There was a repeat of all three medals from the Athens Olympic Games in the women’s 4x400m here in Beijing as the USA defended their Olympic title in 3:18.54, the fastest time in the world since 1993, ahead of Russia and Jamaica.
However the race tonight couldn’t have been more different. Four years ago, anchor leg Monique Hennagan had taken the baton off 19-year-old Sanya Richards with a 12-metre lead and all she had to do was cruise to the finish.
This time, it was Richards’ duty to anchor and as it turned out, to do the chase. A disappointing third in the individual 400m Richards was handed the stick by Monique Henderson (her too was in the Athens gold medal winning squad) five metres behind Anastasia Kapachinskaya, who had been fifth in the open race four days ago and had been rested in the heats.
Richards looked as determined as ever when she set off for her fifth full lap of the stadium (after 3 400m rounds and the relay heats); determined to win and determined not to make the same mistake again.
Holder of the fastest time of the year, Richards opted for the safest option: she would not make her move until the final bend. Kapachinskaya, the 2003 World champion at 200m before serving a 2-year ban for a doping offence, not only maintained her lead she even increased it by a couple of metres.
But when it looked as though the Russian had done enough, that is when Richards decided to let her devastating kick do the talking. Coming off the final bend, Kapachinskaya looking up at the screen to check Richards’ position, the two-time Golden League Jackpot winner appeared the stronger.
In what must have looked like the longest ever home straight, Richards eventually caught up and sped past Kapachinskaya with less than 10 metres to go. Russia's final result 3:18.82 was one seven season's best recorded in the race.
"I was just thrilled to get the stick in striking distance, and it made the victory that much more sweet. To get the bronze in the 400m wasn't the best thing. After the first night I couldn't sleep. Then, I just took it my mind off it," said Richards.
As the line-ups for the final were announced, it became obvious that tactics adopted by team leaders would influence the final outcome as three of the four strongest nations decided to lead off with their fastest runner.
Individual silver medallist Shericka Williams set Jamaica to a good start as she opened with a 50.88 split, which proved second only to Russia whose first leg was covered by Yulia Guschina, individual fourth.
Meanwhile, Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu who was certainly expected to hand over to heptathlete Kelly Sotherton with a comfortable lead ran a poor 51.27 leg which practically ended Great Britain’s hope for a medal.
US Trials runner-up Mary Wineberg was timed in 51 flat for her opening leg, the US team having the advantage of running on the inside lane 4. Although she received the stick in third position, Allyson Felix ran a strong opening curve to reach the back straight level with Shereefa Lloyd of Jamaica.
Felix let her speed do the talking going into the second curve and handed the baton well in the lead after she was timed in 48.55, the fastest leg of the evening.
Behind the Americans, positions were continuously changing with Russia moving from fourth up to second, Great Britain fading down to fifth and Nigeria temporarily in fourth.
Henderson made a brave attempt to defend her leading position but Tatiana Firova, the individual sixth placer, was just that bit stronger and managed to outclass the American.
But the US had kept their best for last with Richards securing her country’s fourth Olympic title at the event with a 48.93 final leg.
Richards had run almost one full second fastest than Kapachinskaya and finally, she looked satisfied. Finally, she could celebrate.
"It's so different being the one that's chasing than being the one that's chased," said Richards. "I was just focused on the finish line. I knew what the prize was if I finished first, and I just kept thinking about it the whole time."
Felix added: "It was just great. We've had our ups and downs but to end of this note is great."
Securely in third, Jamaica was anchored by World bronze medallist Novlene Williams who closed with a 49.86 leg as Sviatlana Usovich was timed in 49.69 for a Belarus national record 3:21.85.
Great Britain eventually finished fifth, World silver medallist Nicola Sanders having just too much work to do.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF