared of them.”
The current world record of 37.04 was set by Jamaica at last year’s world championships.
On Friday, the U.S. went with former University of Florida running back Jeff Demps, Darvis Patton, Trell Kimmons and Gatlin. Tyson Gay, who finished fourth in the 100 and is still in search of his first Olympic medal, figures to be added to the relay team for the final.
The American men are back in the final after missing it in Beijing when Patton and Gay mishandled the baton exchange in a preliminary heat.
Jamaica wound up winning the gold, one of Bolt’s three record-breaking runs in 2008 when he won the 100, 200 and 4x100.
He can repeat that trio of titles Saturday by joining the likely holdovers from the semifinal victory: Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Yohan Blake, the silver medalist in the 100 and 200.
“We’ve got guys that have been running good and we’ve got Usain Bolt, who’s going to run a fast time,” Blake said. “It’s going to be interesting.”
AMERICAN WRESTLER BURROUGHS WINS GOLD:
LONDON — A year ago, Jordan Burroughs changed his Twitter handle to @alliseeisgold.
On Thursday, Burroughs promised to tweet a picture of himself holding the Olympic gold medal. He delivered Friday night — on the mat and on Twitter.
The boastful 24-year-old American backed up all his talk, beating Iran’s Sadegh Saeed Goudarzi 1-0, 1-0 in the men’s freestyle 74-kilogram division to give the U.S. its first wrestling gold medal at the London Games.
“A lot of people call it cocky, people call it over confident,” Burroughs said. “But I knew I was going to win.”
Burroughs beat Denis Tsargush of Russia in a tight semifinal, then got past Goudarzi in a rematch of their world championship bout in 2011.
Burroughs, who grew up in New Jersey, has won 38 straight international freestyle matches and is the first Olympian to claim the $250,000 prize from the Living the Dream Medal Fund, a program designed to support U.S. wrestling.
An hour after beating Goudarzi, the tweet-happy Burroughs made good on his word, posting a shot of himself beaming beside his gold.
He won’t have to change that boastful handle either — at least not until the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
“It’s easy to be confident when you put the hard work in that I do,” Burroughs said.
Also, Dzhamal Otarsultanov took the men’s 55-kg freestyle category, beating Vladimer Khinchegashvili of Georgia to give the Russians four wrestling golds at the London Games, tops for any nation.
Burroughs woke up tight on Friday, not surprising considering the expectations he put on himself. He got over his nerves and beat his two biggest rivals for the title.
Burroughs won his first two matches to set up a rematch with Tsargush, a two-time world champion that the U.S. star beat in the 2011 world championships en route to the title.
It turned out to be the most gripping match of the Olympic tournament so far.
Burroughs owned the first period. But Tsargush scored on a takedown in the second and kept himself alive to set up a thrilling final frame.
Burroughs and Tsargush circled the mat cautiously for about 90 seconds before Burroughs — one of the quickest wrestlers in the world — launched himself at Tsargush’s legs for a takedown.
Burroughs opened the scoring in the final when he notched a double-leg takedown of Goudarzi with just nine seconds left in the first period. He clinched the final with a similar move late in the second.
The gold brought a deep sense of relief for the medal-starved Americans.
The U.S. entered Friday with just one medal; a bronze won by women’s freestyler Clarissa Chun. Burroughs was by far the best hope the U.S. had for a gold, and the fear was that if he fell short the Americans would go home without one.
As it turned out, they should have just listened to Burroughs all along.
“He can be the face of American wrestling,” U.S. freestyle coach Zeke Jones said. “He’s put himself in a position to become one of the greatest wrestlers ever.”
Otarsultanov, who beat Russian star Viktor Lebedev for his country’s spot at 55 kgs, earned his first Olympic gold by downing the 21-year-old Khinchegashvili 1-0, 4-3.
“I felt responsible. My family and country were waiting for me to perform,” Otarsultanov said.
Otarsultanov won the first period by scoring from offense on a tiebreaking clinch. Otarsultanov tied it at 3 late in the second, and because he had scored the last point he was in position for victory when Khinchegashvili drove him to the mat as time expired.
Nothing was called — even as the Georgia camp insisted Khinchegashvili had exposed the Russian’s back for two points.
The Georgian looked positively despondent on the medal stand, even though he had won a silver medal.
“I know I am only 21, but I feel sad because I had a chance to win a gold medal and that may not happen again,” Khinchegashvili said.