Such was the Britons' teamwork and application that they got the baton round to their last leg runner, Dwain Chambers, at the same time as the US team handed it over to the world record holder, Maurice Greene. But for the 21-year-old Londoner to have had a realistic hope of beating the double world champion he would have to have been a metre or two ahead.
Greene's prediction for the 4x100 metres - "If I get the stick it doesn't matter how far behind I am, I'll win" - was not put to the test as he accelerated away over the final 30 metres to earn his third title of the Championships.
But it was fitting that the Britons should have ambled round on a joint lap of honour with the US team - they had shown they were rivals to be respected, perhaps even feared come the Sydney Games of 2000. "They gave us a good race," Greene said.
Chambers was given momentary parity with Greene after sound efforts from Jason Gardener and Darren Campbell were supplemented by an inspired bend from Marlon Devonish, chosen to replace Allyn Condon in preference to Britain's other 200m runner here, Julian Golding.
Although Devonish did not join Golding in the individual final, he ran faster than his colleague, a personal best of 20.25sec, in the semi-final.
He translated that form to the relay yesterday, pulling level with the third American runner, Brian Lewis, and giving Chambers a rousing send- off, as he shouted: "Go! Go! Go!" Chambers went, and for a few seconds it seemed as if he might bring off what would have been the most astonishing result of the Championships. But reality intervened - and Chambers was satisfied with his night's work.
"I saw Maurice out of the corner of my eye, but I was telling myself to run my own race," he said. "My initial idea was to run him down and get some kryptonite on his head! He's a great runner. But I'll get him in Sydney!" It was a measure of the race's quality that the bronze medallists, Nigeria, set an African record of 37.91sec, and Brazil broke the South American record in fourth place with 38.05.
For Britain's European javelin champion, Steve Backley, however, the day ended in both failure and disappointment. Seeking to launch a big early throw to take the pressure off himself because of the knee injury he has carried into these championships, Backley managed only 83.84m, four metres off his best of the year, and despite his efforts he could not improve upon that mark as he slipped gradually down to eighth place.
The gold went to the 1999 world leader, Aki Parviainen of Finland, whose seventh-round effort of 89.52m surpassed the first-round throw of 89.18m by Konstantinos Gatsouidis which had seemed increasingly likely to bring Greece their second javelin title of these championships.
Wilson Kipketer retained his world 800m title despite a huge effort from South Africa's Hezekiel Sepeng, who established a five metres lead in the closing stages before succumbing to the naturalised Dane's drive and dip over the final stages to take the gold in 1min 43.30sec, 0.02sec ahead of Sepeng.
Unusually, the United States ended with nothing in the women's sprint relay, run out of the medals in a race where gold went to the Bahamas. The defeat meant that Gail Devers was un able to extend her record for the most golds won in the championships which she took to five with victory in the 100m hurdles yesterday.
Russia's double Olympic champion Svetlana Masterkova, denied the 800m title here, secured the 1500m gold as a characteristic late surge saw here come home in 3min 59.54sec.Reuse content