For the U.S. women’s relay team, this was a shock.
For the men -- more of the same.
The women pulled a stunner over Jamaica in the 4x100 relay at world championships Saturday, while the favored men finished second after the latest sloppy baton exchange in what has been a ritual since before anyone on this team was born.
Andre De Grasse beat American Marvin Bracy to the line by .07 seconds to lift Canada to the victory in the men’s race in 37.48 seconds.
Bracy fell behind in the anchor leg after twice reaching back and whiffing on the exchange from Elijah Hall, who went tumbling to the ground after he finally got the stick into his teammate’s hand.
“Not being clean cost us the race,” Bracy had posted on Twitter before he’d even made it through the interview area. “No excuses. We let y’all down my apologies.”
The U.S. women felt nothing but love. A clear underdog to a Jamaican team that had won all but one of the six sprint medals at this meet, the U.S. pulled the upset when Twanisha Terry held off 200 gold medalist Shericka Jackson for a .04-second victory.
She celebrated by doing her “dirtbike dance,” hopping on one foot while revving the handlebars of her pretend, superfast bike.
“I just felt the crowd go crazy. It was very electrifying,” Terry said.
The American team, which also included Melissa Jefferson, Abby Steiner and Jenna Prandini, finished in 41.14.
Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce kept her streak alive. She’s won gold or silver in every world relay she’s been part of, dating to 2007. Nobody on Jamaica came into the relay thinking about second place this year, though.
Jamaica’s lineup included all three sprinters from its 100-meter sweep last weekend and both members of the 1-2 finish in the 200. Its fate might have been sealed on a messy first pass between Kemba Nelson and Elaine Thompson-Herah.
“I don’t think there’s any medal that is designated just for Jamaica,” Fraser-Pryce said. “We have to go out there and we have to work like everybody else.”
The U.S. men, meanwhile, had taken all six medals in the 100 and 200.
The relays proved, yet again, that pure speed is not all that matters in these races.
“You can have the fastest runner but if there’s no chemistry and there’s no trust, and the baton isn’t moving through the exchange, you aren’t going to produce that fast of a time,” Terry explained.
Though the U.S. men will walk away with a medal this time -- they’d been shut out in six of the last 13 worlds and three of the last four Olympics -- this can’t be framed as anything but an unsatisfactory result.
“You could come out of here with nothing,” Bracy said. “But we’ve got to clean it up. We’ve got a lot of work to do to continue to get better.”
De Grasse, the Olympic champion at 200 meters, could barely walk up his stairs four weeks ago while recovering from COVID-19. He didn’t make it through 100-meter heats last weekend and pulled out of the 200 altogether.
He won the gold medal with a team that also included Aaron Brown, who finished seventh in the 200 and eighth in the 100; Jerome Blake, who didn’t make the final in either; and
Brendon Rodney, who was part of Canada’s relay pool.
“Once I got the baton, I was like ‘OK, I’m neck and neck with the U.S. and now I’ve just got to do what I can do,’” De Grasse said. “It felt great to spoil the party for them.”
The U.S put out the same lineup as it did the day before for prelims, thus leaving a passel of medalists, and speed — Trayvon Bromell, Erriyon Knighton, Kenny Bednarek and the injured Fred Kerley -- on the bench.
Hall stayed on. His resume: A fifth-place finish in the 100 at nationals last month, but also an NCAA relay title in 2018 at University of Houston, where the legend, Carl Lewis, who is also a constant critic of the U.S. relay process, has been coaching for years.
“We tried to put together a team to have some type of continuity and get the stick around,” Bracy said. “We did a good job of it yesterday. We just tried to come out and do the same thing today. It didn’t work out in our favor ... and we took the ‘L.’”
One thought for the men: Take a page out of the book being written by the women’s relay coach, Mechelle Lewis Freeman, who built some chemistry during a recent training camp in Texas.
Her team consisted of the eighth-place finisher in the 100 (Jefferson), the fifth-place finisher in the 200 (Steiner) and two others (Prandini and Terry) who didn’t make it out of their semifinals.
The initial pass between Jefferson and Steiner might not have been amazingly smooth, but neither was Jamaica’s.
Terry took the stick for the anchor leg with about a four-step lead over Jackson, who, two nights earlier, had run the second-fastest time ever in the 200 (21.45).
The Jamaican closed, and closed some more, but when Terry leaned into the line she had America’s first win at worlds in this race since 2017, when Fraser-Pryce was out after having her baby.
The relay medals gave the U.S. 28 for the meet, just three shy of setting a record for a world championships. They’ll be favored for medals in the men’s and women’s 4x400 and the women’s 800 with Olympic champion Athing Mu.
Other winners Saturday included Emmanuel Kipkurui Korir of Kenya in the men’s 800, Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia in the women’s 5000, Anderson Peters of Grenada in men’s javelin and
Pedro Pichardo of Portugal, who backed up his Olympic title with a world title in men’s triple jump.
The evening also featured a (final?) curtain call for Allyson Felix, who was lured back to the worlds stage to run the prelims in that 4x400 women’s race.
It sets up Felix to win her 20th world championship medal, and her 14th gold after Sunday’s final. The U.S. has won the 4x400 at seven of the past nine worlds.