In her 200m press conference on Wednesday night gold medallist Veronica Campbell made an audacious claim: Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team would win the gold this evening of they get the baton round. “I can’t see anyone beating us,” she said.
Clearly they were going to be strong opponents of the USA, but that seemed a little brash to say the least.
Tonight, Campbell came in to anchor a quartet that had hardly set the world alight in the semis last night, and she proved to be true to her word. For the second Olympic Games in a row, the United States failed to win this gold medal – an event they’ve nine times in total. Indeed, they failed to win any medal at all, the first time they have not made the podium since Montreal in 1976 (excepting 1980 when they did not compete).
They finished seventh in ‘76, one place Jamaica. This time they didn’t finish at all as a bungled second change between Marion Jones and Lauryn Williams put them out of the contest altogether. It was a bad night for Jones. The woman who won five medals in Sydney exited the stadium tonight with nothing from her two finals, having finished fifth in the Long Jump less than an hour earlier.
Campbell gleefully accepted the gift. The baton safely in her hand from fellow 200m finallist Aleen Bailey, she sped down the home straight to cross the line in 41.73, a national record and a time bettered by only four other countries in history.
With USA out of the running, it was Russia who came through for the silver, recording 42.27, and France, whose sprinters have performed poorly all week, who snatched the bronze from reigning champions Bahamas.
“This is the best Jamaican team ever,” said Bailey afterwards.
“If we stay healthy, no one can beat us in the coming years,” said Tayna Lawrence, who ran the team’s lead off leg. “Our only enemies are our injuries.”
Zorba’s theme rang our around the Olympic stadium before the start, filling the lull after the finish of the women’s 10,000m with it’s slow rhythm – such a contrast to the fireworks to come. Jones bounced on her toes as the rhythm increased, seemingly ready for one last shot at glory, the sand from the long jump pit could still visible on her uniform.
Going for their 10th gold in this event, the United States started with the same team they’d used in the semi-final on Thursday. They were drawn in lane five, outside both their main rivals – Jamaica and Bahamas. Jamaica were in four, the Bahamas in three, and World champions France in two.
Things started well for the USA, Angela Williams leading out ahead of Lawrence. She handed to Jones who sped down the back straight. The Bahamas by this stage were already trailing, but Russia in lane six were running well. Jamaica’s Sherone Simpson handed to Bailey safely while a lane outside them Jones and Williams were having all sorts of problems.
As she approached, Jones screamed at Williams to go. Williams set off and threw her arm back to receive the stick. Jones at full stretch simply couldn’t reach. She tried again, missed again. Williams began to slow as the end of the takeover zone approached and Jones then almost ran onto her heels. By the time the baton was in Williams’ hand it was too late. They walked slowly back to the start, Jones with her arm round her young teammate’s bowed head.
Bailey and Russia’s Irina Khabarova sped round the bend away from them. Campbell grabbed the baton marginally in front of Russia’s Larisa Kruglova and pulled away down the straight for her second gold and third medal of the Games.
Christine Arron brought the French team home ahead of the Bahamas, clocking 42.54, although Debbie Ferguson did her best to bring the defending champions into a medal position.
Four years ago in Sydney, as a raw 18 year-old at her first Olympics, Campbell had won her first medal when Merlene Ottey took the Jamaican baton home for a relay silver. Ottey, at 44 the most successful female athlete in Olympic history, has never won a gold. Campbell, exactly half her age, now has two.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Campbell. “At 22, to have two Olympic golds already, is more than I could have wished for. And I could have another two or three Games left.”
Before Sydney, USA had won every 4x100m relay since Los Angeles in 1984, and nine in all. Now they’ve lost the last two.