IN THE EYES of American fans the WC men’s short relay hadn’t gone the way it was supposed to since Osaka ’07. The nation that had won 15 of the first 20 Olympic golds, and 7 of the first 11 World finals, had decidedly mixed results in subsequent years at the two global meets: ’08—dnf heat; ’09—dq; ’11—dnf; ’12—silver (later removed by retroactive testing); ’13–silver; ’15–silver (then a doping dq); ’17–silver. A relay gold, at onetime virtually a rite of passage for American sprinters, had become a rarity. Even ageless veteran Justin Gatlin pointed out the day before the heats, “I’ve never in my career won a relay gold.”
Team USA would be facing a world that has been catching up fast. No team had a Usain Bolt game changer, but there have been plenty of good sticks lately from Great Britain, as well as China, Japan, Brazil and so on. So much so that our formchart had the U.S. tagged for only bronze, behind Britain and Japan.
In heat I, the U.S. put together three-quarters of its A-team, allowing Noah Lyles to have another day of rest after his 200 gold. Century winner Christian Coleman led off fast—so much so that Gatlin did not seem ready for his incoming speed and the two had a close, messy exchange. The veteran delivered a solid backstretch and the handoff to Mike Rodgers went off smoothly. Then Cravon Gillespie, Lyles’ stand-in, took off too soon and Rodgers barely got the stick to him inside the zone.
The sloppy U.S. performance was timed in 38.03, 3rd behind Great Britain (37.56) and Brazil (37.90). The second heat was eye-opening: South Africa in 37.65, followed by the best mass finish in history: Japan (37.78), China (37.79), France (37.88), Netherlands (37.91) and Canada (37.91). Best-ever-marks-for-place in 4-5-6-7. The sobering conclusion was that the United States would be the slowest team in the final.
Canada, whose 37.91 was the fastest non-qualifier in history—and a time that would have won 4 World titles and medaled in 14 of 16 championships—protested that the U.S. should be DQed for that final handoff and that Canada—not even in the U.S. heat—should be in the final. The Italians counter-protested, as their 38.11 NR team would be the one normally advanced if the U.S. did get disqualified. Officials ruled the U.S. exchange as legal (despite an ongoing Internet argument complete with fuzzy videos).
For the final, the U.S. drew lane 8. Coleman rocketed out to a clear lead and his pass to Gatlin was far smoother than it had been the previous day. Gatlin delivered efficiently to Rodgers. On the turn, Japan moved into 2nd. With Noah Lyles on anchor, all American eyes landed on the final pass, which went nicely indeed. One could almost hear the U.S. fans let out a breath. Lyles churned the final leg, sneaking a peak near the end as if to decide whether it was safe to celebrate. That he did, hand up in a No. 1 gesture as he hit the finish in 37.10. Behind him, an SEC battle raged as Britain’s Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, an LSU alum, ran down Abdul Hakim Sani Brown of Japan (and Florida).
The time was a new American Record, topping the 37.38 marks from ’12 & ’15 that have occupied that slot since the ’12 Olympic time of 37.04 was erased by Tyson Gay’s positive. Behind the U.S. came one of the deepest finishes ever: Great Britain 37.36 NR (and the =No. 6 time ever), Japan 37.43 NR; Brazil 37.72 NR; South Africa 37.73; China 38.07. A 37.80 effort by Netherlands was erased by a DQ; even so, best-ever marks-for-place were recorded for 2-3-4-5.
“My job was to get us to the lead. I did that,” said Coleman. Gatlin said, “We had China on the right side of us. I knew we had to push past them… to be in medal contention.” Rodgers added, “I got out a little harder, executed the top of the bend a little better and it worked out.”
Lyles summed it up best, though: “I was watching Christian popping off and it was like, ‘Damn!’ and I see Gatlin and I said, ‘Bam!’ and then I see my man here, Mike, ‘Ooh!’ and then I said, ‘I gotta run fast because they are over here doing magic and just try to make it all worthwhile.’”
WC MEN’S 4 x 100 RESULTS
(October 05) (temperature 81F/27C; humidity 71%)
1. United States 37.10 AR (old AR 37.38 National Team ’12) (3 W; #2 nation) (WL)
(Christian Coleman, Justin Gatlin, Mike Rodgers, Noah Lyles);
2. Great Britain 37.36 NR (=6 W; #3 nation)
(Adam Gemili, Zharnel Hughes, Richard Kilty, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake);
3. Japan 37.43 NR (#4 nation)
(Shuhei Tada, Kirara Shiraishi, Yoshihide Kiryu, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown);
4. Brazil 37.72 NR (#8 nation)
(Rodrigo do Nascimento, Vitor dos Santos, Derick Silva, Paulo André de Oliveira);
5. South Africa 37.73
(Thando Dlodlo, Simon Magakwe, Clarence Munyai, Akani Simbine);
6. China 38.07
(Bingtian Su, Zhouzheng Xu, Zhiqiang Wu, Ge Bie);
(Joris van Gool, Taymir Burnett, Hensley Paulina, Churandy Martina);
(Amaury Golitin, Jimmy Vicaut, Meba-Mickael Zeze, Christophe Lemaitre).
(best-ever marks-for place: 2–5)
Lanes: 2. France; 3. Netherlands; 4. Japan; 5. South Africa; 6. Brazil; 7. Great Britain; 8. United States; 9. China
Reaction times: 0.132 Japan; 0.140 Netherlands; 0.142 China; 0.146 France; 0.149 United States; 0.151 South Africa; 0.156 Great Britain; 0.157 Brazil
I–1. Great Britain 37.56 (WL); 2. Brazil 37.90 =NR (#9 nation);
3. United States 38.03 (Coleman, Gatlin, Rodgers, Cravon Gillespie);
4. Italy 38.11 NR (Federico Cattaneo, Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Davide Manenti, Filippo Tortu); 5. Jamaica 38.15 (O’Shane Bailey, Yohan Blake, Rasheed Dwyer, Tyquendo Tracey); 6. Ghana 38.24 (Sean Safo-Antwi, Benjamin Azamati-Kwaku, Martin Owusu-Antwi, Joseph Amoah);… dq—Turkey (Kayhan Ozer, Jak Ali Harvey, Emre Zafer Barnes, Ramil Guliyev).
(best-ever mark-for-place: 6)
II–1. South Africa 37.65 NR (#7 nation);
2. Japan 37.78 (Yuki Koike, Shiraishi, Kiryu, Sani Brown);
3. China 37.79 NR (Su, Xu, Wu, Xie Zhenye) (=#8 nation);
4. France 37.88 (Golitin, Vicaut, Zeze, Mouhamadou Fall); 5. Netherlands 37.91 NR (#11 nation);
6. Canada 37.91 (fastest non-qualifier ever) (Gavin Smellie, Aaron Brown, Brendon Rodney, Andre De Grasse); 7. Germany 38.24 (Julian Reus, Joshua Hartmann, Roy Schmidt, Marvin Schulte);… dq—Nigeria (Enoch Adegoke, Usheoritse Itsekiri, Ogho-Oghene Egwero, Seye Ogunlewe).
(best-ever mark-for-place: 4–7)