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World Championships in Athletics Day 9

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EUGENE, Ore. — The difference between four jubilant Americans and four deflated Americans could be explained by a podium finish and an 11.5-inch aluminum cylinder. American women hadn’t won any medals in the short sprint until Saturday night at the world championships in athletics, and American men had won them all. Parked around the track at Hayward Field, however, a foursome felt the weight of cursed history and sensed an epic opportunity.

“With any relay, men or women, when you put together a team, it’s all about chemistry and being able to move that relay,” Twanisha Terry said Saturday night, a gold medal around her neck. “You can have the fastest runners. But if there’s no chemistry and there’s no trust, no handover in the exchange, you’re not going to produce as quickly.

Facing a Jamaican 4×100 relay team of the three fastest women in the world, the American quartet of Melissa Jefferson, Abby Steiner, Jenna Prandini and Terry rolled out three smooth handoffs to cause a huge upset. A few minutes later, a temperamental exchange and a fatally botched transfer turned an expected gold into silver for the American men, who after winning all the medals in the 100 and 200 meters settled for second place in the 4×100 relay. .

The US men’s 4x100m team did not add another debacle to its cursed history. But it added a disappointment, a silver medal after spending the last week racking up the sprint wins. The United States ran without 100-meter champion Fred Kerley, who twisted his hamstring during a 200-meter run. But Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Elijah Thompson-Hall and Marvin Bracy-Williams still expected to win.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Bracy-Williams, the 100-meter silver medallist. “In the end, we still got a medal. We could walk out of here with nothing. But we have to clean it up. We have a lot of work to do, man, to keep improving and winning. When you sweep the [100 and 200]you expect to come here and perform better.

American women had provided an example. Jamaica sent the Royal Trio of Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson. They swept the podium in Tokyo last summer and here this week in the 100 meters. Without Florence Griffith Joyner, Fraser-Pryce and Jackson would be the fastest women ever in the 100m and 200m. Thompson-Herah won three gold medals in Tokyo.

“They have amazing women in their squad,” Prandini said. “To beat them, we knew we had to have good transfers.”

And American women knew they would. They had spent four days together at a relay camp in Texas and another four days here training between individual races.

“Everyone has their opinion on who they think will win,” Prandini said. “We were convinced we could do it.”

Steiner may have made the difference. A rising star and relay expert in Kentucky, Steiner won three gold medals at the NCAA championships in June – in the 200 and 4×100 and 4×400 relays. Steiner took over from Jefferson, the U.S. 100-meter champion, for the rematch — the same one she ran at the NCAA, on the same track — with a slight lead. Steiner ran against Thompson-Herah. She finished her 100 meters in 9.86 seconds to Thompson-Herah’s 10.10.

“Crazy,” Steiner said. “I’ll have to review that.”

Steiner may not be done. Given his experience and star Athing Mu’s inability to run the 4×400 relay before competing in the 800 meters on Sunday night, Steiner will be considered to run another relay stage on Sunday night. “I would love to do that,” Steiner said.

On Saturday night, Steiner handed over to Prandini, who sprinted Fraser-Pryce for a draw. Terry took the final transfer with a lead. She never looked at her right, two lanes away, where Jackson was closing the distance. Terry held her back, her trademark braids bouncing behind her in two ponytails.

“I knew once we had the stick in mind, no one was going to knock me down,” Terry said. “It was going to be a fight until the end, but I wasn’t going to get knocked down.”

Terry had crossed the line in 41.14 seconds, 0.07 seconds ahead of Jackson. Once the result was made official on the video board, Terry hopped on one leg and waved her wrists like she was spinning a dirt bike.

“Honestly, I knew a lot of people, a lot of people didn’t believe in us to get the gold medal,” Terry said.

American men have faced doubts, due not to their talent but to their history. Even without Kerley, they were heavy favorites. Although they usually take to the track with the fastest team, the United States had created a farcical history of disappointment in the 4×100 relay. Since 1988, American men had won 12 Olympic and world championship medals in the 4x100m relay but had been disqualified 11 times. In Tokyo, the United States crossed the line, but an awkward transfer between Kerley and Ronnie Baker resulted in sixth place in the qualifying round.

Again, the US didn’t drop the stint, but they didn’t handle it well either. Coleman and Lyles, both members of the 2019 world champion relay team, traded with a slight bobble, but not a doomed error.

The real problem came during the final transfer, with 100 meters to go. Hall-Thompson rounded the final corner with a slight lead and handed over to Bracy-Williams. On his first attempt to catch it, Bracy-Williams missed. He reached again and twisted his upper body backwards which gave Canadian anchor Andre De Grasse the daylight he needed to charge for gold.

“I really have to watch the movie,” Hall-Thompson said. “When I come back and get settled, I’ll check. I really don’t even know what happened.

Their silver medal was somewhere between triumph and disaster. It also added up to a redeeming performance for the American men in the sprints. In Tokyo, the American men failed to win Olympic gold in the individual sprint for the first time, despite spending at least part of 2021 as favorites in many events. At the world championships, they traded underperformance for dominance.

The American men swept all the medals in the 100 and 200m, won gold in the 400m, gold and silver in the 100m hurdles and silver and bronze in the 400m hurdles. If America’s men’s sprinters were their own country, they would lead the world in medal totals, and only Ethiopia would match them in gold medals.

“We’re just picking up medals left and right,” Lyles said. “We’re basically sweeping the dust into a trash can, and what we’re offering are medals.”

Ethiopian female distance runners matched American male sprinters in dominance. Red, yellow and green flags were unfurled at a rapid pace, including one that a man attempted to run onto the track at the end of the women’s 5,000m before being dragged away by security. Gudaf Tsegay won in 14:46.29, adding to his 1,500 silver medals, and compatriot Dawit Seyaum took bronze. Ethiopia finished second in the medal table on Saturday night with 10 medals and four gold medals, seven of which were won by women, all over distances of 1,500 meters or more.

No one in American history has won more track and field medals than the runner called up Saturday night after a brief retirement. Allyson Felix said goodbye to her sport on the first night of the world championships, walking away after running a leg for the bronze medal-winning 4×400 mixed relay team from the USA. She returned home to Los Angeles and attended the ESPYs. She felt “absolutely” at peace, she said.

Early last week, Felix went to Hot Wings Cafe in Los Angeles and ordered the favorite cheat meal she was craving – hot wings and a root beer float. In the middle of her meal, her coach, Bob Kersee, called her and asked if she could run a leg in the preliminary round of the women’s 4×400 relay.

“I jumped on a plane, and here we are,” Felix said. “I’ve been doing it for so long it just kind of broke. Bobby gave me a few extra workouts at home, and you can just get back to it. It had only been a few days. »

Felix took over from Talitha Diggs, a runner 17 years his junior, and raced the return leg. The United States easily won their heat in 3:23.38 and created memories for three American sprinters. “It’s great to go from idol to competitor to teammate now,” said Kaylin Whitney, who ran stage three.

Félix will remain for Sunday’s final even if she does not intend to participate. Again, she assumed she had already retired. “What do I know?” she says. If four teammates step onto the podium as big favorites to win gold, Felix will win her 20th world championship medal. She could celebrate with another plate of hot wings.

“I’ve only had a few,” Felix said. “I’m going to finish this meal now.”