Commentary

U.S. can't keep up with Jamaica

Sprinters fall in the 4x100 to Bolt & Co. but won't give up the pursuit

Updated: August 11, 2012, 10:06 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

LONDON -- How would you like to race against Usain Bolt when he has a running start?

"I was just waiting for the stick to finally get to me,'' U.S. 4x100 anchor Ryan Bailey said. "And when it did, I was just running for my life and trying to hold on as best I could.''

He did. Bailey stayed with the fastest man in history for much of their leg and pushed him hard enough that Bolt had to actually run all the way to the finish line. That's right. Bolt didn't have time to send a tweet or pose for a photo or harass Carl Lewis with a voicemail. "Hey, old mon, in two seconds I will be only three gold medals behind you."

That in itself is a victory for the U.S. sprinters. The Americans finished second, but they did run a 37.04, which had been the world record just 37 seconds earlier.

"It's not always about beating someone, it's about pushing,'' Justin Gatlin said. "We're whittling away. We're getting better. When we came into the Olympics, our record was 37.40. We left with 37.04. I think next year we can go [below 37.00]. I believe in our team and I believe in America, and if they're behind us we can go out there and push the boundaries for America and hopefully catch up with the Jamaicans. I truly believe that.''

[+] EnlargeBolt/Bailey
James Lang/US PresswireThe U.S couldn't keep up with Usain Bolt. But then, who can?

Gatlin knows what it was like before Bolt and the Jamaicans took over the world of sprinting. He won the 2004 gold medal in the 100-meter dash before serving a four-year ban for a positive drug test, and now that he's back his personal best time of 9.79 in last week's 100 was only good enough for the bronze medal.

The gold and silver in the 100 went to Bolt and Yohan Blake, respectively. The Jamaicans swept the 200 four nights later. And then they won the gold in the relay by reducing their own world record to 36.84.

"We dropped from space like Mr. Bean,'' Blake told reporters. "We are not human. I am from Mars.''

Great. The U.S. doesn't need to just catch the Jamaicans. It has to chase down Martians.

"I've told Yohan,'' Bolt said, "he has to stop talking like that or someone is going to put him in a straitjacket.''

But seriously. It isn't just the Jamaicans the U.S. must catch. The entire Caribbean is rising. The Bahamas ended America's seven-Olympic-gold-medal streak in the 4x400, and Trinidad and Tobago took bronze in the 4x100.

"For us it's always about belief,'' said Michael Frater, who ran the third leg for Jamaica. "Once you start believing in yourself it starts rubbing off on other people. We have done very well and we have seen the Caribbean countries stepping up as well.''

Frater said the key for the Jamaicans is having fun and not running with the pressure the U.S. feels. "We were rather happy the U.S. was in the race,'' he said. "I think we were happy winning a race with them actually finishing the race.''

Ouch. That was a shot at the U.S. relay teams botching the baton exchanges in so many recent Olympics and world championships, but this time the Americans passed it without a problem. The only baton issue Saturday was Bolt's attempt to keep the baton as a souvenir. An Olympic official didn't want to give it to him, but such is Bolt's stature that in the end the official relented.

"He was saying I couldn't keep it because it's the rule,'' Bolt said. "But I got it back. But it was kind of weird. He said if I didn't give it back I would be disqualified.''

So there is hope for the U.S. Maybe the International Olympic Committee will disqualify the Jamaicans for this outrageous offense.

The U.S. might have only gone home with silver, but Tyson Gay was relieved to finally win a medal of any color after injuries kept him off the podium in 2008 and he missed medaling in the 100 last week by one one-hundredth of a second.

"Last week was very emotional for me,'' he said. "I was very upset. I said I had a missing spot in my heart because I didn't have any Olympic medals. So tonight was just a blessing and it fills that spot in my heart.''

Can the U.S. change the silver to gold in 2016? Bolt told NBC that to catch Jamaica, the U.S. has a lot of work to do.

"We have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot of tools to work with,'' Gatlin said. "We have the confidence now to go out there and put a great team together and run a [sub-37.00].''

And hopefully, that will be enough to beat the Jamaicans and the Martians.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com