The victorious US 4x400m team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
The USA regained the men’s 4x400m crown from The Bahamas in the first ever long relay in history in which six teams dipped below three minutes.
While there was a certain inevitability about the eventual outcome of gold, it should be noted that for 1500m Botswana posed an unlikely threat to the USA until their anchor leg runner heartbreakingly faded down the home stretch to wind up fifth.
The minor medals were picked up by Jamaica in second – their first Olympic medal in this event since Sydney 2000 – with Bahamas, the 2012 gold medallists, holding off Belgium to grab bronze.
The USA had looked far from convincing in the heats after conceding a rare men’s 4x400m defeat to Jamaica, and in a hard-fought final they had to battle tooth and nail for the win.
After the first leg it was Botswana courtesy of Isaac Makwala (44.8), who held a clear advantage from the USA’s Arman Hall followed by Bahamas and Jamaica in close order.
By half distance, the USA, thanks to a stunning second leg of 43.2 by Tony McQuay, had hauled themselves level, although it should be noted Botswana were still bang in contention following an impressive 43.9 leg from Karabo Sibanda.
It was then Jamaica, Belgium and Bahamas with little to separate the trio.
The USA, with Gil Roberts in possession of the baton, finally opened up a small advantage on leg three from the tenacious Botswana quartet. However, Roberts almost came to grief on the final inside bend when veering on the rail and momentarily losing his balance.
Leading into the final leg, The Bahamas had moved up to third from Jamaica and Belgium thanks to a stunning 43.79 effort from Steven Gardiner.
With Lashawn Merritt – the USA’s anchor boasting an individual 400m PB almost two seconds quicker than Botswana’s fourth-leg runner Gaone Leaname Maotoanong – it always seemed a battle heavily weighted in favour of the former and so it proved.
The Olympic 400m bronze medallist was doggedly pursued by Maotoanong until the Botswanan’s race dramatically unravelled in the final straight.
With Merritt galloping to a 43.97 final leg and crossing the line in a world-leading 2:57.30, a struggling Maotoanong started to desperately pay for the early pace. As he was swamped by the chasing pack, he almost stumbled and fell 30 metres from the finish, only to drag himself across the line in fifth. He did record a solid 45.28 clocking and at least Botswana had the consolation of running a national record of 2:59.06.
Jamaica muscled their way into silver in 2:58.16 thanks to a stunning 43.78 anchor from Javon Francis. In a tight battle for bronze, veteran Chris Brown held off the late-charging Kevin Borlee (43.67) of Belgium by just three hundredths, recording a time of 2:58.49.
It was also a historic moment for 37-year-old Brown, who became the first man in history to win four Olympic medals in the men’s 4x400m. Besides today’s bronze, he also won 2000 bronze, 2008 silver and 2012 gold medals. It was also a record-breaking fifth successive Olympic 4x400m final appearance for the man they call ‘The Fireman’.
Cuba was the sixth team under three minutes, recording 2:59.53.
Steve Landells for the IAAF