- Luke Cyphers
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PHILADELPHIA -- Track is the ultimate soloist's sport, where early-season results, especially early-season relay results, really don't matter.
But that did nothing to dim the smiles on the faces of American athletes at Saturday's Penn Relays, where the United States opened the London Olympics lead-up outdoor season in dominant fashion.
Led by meet-record efforts on the part of its female sprinters, the U.S. won all six races in the U.S. vs. the World competition, and that 6-0 tally didn't begin to describe the cold American grip on the chilly day's events.
"A great start to the year," said Allyson Felix, who helped set meet marks in the women's 4x100 and 4x400-meter relays. “We're getting the chemistry going, saying that we're here and we want to do well, and every time we step on the track we want to win."
The world never really had a chance. Felix and her partners in the 4x100 -- starter Tianna Madison, third-leg Bianca Knight and anchor Carmelita Jeter -- were nearly flawless on their baton passes in a record-setting 42.19-second trip around the track. Even more impressive: The crew had never worked together until the day before the meet, and Jeter and Knight hardly practiced at all.
"We just knew we'd get each other the stick," Jeter said. Added Knight, "We just did two handoffs [Friday] and I said, 'That's it. It'll work. Don't worry about it.'"
They didn't look worried at all, as Jeter, the world champion at 100 meters, finished more than a full second ahead of Jamaica, the Americans' chief rival. Whether that will worry the Jamaicans this early in the season is a matter of some debate.
"If they knew we just put this together yesterday," Knight said, "then they might be a little nervous."
The oft-jinxed men's 4x100 squad also looked smooth, as Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Doc Patton and Walter Dix ran a 38.4-second lap and trounced a Jamaican squad that was minus superstars Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell.
It was more of the same in the 4x400 relays. American women Francena McCorory, Felix, Natasha Hastings and Sanya Richards-Ross won in a meet-record 3:21.18, about 40 meters ahead of the field.
The usually dominant U.S. men's quarter-milers, meanwhile, were their usually dominant selves. After solid legs by Calvin Smith and intermediate hurdlers Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson, LaShawn Merritt essentially toyed with the opposition, stalking and waiting until the final straightaway to glide past the Bahamas for the victory. "I wanted to make it exciting," he said.
The only true excitement Saturday came in the women's sprint medley and men's distance medley relays. In the women's race, American 800-meter runner Maggie Vessey surged off the final curve to overtake Great Britain's Marilyn Okoro in front of the frenzied Franklin Field crowd. Later in the afternoon in the distance medley, Leo Manzano of the USA Blue team beat the USA Red team's Bernard Lagat in the last lap of the final 1,600-meter leg.
The U.S. attributed the unprecedented sweep to, of all things, teamwork.
"We all get along," Patton said of the current crop of American sprinters. "There's no egos on this team anymore."
That's different from in the past, Gatlin said.
"Not taking away anything from previous relay teams from the United States," he said, about to take something away from them, "there's no prima donnas, there's no fighting for the anchor leg. We know what our positions are; we know what we're good at; and we specialize in our positions and get the stick around as quick as possible."
The U.S. will need all of the above to have any prayer of beating the Jamaicans at full strength. But despite it being early in the season (and despite the notable absences), the Americans must have felt good circling the track, wearing the stars and stripes in one of Ben Franklin's old haunts and celebrating being the feistiest and fastest bunch, at least for one day.
As Jackson put it, "London here we come."