Thursday’s U.S. women’s 4×100-meter semifinals were among the most bizarre things to happen in the Olympics in a long time.
What started off as an unhappy accident turned out to be a happy ending for the U.S. women’s team — composed of Allyson Felix, Tianna Bartoletta, Morolake Akinosun and English Gardner — as they found themselves getting another crack at the gold medal.
Gardner was about to accept the baton from Felix when the latter was knocked off by a Brazilian runner who swerved into the U.S. women’s 4×100 lane. Felix dropped the baton, but Gardner quickly picked it up to continue her run.
Felix later told reporters that the bump “tripped me up.”
However, the presence of mind of the U.S. women’s 4×100 team allowed them to just continue with the race, knowing full well that they could lodge protest later.
“We just tried to finish it out,” she said.
Their protest was approved by the Jury of Appeals, and the U.S. women’s 4×100 team was allowed to run again, this time on an empty track and just race against the clock. Meanwhile, the Brazilian team was disqualified.
The American athletes only needed to finish ahead of China’s time of 42.70 seconds in order to qualify for the finals. That proved to be very easy considering that the U.S. team had Bartoletta and Felix, who were part of the contingent in London that shattered the world record.
But the US women’s 4×100 team was not taking any chances and finished the re-run at 41.77, which was the fastest among all the teams that participated in the relay.
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Apparently, the strange turn of events took the pressure off the contingent. In fact, Felix described the re-run as “glorified practice.”
“We just had fun out there. We were laughing and joking going in and staying light and that was the whole point,” Felix said. “It was different. It was really weird but when we walked out and people were cheering for us it uplifted us and encouraged us and we were really grateful. I am probably the last person who would want to be involved in anything like this.”
The U.S. women haven’t always been so smooth in the baton exchanges. They were heavily favored to win at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but they made a series of blunders that cost them a place on the podium.
Also in the World Championships in 2015, the U.S. women’s team also committed a costly error in the 4×400. The Jamaicans went on to win the relay.
What’s clear is this: Because of the order by the Jury of Appeals to allow the U.S. women’s 4×100 team a re-run, China was bumped off the eighth place. A stroke of luck for the Americans proved to be a bane for the Chinese contingent when their appeal was denied.
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Felix said that she wishes that things would be different, but the U.S. women’s 4×100 team is just happy about being given another chance for a reboot.
“It was different,” she said of the bump and fumble. “It was really weird.”
Of the Chinese team, Felix added, “I wish them the best of luck. I wish it didn’t happen this way.”
However, the finals won’t be as easy for the Americans. The U.S. women’s 4×100 team will take the position of either the first or eighth lane—considered by runners as the most tricky among the lanes. That’s due to the fact that, technically, they still did not finish among the top three in the semis.
[Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images]