LONDON -- See what happens when you hold on to the baton?
The U.S. women hadn't won the 4x100 relay since 1996 and hadn't even finished the race in the past two Olympics because they botched the baton exchange each time. This was not a problem Friday night, when they won gold in 40.82 to break a world record originally set in 1985 by the now notorious East Germans. That was so long ago, half the U.S. team hadn't even been born when the record was set.
And they beat the record by half a second.
"It was an absolutely unreal feeling," said 200-meter gold medalist Allyson Felix, who ran the second leg. "It just feels like, for so long you would look at women's sprint records and they were so out of reach. And to look up and see that we had a record, it was just crazy. You don't think something like that will happen."
The Americans ran so fast that anchor runner Carmelita Jeter knew they had the record before she even crossed the finish line.
"I did look over at the clock," Jeter said of her final strides. "And as I'm running, I'm seeing this time that's like, 37, 38, 39. And in my heart I said, 'We. Just. Did. It.' I didn't know we ran a 40.82, but I definitely knew we ran well, and when I crossed the finish line, I had so many emotions."
When Jeter crossed the line, she pointed the baton in a mixture of triumph and defiance, and then just kept sprinting. Maybe it was just that she and her teammates had run so fast that she couldn't apply the brakes. Or perhaps it was like those cartoons where the Road Runner runs so fast that gravity doesn't take hold when it passes the edge of the cliff.
"I'm not surprised at all," said Tianna Madison, who got her team off to a hot start with a blistering first leg. "Given how we ran the first round, I knew the Olympic record was coming down. I just knew if we had clean baton passes we would definitely challenge the world record. Smash it like we did? I had no idea, but I knew it was within us."
Bianca Knight, who ran the third leg, was so confident, she told Felix in the warm-up area that the team was going to break the record. "I didn't actually know that we would. I was just joking, but we did run so fast in the heat."
One of the runners in that fast semifinal was Lauryn Williams, who was part of the previous two Olympic baton fiascos. By running in the semifinal, she will finally receive a gold medal, as well.
"I know what it's like to have a couple years down, and to be able to go to the track every day and practice and train and execute, she showed such leadership in our team," Madison said of Williams. "She said, 'Put me where I need to be for us to get this gold medal and bring it back to the United States.'
"So talking about the 'botching,' that's history now. She has completely obliterated that."
Asked what accounts for the record time after so many years, the 23-year-old Knight said, "The world record is older than I am, so I definitely never thought about it. I don't know why it stood so long. The only thing I can say is, unsuccessful passes."