US Women's 4 x 100 m Relay, Olympic Games & World Championships, a brief history, Part 2

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Compiled by James Dunaway, with help from Track&Field News; David Wallechinsky's COMPLETE BOOK OF THE OLYMPICS (various editions);and IAAF publications, and thanks to Hal Bateman,Tom Casacky, Scott Davis, Bob Hersh, E.Garry Hill, Dave Johnson, Walter Murphy and Mike Takaha.
Again, this is part two of three in our analysis of the relay situation in the United states, part three will be a commentary by James Dunaway, editor of American Track & Field, and some comments by Larry Eder, publisher of American Track & Field.

U.S. 4X100 Relays in the Olympic Games and World Championships 2, 1912–2008

The men’s 4x100-meters relay was first run internationally in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. The first women’s Olympic 4x100 was contested at the Amsterdam Games of 1928. The IAAF World Championships were first held in 1983 in Helsinki, then 1987 and 1991, and in every odd year since.
*Indicates U.S. women’s team did not perform well.

WOMEN

1928 Olympics – 1, Canada, 48.4 (World Record); USA, 48.8.

1932 Olympics – 1, USA, 46.9 (World Record); 2, Canada, 47.0.

1936 Olympics – 1, USA, 46.9; 2, Great Britain, 47.6. (Germany, having set a world record of 46.4 in the heats, was leading by a wide margin in the final, but dropped the baton on the 3rd exchange).

*1948 Olympics – 1, Netherlands, 47.5; 2, Australia, 47.6. USA, 3RD in Heat 3, did not qualify for the final.

1952 Olympics – 1, USA, 45.9 (World Record); 2, German, 45.9 (World Record). Automatic timing showed that the U.S. margin of victory was about one foot.

1956 Olympics – 1, Australia, 44.5 (World Record); 2, Great Britain, 44.7; 3, USA, 44.9.

1960 Olympics – 1, USA, 44.5; 2, West Germany, 44.8. USA set World Record of 44.4 in their semifinal.

1964 Olympics – 1, Poland, 43.6 (World Record); 2, USA, 43.9. Poland later lost the world record, because their anchor runner, Eva Klobukowska, was adjudged not to be a female. The Olympic result nevertheless stands, and as it turned out, justly so: although Klobukowska was forced to retire in 1966 because she had an extra chromosome, she proved she was a female when she gave birth to a son some years later.

1968 Olympics – 1, USA, 42.88 (World Record); 2,Cuba, 43.36. In The Complete Book of the Olympics, David Wallechinsky wrote: “…the U.S. team overcame mediocre baton-passing with rare speed to win by five yards and establish a new world record.”

*1972 Olympics – 1, West Germany, 42.81 (World Record); 2, East Germany, 42.95; 3, Cuba, 43.36; 4, USA, 43.39.

*1976 Olympics – 1, East Germany, 42.55; 2, West Germany, 42.59. USA finished 7th in 43.35.

1980 Olympics – 1,East Germany, 41.60 (World Record); 2, USSR, 42.10. USA did not compete -- boycott.

*1983 Worlds – 1, East Germany, 41.76; Great Britain, 42.71.After Evelyn Ashford tore her right hamstring in the 100-meter final after looking like a sure winner through the rounds, the USA team had to be hastily reconstituted. The team finished 5th in its semi-final and did not advance to the final. According to the official report, the U.S. team “nearly dropped the baton.”

1984 Olympics– 1, USA, 41.65; 2, Canada, 42.77. The U.S. team included Evelyn Ashford, Alice Brown and Jeannette Bolden, who had finished 1-2-4 in the individual 100 meters, plus 400-meter silver medalist Chandra Cheeseborough. With East Germany, USSR and Cuba not competing because of a Soviet-led boycott, the U.S. won by more than 10 meters.

1987 Worlds – 1, USA, 41.58; East Germany, 41.95. This was probably the best-rehearsed relay team the United States has ever sent into a major international meet. The team – Alice Brown, Diane Williams, Florence Griffith and Pam Marshall -- were named shortly after the TAC Championships, and had nearly two months to work together. Competing as the West team in the Olympic Festival on July 25, they won in 42.22, then the 6th-fastest ever by an American team. But, as Track & Field News reported, the passing was hardly smooth. “Timing and handoffs are keys to this,” said Griffith, “and we need to work on both.”

And work they did. Four weeks later in Berlin, the same foursome set an American record of 41.55.
At the Worlds in Rome, they won their heat handily in 41.96, then returned next day to win the final in 41.58 by nearly four meters from East Germany. Can you say, “Practice makes perfect?”

1988 Olympics – 1, USA, 41.98; 2, East Germany, 42.09. As the times indicate, both of the two leading teams exhibited less than perfect baton passing. In both the semi-final and the final, Florence Griffith Joyner had trouble getting the baton from Sheila Echols and also in handing it off to anchor Evelyn Ashford (none of these necessarily FloJo’s fault). In the final, Ashford found herself in third place behind the USSR and East German anchors and took the lead with only 20 meters to go.

*1991Worlds – 1, Jamaica, 41.94; 2, USSR, 42.20. USA did not finish in the 2nd semifinal; the baton was dropped during the 1st exchange between leadoff runner Carlette Guidry and Esther Jones (probably Jones’ error).

1992 Olympics – 1, USA, 42.11; 2, Unified Team (XSSR), 42.16. The U.S narrowly missed disqualifi-cation in the heats, when anchor Michelle Finn lost her balance and nearly ran out of the lane just after getting the baton. In the final, the U.S. lost close to 2 meters via a poor 1st exchange between leadoff Evelyn Ashford and Esther Jones. 200-meter gold medalist Gwen Torrence who replaced Finn as the U.S. anchor, made up the 2 meters (and a few inches more) on Iirina Privalova, who had edged Torrence for the bronze medal in the 100-meter final, 10.84 to 10.86.

1993 Worlds – 1, Russia, 41.49; 2, United States, 41.49. No disgrace to losing this one by an inch or two: 41.49 was then the 2nd fastest women’s 4x100 ever run, and it’s still the 3rd fastest of all time.

1995 Worlds– 1, United States, 42.12; 2, Jamaica, 42.25. Afterward, Gwen Torrence was quoted as saying, ”We are a great team despite the fact that we couldn’t practice very much,” which the time seems to confirm.

1996 Olympics – 1, USA, 41.95; 2, Bahamas, 42.14; 3, Jamaica, 42.24.

1997 Worlds – 1, USA, 41.47 (American Record); 2, Jamaica, 42.10. USA’s winning time was (and still is) the 2nd fastest ever. The same team, Chryste Gaines, Marion Jones, Inger Miller, and Gail Devers ran both heat and final; their time winning the 1st heat was 41.52, still the 5th fastest ever.
Coach Gary Winckler said, “They did a great job. It was tough circumstances, with our limited practice time. I just told them to keep their heads together and do the fundamental things we did in San Diego in relay camp.” Anchor Gail Devers said, “After seeing the men (who dropped the baton in the heats), we said, ‘Just do safe passes and get the stick around.’”

*1999 Worlds – 1, Bahamas, 41.92; 2, France, 42.06; 3, Jamaica, 42.15; 4, USA, 42.30. The U.S. team had practiced with Marion Jones, who was injured in her 200-meter semi-final and withdrew. In the final, after passes described in Track & Field News as “less-than-stellar” and “just average,” anchor Gail Devers took the baton in second place, but was passed by France and Jamaica in the home straight.

*2000 Olympics – 1, Bahamas, 41.95; 2, Jamaica, 42.13; 3, USA, 42.20. Third thanks to what T&FN
described as “a sluggish start and two bad passes,” the U.S. was later disqualified in December 2007 because of Marion Jones’ admission of doping. David Wallechinsky wrote, “In the final, the poorly prepared Americans put themselves out with sloppy passing on two of the three exchanges.” The U.S. team lost two key athletes who had been expected to run, Inger Miller and Gail Devers, both because of hamstring problems, which certainly couldn’t have helped their baton passing. And in all fairness, it should be said that American track and field efforts in these Sydney Olympics were sometimes hampered by a disorganized USOC, and by the enormous media circus surrounding Jones’ attempt to win 5 gold medals and the disclosure of her husband’s doping positives.

*2001 Worlds – 1, USA, 41.71; 2, Germany, 42.32; 3, France, 42.39; 4, Jamaica, 42.40. The U. S. team won with good baton exchanges, but was later disqualified when Kelli White admitted to doping violations going back to 2000.

*2003 Worlds – 1, France, 41.78; 2, USA, 41.83. The USA team planned to have 100-meter winner Kelli White on the 4x100, but when she tested positive for a questionable substance after winning the 100, she either withdrew or was “requested” to withdraw. With White on the team, the U.S. might well have won the gold medal (but would later have been disqualified).

*2004 Olympics – 1, Jamaica, 41.73; Russia 42.27. USA, which had the fastest qualifying time (a very fast 41.67), did not finish in the final after failing to complete the 2nd exchange between Marion Jones and Lauryn Williams. Jones, running the second leg less than an hour after competing in the long jump final, ran well for the first 80 meters of her leg and than slowed visibly, which caused the exchange to be completed out of the zone. Of course, had the U.S. team medaled, the medals would have had to be returned in 2007.

2005 Worlds – 1, USA, 41.78; Jamaica, 41.99. As Penn Relays director Dave Johnson wrote in Track & Field News, “What distinguished (the U.S. women) was successful passing.” [In a subsequent conversation with Mr. Johnson, he insisted he wasn’t trying to say that the U.S. women’s passing was good, only that it was “successful” compared to the men’s dropped stick.]

2007 Worlds – 1, USA, 41.98; 2, Jamaica, 42.01. With heats and final of the 4x100 to be run the day after the 200-meter final, both favored teams held out their 200m finalists for the first round: Allyson Felix and Torri Edwards of the U.S. and Veronica Campbell of Jamaica. In the heats, the U.S ran Carmelita Jeter, Mechelle Lewis, Miki Barber and Lauryn Williams and had the fastest time, 42.24. In the final, running with Williams, Felix, Barber and Edwards, the U.S managed to squeak out a one-foot victory over the Jamaicans.

*2008 Olympics– 1, Russia, 42.31; 2, Belgium, 42.54. Jamaica, the fastest qualifiers, dropped the baton at the 3rd exchange in final and did not finish. The U.S. dropped the baton at the 3rd exchange in Heat One – between Torri Edwards and Lauryn Williams -- and was disqualified. Here is Walt Murphy’s report “Another U.S. Horror Show” in T&FN:

“Running in the first heat of the women’s 4x1, Angela Williams ran her usual solid opening leg out of lane 2, and Mechelle Lewis gave the U.S. a clear lead with her swift carry down the backstretch. The pass from Lewis to Torri Edwards…was a little shaky, but the U.S. still had a healthy margin…as Edwards prepared to hand off to Lauryn Williams.

Alas, Williams, just like Tyson Gay in the men’s race, never got control of the baton before it fell to the track. Edwards covered her face in shock as the frustrated Williams ran back to retrieve the baton and sped futilely down the homestretch.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” Williams said. “We came out here to run our hearts and get some revenge on Jamaica. No excuses. We had great chemistry; things just didn’t go as planned.”
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