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September 30, 2000
US men, women sweep 1600m relaysThe Rediff Team
Michael Johnson ran his last Olympic race. Marion Jones threw her heart into a race over a distance she doesn't run solo, and blitzed the field. And oh yes, the US of A predictably took the golds in the men's and women's 4x400m relay.
The lineup for the women's 4x400 read the Russian Federation, the Czech Republic, Nigeria, Australia, USA, Great Britain, Jamaica and Cuba.
The Australians, Nigerians and Jamaica were favoured, with the host country fielding Cathy Freeman, 400m individual gold medallist, backed by Nova Peris-Kneebone, Tamsyn Lewis and Melinda Gainsford-Taylor, the last named a 400m finalist.
Irina Privalova running the last lap for Russia raised an interesting prospect. As did the presence of Natasha Danvers, Donna Fraser and Katherine Merry in the British squad. Deon Hemmings and Lorraine Graham running the third and anchor legs for Jamaica were not to be sneezed at, either.
And then there was the US -- unfavoured and unfancied, if only because they had no real names running for them. None of the US runners had made it to the individual finals, for starters. Sure, there was Marion Jones -- but over double the distance she normally runs.
Standby for recycled cliches about the unpredictability of sport -- the USA sprung a tactical surprise by having Marion Jones run the third leg, a reprise of the Bahamas strategy in the 4x100m earlier in the programme, when their best runner, Pauline Davis, ran the third leg.
The US led off smoothly with Jearl Miles-Clarke, the handover to Monique Hennagan was free of stutters, and Monique was a couple of feet clear of the field when she handed over to Marion Jones.
For under 21 seconds, the stadium hushed as Marion ran the race of her life. Perhaps it was freedom from the weight of expectations. Perhaps it was the relief of knowing she did not have to conserve her energies for any more events. Perhaps it was the disappointment of bronzes, where she had looked for golds, in the long jump and the sprint relay. Whatever the fuel, Marion Jones was turbo-charged as she ran a smooth first 200 and suddenly kicked into high gear, running the second half of her leg as though she were doing the 200m individual sprint.
When she handed over to La Tasha Colander-Richardson, she was ahead of the field by a little over 8 metres. The race was over, with one lap left to run.
The US touched home in 3:22.62. The others fought for the silver, and Jamaica ran a very fine anchor leg to nose home ahead of the Russians in 3:23.25, beating Russia to bronze with a time of 3:23.46. Cathy Freeman strained every nerve, but had to finish fifth, behind Nigeria (3:23.80) in 3:23.81 (incidentally, a new Australian national record -- but a second and more shy of the winning time).
And that was merely the prelude -- the traditional curtain-closing men's 4x400 metres was still to come.
The crowd got into it around here, with Mexican Waves -- tidal waves more like, with 110,000 people joining in -- doing the rounds of the giant stadium as the runners took their places. You can't blame the crowd though -- they needed some kind of excitement to keep them going, and there was none to be had from the athletes in this race.
The US were far and away favourites to take this, and take it they did with an emphatic, start to finish run. Alongside them, were lined Jamaica, the Bahamas, France, Poland, Nigeria, Great Britain and Australia, the last named having made a dramatic entry into the final after being disqualified for an illegal baton change, protesting, being reinstated, then being dumped when the Italians whom they displaced protested in their turn, then making it back in when their own re-protest was upheld...
Could you keep count of the entrys and exits? We couldn't. No matter -- Australia was in.
Alvin Harrison led off and if you were watching from afar, you would have thought it was Michael Johnson -- amazing, the way the two Harrison twins have copied the Johnson running style. Antonio Pettigrew, running the second leg, was perhaps the weakest link, but he managed to fight off the challenge from Jamaica and Great Britain and hand over to Calvin Harrison, the other half of the Harrison Twins, with a lead of a couple of feet.
From then on, the camera had to follow two races. Calvin eased away from the pack and kept going. The changeover to Johnson was smooth -- but given the lead they had, the two runners might as well have had a little chat before Michael Johnson took off for the last Olympic run of his life.
What do you say of a Michael Johnson run? It's all been said before -- the erectness of carriage, the smoothness of running style, the way the feet barely seem to leave the ground....
Around the first bend, Johnson took a look at the giant replay screen, trying to sight his rivals. He did it again at the second bend -- but this time, he needed to take two, three looks, for no rival was in sight. There was Johnson. Then there was some vast expanse of untenanted acreage. And then a few runners scrambling to keep up.
He then eased off, and eased home with about 10 metres to spare over the field.
The USA, in 2:56.60. Nigeria, 2 seconds plus in arrears, running a fine last lap to pip Jamaica to silver in 2:58.68. Bronze to Jamaica with 2:58.78.
And oh yes, smiles -- of quiet satisfaction, it would have been a bit much to see them jumping around in joy after a race like this -- on the faces of the four Americans who maintained the country's hegemony over the distance.
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