The 4×100 relay is a team sport in the strictest ways – all four individuals have to do their part, either by executing exactly to plan and training, or by following the rules to ensure minimum eligibility. If one individual fails, the entire team fails. There is very little room for error.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Usain Bolt made history running the third leg in the 4×100 men’s relay, becoming the first person ever to win gold in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 men’s relay in the same athletics event. Not only that, he achieved all three victories in world record time.
But in late January of 2017, it was announced that his teammate, Nesta Carter, had tested positive for a banned stimulant (methylhexaneamine). In 2008, after the finals, Carter’s urine test came up negative. But due to the shocking news last year of systematic state-sponsored doping in Russia, the IOC asked for re-testing of results going back ten years, as the tools to uncover traces of banned substances has improved significantly over the years. Dozens of athletes have now tested positive, many of them medalists, including Carter. And because Carter has been disqualified, so too has the entire Jamaican 4×100 team.
Many who love and respect Bolt feel Bolt’s record has been tarnished, perhaps unfairly. And when Bolt and his teammates won gold in the 4×100 relay at the Rio Olympics, he became the first person ever to win the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 men’s relay in three straight Olympics – the so-called Triple Triple. Well, that golden symmetry has been disturbed with the removal of the 4×100 gold in Beijing.
But most people will agree, the loss of the relay gold will not hurt Bolt’s immense legacy. Even Bolt believes that to be the case. “I think I’ve accomplished a lot. This hasn’t changed what I have done throughout my career. I have worked hard and pushed and done things that no one has done before. I have won three gold medals over the 100m and 200m, which no one has ever done before.”
The part of this story that does not get played up, the happy side of this story, is the medalists who move up the medal table:
Trinidad and Tobago: a traditional powerhouse in sprinting, took Olympic gold in the 4×100 meter relay for the first time. While they could have whooped it up, there is so much respect for Usain Bolt amidst the Caribbean nations, that the celebration in Trinidad and Tobago was somewhat muted, as represented in the comments of Trinidad’s gold-medalist, Richard Thompson. “Bolt’s achievements have been recorded in the annals of athletics and no one can take that away. Rather than lament for the Jamaican team, I prefer to focus all my energy on lauding my Trinbagonian athletes who ran a ‘clean’ race.”
Japan: At the Rio Olympics, Japan took silver in the men’s 4×100 relay, second only to mighty Jamaica, in a surprise. The Japan team had bested their country’s top men’s relay track result, bronze at the Beijing Olympics. But now, the men’s sprint team from 2008 are now equal to the 2016 – silver medalists. And heading into the Tokyo2020 Olympics, young runners have even greater reason to be inspired to train hard, run clean and dream.
Brazil: Perhaps the happiest group in these medal re-shuffles are the fourth-place finishers who wake up one morning to find out they are now bronze medalists. They missed the pomp and circumstance of standing on the medal podium and seeing their flag raised in front of billions of people. They may have missed financial opportunities that come with a medal finish right after the Olympics. But they now have something they didn’t expect to have – a medal. As Bruno de Barros, a member of Brazil’s 4×100 relay team, said “It’s a great sense of happiness, despite the time lapse, which isn’t really important. The feeling of being an Olympic medalist is the same. In fact, after waiting so long, it’s worth more.”