Every four years, sprinters from Jamaica and the United States provide some of the most anticipated rivalries of the Olympics.
This year, with a dose of extra drama in the semifinals, and even higher historical stakes than usual, the women’s 4x100 meter relay promised to be one of the marquee matchups of the Games.
In the end, the U.S. won gold Friday night, with Jamaica taking silver and Great Britain finishing with bronze.
Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown, a former University of Arkansas star, headed into Friday’s final with an eye on history: A win would have made her the sixth woman in history to win four gold medals in Olympic Track and Field.
The last woman to achieve that feat?
Campbell-Brown’s foe on the U.S. 4x100 team, University of Southern California alumna Allyson Felix.
Felix, who graduated from USC in 2008, but did not run track there, having turned professional in track immediately after high school in 2003, missed a record fifth gold by seven one-hundredths of a second on Tuesday night in the 400 meters dash, as Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas bested her with a last second dive.
After the race, the hurt Felix felt was evident.
“I feel emotionally and physically drained at this point," she said at a post-race news conference, later adding, “Just disappointment, you know. I don’t think I’ve quite had a year this tough. I just really wanted it.”
Now, after Friday's win, she has her fifth gold. She had been tied at four with fellow Americans Evelyn Ashford and Sanya Richards-Ross, Australian Betty Cuthbert, East Germany’s Bärbel Wöckel and Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands.
Felix won her first gold medal in the 4x400 meters dash at the 2008 Beijing Games, and took home three more golds in London in 2012, winning the 200 and leading the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams to glory.
Campbell-Brown won Olympic gold in the 200-meter dash in 2004 in Athens and again in the 2008 Beijing Games. She also earned a gold in the 4x100 in Athens.
Both Campbell-Brown and Felix consider the 200 their favorite race, but neither made it as far as the semifinals in Rio. Felix missed qualifying for the 200 by an excruciating one one-hundredth of a second at the U.S. Olympic Trials in July, while Campbell-Brown logged a disappointing first round time of 22.97 in Rio, not fast enough to advance to the semis.
Disaster almost befell Felix’s hopes in the 4x100 before they began.
During Thursday morning’s qualifying round, Felix, running second in the relay, was jostled by Brazil’s Kauiza Venancio as she attempted to pass the baton to the U.S.’s third runner, English Gardner. The jostle resulted in a fumbled handoff, but Felix adroitly instructed Gardner to pick up the baton and make sure the Americans finished the race.
"I remember them telling us, if there's an appeal, you have to make an effort," Felix said after the race.
The Americans’ appeal was, in fact, held-up, and they easily cruised to the finals in a special, single-team heat on Thursday evening. Their time of 41.77 bested the Chinese, who had previously qualified with the eighth-fastest time of 42.70.