I believe that the men’s 4×100 meters track race might have provided the US athletes with their worst moment in the 2012 Olympics. Let me tell you why.
What it meant
- Jamaica had won the men and women’s 100 meter races, which are seen as the top athletic events at the Olympics. While Jamaica also swept the men’s 200 meter event, the USA took two of the medals, including gold, in the women’s 200 meters race. This placed the advantage in Jamaica’s court.
- But the US stormed back by winning the women’s 4×400 in dominating style, and also took the 4×100 in a similar but world record-setting manner.
- At this point, the bragging rights were approaching even because the US now had one of the only two World Records at the meet, and also had the only athlete with 3 gold medals – Alison Felix. They had also blown away our girls in the 4×100 and 4×400.
- The 4×100 men was therefore a pivotal race, not only in terms of deciding bragging rights re the number of important track events won, but also in determining if Bolt would join Felix with 3 golds (if not Felix would take bragging rights given that she also had a world record). Then there is also the special significance of the 4×100 as the highly prestigious closing track event of the Olympics. The last race that people would remember. The 4×100 mattered, and quite a lot.
- The fact that Jamaica won, Bolt got a third gold and a World Record, not only made Bolt the single most celebrated track athlete at the Olympics, but also gave Jamaica a decisive hold on the claim of being the most dominant country in the track events. But this isn’t all that makes that race so difficult for the US.
How it happened
- The defeat was made fifty times worse for the US because of how it was done. The US had an excellent game plan – start off extremely strong, execute baton change well, and give Bailey a lead to try to hold off Bolt. This lead was to come from Gatlin and Gaye.
- Gaye was therefore a crucial part of the US strategy. Gaye, perhaps the most talented US athlete never to have won an Olympic medal, was hungry for that prize. He said it many times before the games. Having failed in the 100m final, this was his last opportunity for gold. The race mattered significantly, and his role in it was crucial. His job was to give Bailey a lead that he could use to fight off Bolt, give Gaye his gold, and swing the bragging rights pendulum firmly back to the US.
- Gaye got the baton first and took off around the corner. I believe the single worst moment of his life, and for the US athletics team in London, is when he saw the gold jersey of the Jamaican Beast, Yohan Blake, pull up comfortably beside him. I cannot imagine anything more demotivating that the certainty of knowing that with Bolt about to receive the baton at the same time as Bailey any remote opportunity for an American gold medal had then completely vanished.