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Sunday, August 12, 2012
U.S. women's team peaks at right time

By Bonnie D. Ford

LONDON -- Theirs is a sorority that might as well be called Alpha Omega See-Ya. The U.S. women who ran the first three legs of the winning 4x400-meter relay Saturday night put Sanya Richards-Ross in the lead by such a huge margin that she said she felt like she was doing a victory lap even as she tried to keep pace with the world-record time she and her teammates felt was in their grasp.

File this under good problems to have: Richards-Ross said her teammates "made it too easy for me" and felt odd and elated to be all by herself, hair streaming behind her in the wind, enjoying "one more chance to prance around this track." Russia, the next-best team, would finish well more than three seconds behind.

"For sure, on paper, I thought it was going to be much closer," Richards-Ross said. "It is a little bit challenging to run from the front. I kind of just ran a safe leg to make sure that if anything had happened, I could get home strong."

She crossed the line in 3:16.87, continuing American dominance in the event that now spans five Olympics. The old record of 3:15.17 set by Russia at the Seoul Games in 1988 will remain stubbornly in place, but U.S. supremacy in the women's sprints got an exclamation point with the team's second relay win in as many nights.

Richards-Ross said she felt the team's potential in the Olympic Village before she ever set foot on the track and spent more time bonding with her running mates than she had in two previous Games. "Something special is gonna happen at these Games," she told her parents.

She was prescient. The team's two supernovas, Richards-Ross and Allyson Felix, have performed with sustained excellence for many years now. In London, they became the fierce and lovely faces of a women's team that collectively matured in the right year and peaked at the right time this season. Their ability to deliver in a relay like Saturday's at the end of a long, intense meet felt almost inevitable this time rather than being compensation for falling short of their solo ambitions.

Richards-Ross and Felix won their best individual events, the 400 and 200, respectively. (Richards-Ross' husband, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Aaron Ross, received permission to take a break from his team's training camp to see her race.) They ran well enough to make the final in the other half of their doubles, the 100 for Felix and 200 for Richards-Ross, who has now been part of gold-medal-winning 4x400 teams in three consecutive Olympics. She will walk away from these Summer Games with two gold medals, and Felix with three.

At 27 and 26, respectively, they have a total of 11 Olympic medals between them. Credit their versatility and the mental stamina that is a by-product of training for multiple events. Leadoff woman DeeDee Trotter, who wore glitter accents on her face and decidedly does not hide her light under a bushel, put it in perspective.

"None of us were fresh," she said. "We were on dead legs."

The 29-year-old Trotter, who has run the first leg of Olympic championship 4x400s eight years apart and added an individual bronze in the 400 that she called "another shade of gold," went on to elaborate just how many times each of the four women had been around the track over the previous eight days. She and Francena McCorory -- the youngster of the quartet who ran in finals at 23 -- reached the final of the individual 400 before racing in every round of the 4x400.

"I was trying to amp them up," Trotter said. "I consider us to be the dream team for the 400. ... We were definitely gunning for the record. It's on my checklist of things to do."

Felix, who always chooses her words carefully, admitted it was "discouraging" to see some women's track records, notably in the sprints, hanging off tree branches that seem too high to climb.

"That's what made [Friday] night so incredibly special," she said of the world record set by the 4x100 team, for which Felix also ran the second leg. Anchor runner Carmelita Jeter threw her baton arm out to point at the digital display that night before she even crossed the line in a release of pride and pent-up frustration.

"All we can do is keep pushing forward, inching our way forward little by little," Felix said.

And if you give this group an inch, they will take 1,600 meters.