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Men's 4x100m Relay Final

Crawford, Gatlin, Miller, Greene. The names of the United States’ sprint relay quartet themselves are enough to fill other relay squads with terror.

Yet if that attitude was taken, then there would have been no point in the rest of the world turning up for tonight’s final of the men’s 4x100 metres relay. And the Americans’ reputation certainly did not concern the foursome from Great Britain, who astonished the packed stadium with their virtuoso display of relay running.

It was Chariots of Fire stuff, as the British team of Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and with a thundering last-leg run by Mark Lewis-Francis pulled off one of the most stunning wins in Olympic history, snatching the men’s 4x100 metres Relay final by 0.01sec from the all-powerful United States.

Lewis-Francis saw the clock stopped at 38.07, as Maurice Greene, running the anchor leg for the Americans, could not close on the Britons and was timed at 38.08.

Nigeria took the bronze medal with 38.23. “We are a sprinting nation,” said Uchenna Emedolu, their second leg runner, “so we are very pleased to have won a medal here.”

For the British sprinters, this was sweet vindication after being written off by television pundits, who even called them “second rate” earlier in the year. None of the British men had managed to make it past the semi-finals of their individual sprints earlier in the week, yet here they were taking on and beating one of the finest relay squads ever assembled.

The US quartet comprised the new Olympic 200m gold medallist, the Olympic 100m gold medal-winner, and the previous Olympic champion.

But it was old-fashioned British team work that sealed the golds medal - Britain’s first of any sort in this event since 1988 and only the second time in 108 years that they have managed to win the Olympic 4x100m relay.

Gardener, in lane three, two inside the Americans, took off like the Bath Bullet he is nicknamed, and handed over to Campbell well on terms with the Americans.

But Gatlin outgunned Campbell along the back straight, and it seemed the usual script would be followed from there on home. Until the second changeover.

"Maybe I made a mistake,” the Olympic 100m champion confessed. “I gave the baton to Coby and I ripped his shoe and that made it difficult for him.”

Devonish now made inroads into the American lead around the final bend, and coming into the finishing straight handed a two-metre lead to Lewis-Francis, the former world junior champion.

“All I saw was people in front of me,” Greene said, “and what I thought was: ‘Go get them’.”

Perhaps the Greene of four years ago might have had the ability to do so. But not this time.

For this was the athletics coming of age for Lewis-Francis, the 22-year-old from Birmingham. Not intimidated by Greene, the former world and Olympic champion, Lewis-Francis leapt with joy, his arms outstretched, his mouth yelling in delight as he crossed the line, an Olympic gold medallist.

“If anyone goes wrong, the whole team goes wrong,” Greene said. “Great Britain ran better. That's why they won,” the American said, trying to come to terms with a medal that is not his usual gold, and explaining that the US squad had had just two relay training sessions before the Games.

The Britons, on the other hand, have been working together as a squad for more than four years.

"I think we should have won this medal four years ago,” said Campbell, remembering how his tea had been disqualified in Sydney for a faulty changeover in the heats. “We have won it now. Perhaps there is a God after all.”

"We just knew that something big was going to happen tonight," he said.

"We work as a team,” Gardener said. “We race together and we believe in ourselves. It's all about our team spirit. That's what makes us unique, and that's what helped us win."

Lewis-Francis was in ebullient mood: "I'm an Olympic champion and I'm going home with a smile on my face."

"I wasn't worried about Maurice Greene on my shoulder. When I got the baton I was confident that I could bring it home."