DOHA, Qatar — Noah Lyles let out a huge scream and kept right on running — through the finish line and straight toward his teammate, Christian Coleman. After a quick hug, Lyles stuck the baton out and Coleman grabbed hold, too.
Nobody was letting it go.
Motivated by a team meeting in the morning, then propelled by sticky-fingered flawlessness at night, the American men overcame the country’s longest and most-notorious track jinx to win gold at the world championships Saturday in the 4x100 relay that has bedeviled this team for decades.
“We broke the curse. We broke the curse,” Lyles yelled into the microphone during his on-track interview. “U-S-A. We’re taking all the golds! All of them.”
Their first sprint relay win at worlds since 2007 — the pre-Usain Bolt days — made the U.S. men 3 for 3 in the sprints. The winning started a week ago with Coleman’s romp in the 100, and continued Tuesday with an equally impressive win from Lyles in the 200.
Then, this: A win that was anything but pre-ordained, despite the clear advantage the Americans held in raw speed.
It takes teamwork, too.
Three times, the Americans passed the baton — from Coleman to Justin Gatlin, from Gatlin to Mike Rodgers, and from Rodgers to Lyles — and with nary a hiccup in any of the exchanges. The clean exchanges allowed that raw speed to take over.
Still pumped more than an hour after the race, Lyles provided his own play-by-play.
“I saw the first handoff and I was, like ‘Dang,’ then I saw the next one and it was, ‘Dang,’ then, I’m like ‘Ooh,’” he said. “Then I got the baton and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to run fast.’ They’re over there doing magic and I’m just trying to make it all worthwhile.”
On Sunday, the United States added a victory in the men’s 4x400 relay, the final event of the world championships. A strong second leg from Michael Cherry put the U.S. into a clear lead, before Rai Benjamin held off Jamaica on the final lap for the win in 2 minutes 56.69 seconds.
The U.S. also dominated the women’s 4x400-meter relay by using two hurdlers in the final. The U.S. took the lead on the opening leg with Phyllis Francis, stretched the advantage with hurdlers Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad, before Wadeline Jonathas brought the win home in 3 minutes 18.92 seconds.
After the 4x100 victory, the harshest of the doping sticklers will be quick to point out that Gatlin (two bans), Rodgers (nine-month ban in 2012) and Coleman (convoluted whereabouts case dismissed last month) have some baggage in that area.
But their win Saturday had more to do with a different kind of history.
The U.S. string of relay nightmares dates back to 1995, before Coleman or Lyles were born, and has also included the last three Olympics. Over the 18 world and Olympic relays held during stretch, the U.S. has dropped the baton or failed to finish nine times.
Gatlin said it might have helped to start way out on Lane 8 — a position assigned to the U.S. after a third-place finish in the previous evening’s preliminary heat that, itself, was marred by a near-disaster in the exchange between Rodgers and Cravon Gillespie, who was not in Saturday’s lineup.
That led Coleman to call a team meeting — no managers, no coaches, just runners.
“We just wanted to have open dialogue so we could come together and get the job done,” Coleman said. “Everyone talked about what they could do better.”
And with that curse now set aside, the future is looking bright.
The Olympics are less than 10 months away, and the Americans, who finished in 37.10 seconds, were taking questions about whether the Bolt-led world record of 36.84 from 2012 could be up for grabs in Tokyo.
“Sure looks like it now,” Lyles said.
The United States finished the championships top of the medal table with 14 gold medals, 11 silver and four bronze for a total 29. Kenya was second on gold medals with five, while Jamaica had the second-best total with 12.
The U.S. will host the next championships in Eugene, Oregon, in 2021. — (AP)