EUGENE — Within 39 minutes a World Championships that has seen just about everything was shocked three times Saturday night in turns heartbreaking, surprising and, upon a review of recent history, not surprising at all.
Sprinting’s two global superpowers, the Jamaican women and the American men, restored this week to worldwide pre-eminence were both upended in the 4×100-meter relays, undone by their own suspect passing and a pair of anchors determined to erase nine days of disappointment at Oregon ‘22.
But the biggest jolt nearly went unnoticed as the Hayward Field crowd focused on the two 4×100 relay finals just minutes away. In what should have been a routine 400 heat in the men’s decathlon, Canada’s Damian Warner, the reigning Olympic champion, pulled up and ten collapsed to the track 130 meters into the race, fallen by a left hamstring injury.
Warner, who led after each of the first four events, slammed the track in frustration. His Worlds were over.
Warner had barely limped off the track when the eight lead-off runners settled into their blocks for a women’s 4×100 final that was expected to be the crowning moment for a Jamaican sprint corps that had once again dominated another Worlds or Olympic Games, sweeping the 100 and going 1-2 in the 200. The only real question mark hanging over the final was would a Jamaican quartet that had a combined 13 Olympic or Worlds individual golds between them, break Team USA’s 10-year-old world record of 40.82?
But a poor first exchange between Kemba Nelson and Elaine Thompson-Herah, the 100 and 200 gold medalist at the last two Olympics, opened the door for the U.S. Jenna Prandini, a former NCAA champion for Oregon, essentially held serve against Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the Worlds 100 winner earlier in the week, allowing the U.S. to hold onto the lead into the final exchange to anchor Tee Tee Terry.
Terry, a former NCAA champion at USC, had failed to make the Olympic Trials final on this same track a year ago and on Monday missed making the World’s final.
But Saturday night she held off Shericka Jackson, the new World 200 champion, for a 41.14 to 41.18 victory. Surprising Germany took the bronze in 42.03.
“I wanted to do something to shock the world,” Terry said, “and that’s what we did.”
The men’s 4×100 was an opportunity for Team USA to put an exclamation mark on the most dominant men’s sprinting performance in World Championships history.
After 14 years marked by a series of disappointing Olympic and Worlds performances and a series of controversies on and off the track, the U.S. men swept the 100, 200 and 400 gold medals at Oregon ‘22, going 1-2-3 in both the 100 and 200, on the way to rolling up seven medals total, the most by nation in the men’s sprints since the Carl Lewis-U.S. squad at the inaugural Worlds in 1983. And the U.S. men won only two individual golds in 1983.
“It’s an immaculate feeling to be on the podium with two fellow Americans,” Noah Lyles, who repeated as Worlds 200 champion Thursday, said of Team USA’s medal sweep. “I remember when I first got on the professional scene, I said we are going to come out as Americans and kill it. When I remember (at the 2019 World) in Doha, it was just me. I felt kind of lonely. I’ve got two people run just as fast. They are close behind me. We are a dominant force in America now.”
“I feel we can dominate again at (next year’s) World Championships,” said Fred Kerley, the brand new World 100 champion.
But first there was the 4×100, an event that has confounded and haunted the U.S. men since 1988. Before the 2017 Worlds, Team USA in six of the previous seven, eight of the prior 12 major championships–Olympic Games or World Championships–had either been disqualified or failed to finish in the 4×100. The U.S. failed to make it to the final at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, finishing sixth in its qualifying heat. The latest relay debacle capped a Games where the American men for the first time failed to win a gold medal in the five shortest races – the 100, 200, 400, 110 high hurdles and 400 hurdles – at an Olympics.
“What happened last year happened last year. This is a new year and we got the job done,” Kerley said after his 100 triumph last Saturday began the American men’s parade to the medal podium.
Lyles went so far as to predict “if I’m on the relay we ain’t losing. And we might break the world record.”
So there was Lyles on the second leg Saturday night a taking a less than smooth handoff with lead-off Christian Coleman.
The race was wide open as the eight teams rounded the final turn to the anchor legs–Andre DeGrasse, the Olympic 200 champion, for Canada, Marvin Bracy, the Worlds 100 silver medalist for the U.S.
Oregon ‘22 had proved a rough nine days at the end of a rough season for DeGrasse. Injuries and COVID had limited his training and it showed in the 100 where he failed to make the final. He decided to pull out of the 200. Saturday morning he watched his longtime partner, Nia Ali, the defending World champion from the U.S., crash out of the first round of the 100 hurdles.
Elijah Hall needed three attempts to finally get the baton to Bracy.
“ We have a few things to clean up, the changes,” Bracy admitted. “Mine was not very good and that may have cost us the race.”
Indeed by the time Bracy received the baton, DeGrasse, another former USC NCAA champion was long gone.
“When Andre got it with the lead, there’s no way they are going to catch him,” Canadian lead off Aaron Brown said.
DeGrasse brought Canada home in 37.48 with the U.S, finishing in 37.55. Great Britain picked up the bronze medal in 37.83..
““They gave me the baton right where I wanted it,” DeGrasse said “and I thought ‘It’s over, it’s over.’”