In normal circumstances, Leroy Dixon, an American sprinter with a season’s best time of 10.07, would not finish ahead of Asafa Powell, the World record holder from Jamaica. But as a truly wonderful 4x100m Relay reached its climax here at the Nagia Stadium on Saturday night, the essence of what this sport is all about was never greater shown.
Dixon collected the baton from Tyson Gay in the frenetic drama of the final changeover. He was just in the lead, and then he was away, stretching further, digging deeper and holding off the challenge of Powell who was inching nearer by the mili-second.
Powell had began this final stage of the race in fourth place, but he was a towering presence, going past Mark Lewis-Francis, of Britain, who finished in third, and Sandro Viana, of Brazil, who was fourth.
But Powell could not catch Dixon, an athlete who is hardly a household name in the sport but who was given the responsibility of taking his teammate Gay into the history books.
He ran the race of his life with supreme brilliance and he summed it up perfectly. “This does so much for my confidence,” said Dixon, a 24-year-old from Indianapolis who is making his World Championship debut.
It was a story to tell the grandchildren. The day he beat the fastest man in the world.
But Dixon was just delighted not to let his teammates down, having been surprised when he was given the responsibility of running the anchor leg which was expected to go to Gay, the 100m and 200m World champion who was seeking a record-equalling third gold.
“I was just thinking 'bring it home for the USA',” said Dixon. “We thought the world's fastest man (Gay) should anchor, but I guess the coaches knew what they were doing. I guess that's why they are the coaches and we are the athletes.”
“They told me last night I was running anchor and that they had the confidence in me.”
America were always in control of the final, as Darvis Patton fed Wallace Spearmon, who handed onto Gay before Dixon did 'bring them home' in 37.78, the best time in the world this year, with Jamaica second in 37.89, a national record, and Britain third in 37.90.
Gay joins fellow Americans Carl Lewis (100m, 4 x 100m relay and Long Jump in 1983 and 1987) and Maurice Greene (100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay) in 1999 as the only men to have won three gold medals at one World Championship.
“I came into these championships thinking about three gold medals,” said Gay. “I got a lot accomplished. I came out and had fun.”
It was some night for the USA, who won the women’s 4 x 100m with as much aplomb to complete a sensational 24 hours of sprinting for their team and, in particular, Allyson Felix, who had won the 200m on Friday in amazing style.
Like the men, they too ran a world-leading time with their 41.98 to beat Jamaica, second in 42.01, with Belgium taking bronze in a national record of 42.75.
The USA team of Lauryn Williams, Felix, Mikele Barber and Torri Edwards were just too strong for the Jamaicans where 100m champion Veronica Campbell ran the final leg.
She has won three medals here, after finishing second behind Felix in the 200m and the American was caught up by the whole atmosphere, with one of the best crowds at these 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics.
“I walked out onto the track and I was amazed how full the stadium was,” said Felix. “It was great to have it happen on the night of the relay.”
But why not. It is always a night of drama and this occasion was no exception.
Richard Lewis for the IAAF