LONDON -- The mission was clear when the U.S. relay coaches brought the 4x100-meter team together before Saturday night's final.
"We just have to hold off Bolt," Tyson Gay said.
Mission impossible. Usain Bolt, the self-proclaimed legend, anchored Jamaica to its second straight Olympic 4x100 relay title in a world record 36.84 seconds. The U.S. matched the world record -- the
Bolt completed what he referred to repeatedly as a "double-triple." For the second straight Olympics, he won the 100, 200 and 4x100. Bolt ran the third relay leg in Beijing, handing off to Asafa Powell, who motored home to a world record 37.10. Powell sat out this time with a groin injury, pushing Bolt to anchor.
In London, 37 seconds singled out the syllable separating Jamaica from the United States in this ongoing sprint rivalry: Bolt. The U.S. put its two fastest men -- Justin Gatlin and Gay -- among the first three legs. If all went to plan, it would take a slim lead entering the final handoff, 6-foot-5 Bolt vs. 6-foot-4 Olympic rookie Ryan Bailey.
Gatlin gave Gay that edge after 200 meters, but Yohan Blake erased it on the curve. Bolt and Bailey appeared even as they set out (though Bolt got the baton first). Bolt said he knew it was over when he saw Blake catching Gay.
"Bailey could not outrun me on the straight," he said.
Definitely not, but Bailey wanted the opportunity. He told the coaches in that meeting he wanted to be the anchor man.
"I was running for my life," Bailey said. "Trying to hold on as best I could. ... I felt him there for a little while."
The final sprint, the stage and the celebration belonged to Bolt as he lost touch with Bailey. He gritted his teeth, leaned at the line (not that he needed to) and broke out Mo Farah's signature Mobot move, streaming past an official putting a hand out for the baton.
Bolt wanted to keep the yellow stick. He was forced to return it but got it back later. He's never saved a baton before, but Bolt said he wants this one autographed by all four members of the relay to go with a framed photo.
"They told me if I didn't give it back, we'd be disqualified," Bolt said. "I guess somebody said to the guy, you need to give (me) the baton."
There's meaning in the 4x100 relay concluding nine nights of competition at Olympic Stadium. Bolt said he wants to be around for 2016, but who knows what can happen in four years. By then, his training partner, Blake, may be the star. Blake was certainly a main attraction in the mixed zone and the news conference.
"We're not human," he said. "We dropped from space like Mr. Bean ... I am from Mars."
Bolt said if Blake kept talking like that, he'd be put in a straight jacket. The U.S. wouldn't mind fitting Bolt in one. Wrap up Bolt, and the U.S. may have won the Olympic relay for the first time since 2000, when they were criticized for camera-posing, shirtless celebrations. The fact that Jamaica was such a huge favorite (one to six, by William Hill) in an event where the slightest misstep ruins everything shows the difference between the island nation of two million and the rest of the world. That difference is Bolt, who sat out prelims, where the Americans were faster than Jamaica.
U.S. men's coach Andrew Valmon believes the U.S. is catching. Just making the final was progress after failed handoffs led to disqualifications in prelims at the 2008 Olympics, 2009 worlds and 2011 worlds.
"If you look back on the film, we're close," he said. "I mean, if you look at the years prior when you talk about the rivalry between the U.S. and Jamaica, there was a little gap."
The open 100 meters at these Olympics saw U.S. men finish third (Gatlin), fourth (Gay) and fifth (Bailey). In 2008, Walter Dix won bronze, Doc Patton was eighth and a gimpy Gay bowed out in the semis. Progress? Probably. But the U.S. can't make the pass until Bolt slows down.
"When he got the stick," Gay said, "there was nothing we could do about it."