London: Usain Bolt took a day off and let his teammates do the work. They gave Bolt a chance for another triple sweep.
The World’s Fastest Man returns to Olympic Stadium on Saturday for the men’s 4x100-meter relay final and his shot at taking home three gold medals in as many sprinting events at the London Games.
“We’ve got guys that have been running good and we’ve got Usain Bolt, who’s going to run a fast time,” Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake said. “It’s going to be interesting.”
Sure is, especially after the Americans ran the fourth-fastest time in history in their semifinal Friday night.
That allowed them to believe anything’s possible - maybe even a win over Bolt.
With Justin Gatlin running the anchor leg, the US broke a 20-year-old national record in its heat, finishing in 37.38 seconds. The old record, set in 1992 with Carl Lewis as the anchor, was 37.40.
Jamaica, running in the evening’s opening heat, was only a hundredth of a second slower than the United States - and that was with Bolt on the sideline.
“We’re going to figure out a way to go out there and compete with them,” Gatlin said. “We’re not scared of them.”
In the final, Bolt will take Kemar Bailey-Cole’s place on the anchor leg. Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Blake, the 100- and 200-meter runner-up, will run in the first three spots, just like they did in the preliminaries.
The Jamaicans have topped every men’s sprint in the last two Olympics, with Bolt winning five gold medals while setting three world records.
Now, after already proclaiming himself a legend, Bolt gets an opportunity to make it 6 for 6.
“They’re definitely fast. They’re definitely worthy opponents,” Gatlin said. “I’m the kind of person that loves pressure. This is the level we have to reach. This is the level we have to achieve.”
Bolt first helped rewrite the relay record to close out his three-win, three-world-record performance four years ago in Beijing, when he ran the third leg of a race the Jamaicans finished in 37.10. They have since lowered it to 37.04. Bolt hasn’t set a record in London so far but has become the first man to repeat at the Olympics in both the 100 and 200.
In the preliminaries, the U.S. went with former Florida football player Jeff Demps, Darvis Patton, Trell Kimmons and Gatlin, this year’s 100-meter bronze medalist.
“A football player on the first leg and we break the American record?” Patton said.
Ryan Bailey and Tyson Gay, who finished fourth in the 100 and is still searching for his first Olympic medal, figure to land spots in the final.
The American men are back in the final after missing it in Beijing when Patton and Gay mishandled the baton exchange in preliminaries. At the time, Gatlin, the 2004 100-meter champion, was serving a doping ban. But now he’s back, and he helped break a record held by Lewis, along with men who are now coaching a number of the American sprinters, Dennis Mitchell and Jon Drummond.
“They always put it in our face: ‘If you want to be great, go after that record,’” Gatlin said. “Many U.S. relay teams have gone for that record and have not gotten it. It happened to be here in the Olympics.”
Other medals at stake Saturday include the men’s 50-kilometer race walk, the women’s 20-kilometer race walk, the women’s high jump, the men’s javelin throw, the men’s 5,000 meters, the women’s 800 meters and the women’s 4x400-meter relay.
The U.S. and Jamaica are heavy favorites in the 4x400 final.
Both high-profile teams easily won their preliminary heats. With 400 bronze medalist DeeDee Trotter running the anchor leg after Keshia Baker, Francena McCorory and Diamond Dixon circled the track, the Americans finished in 3:22.09.
Allyson Felix, the 200-meter champion, and 400-meter champ Sanya Richards-Ross will run in the final.
“We’re going after some records,” Trotter said.
The Americans have won the last four Olympic golds in the event.
“Our expectations of being the No. 1 team in the world is very important to us,” Trotter said. “To have that title removed from us, I’m not sure we would really understand. We work really hard as a country to maintain our status at the top of the list, and while it may seem meaningless to some, it’s very important to us.”
Bolt is clearly enjoying his spot at the forefront of the sport.
And another victory, even though it’s not a solo performance, would surely cement his standing even more.
“I’ve done something that no one has done before, which is defend my double title,” Bolt said. “Back to back for me, I would say I’m the greatest.”