OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Athletics: US men and women pass the baton in style: Richard Williams sees American teamwork leave the others trailing

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The Independent Online
SOMETIMES it doesn't hurt so much to lose a race. No non- American who won any sort of medal in the two men's relays last night could legitimately have felt anything but pride in their participation in the fastest races of their kind ever run.

Just as he did to open the unforgettably emotional victory over the US in the 4 x 400 metres at the world championships in Tokyo last year, Roger Black took the lead-off leg for the British, but a repeat was not on and it was no dishonour for he and his colleagues to find themselves tussling with the Cubans for second and third as Andrew Valmon, Quincy Watts, Michael Johnson and Steve Lewis disappeared into the distance.

The US quartet recorded 3min 55.74sec, just under half a second below the record, set at altitude in Mexico 24 years ago. Black, David Grindley, Kriss Akabusi and John Regis - running his second relay of the night - finished at the shoulders of the Cubans.

'We wanted to run the race the way we had in Tokyo,' Black said afterwards. 'The Americans are always going to be faster than us, on paper. To beat them, you need to be in contention after the first leg, and the second. The idea was to put John Regis in behind Steve Lewis. But it didn't happen. Andrew Valmon ran a fantastic first leg, so the race was over right there. We certainly don't have any regrets about picking John Regis.'

The US team had pulled itself together after a fortnight which began with one member, Danny Everett, accusing the chief coach, Mel Rosen, of duplicity in his efforts to get Michael Johnson into the squad. 'We put our differences aside,' Valmon said, 'and came out with the world record. That speaks for itself.' Johnson, though, can only have been referring to the injured Everett when he remarked: 'There was a lot of controversy, but some of it was alleviated when certain people became unavailable.'

Quincy Watts, the individual 400m champion, whose second leg split was timed at 43.18sec, summarised the simple but effective philosophy of his team: 'Each and every one of us went out to take the pressure off the next guy, so he could run his own race.' Had he been thinking of the world record as he ran? 'Here's what you do. You get the stick, you run, you pass it to the next guy. Then you think about the world record.'

There was another bronze for the British when Sally Gunnell took her second medal of the Games in the women's 4 x 400 relay, 30 yards behind the Unified Team and the United States. Phyllis Smith, Sandra Douglas and Jennifer Stoute gave her a solid platform - particularly Stoute, who handed the baton to her room-mate after pounding past Camille Noel of Canada on the back straight.

If Carl Lewis needed a reason to keep fit for the next four years, he has it now. In winning their 14th gold medal from the 18 men's 4 x 100 metres races held since the first Games in 1896, the US quartet broke their own world record, set in Tokyo last year, by precisely a tenth of a second. With eight gold medals, one behind Paavo Nurmi, Lewis may now be tempted to set his sights on something or other at Atlanta.

Mike Marsh's solid start, Leroy Burrell's power into a stiffish headwind blowing clear up the back straight and Dennis Mitchell's neat bend-running set the stage for a classic display by Lewis, who took the baton with a narrow lead and the wind at his back. By the time he cut the beam, he was just about six metres clear.

'Everyone said Carl wasn't at his best because he didn't qualify in the individual 100 metres,' Dennis Mitchell remarked afterwards. 'But he ran a typical Carl Lewis race to bring us the record.'

Behind Nigeria and Cuba, who took silver and bronze, the British quartet changed their order to give Marcus Adam the lead-off role, but by the time the baton reached Linford Christie he was too far from the action to do anything other than than beat the Unified Team's Vitaly Savin for fourth place. 'The Olympics is all about taking chances,' Christie said afterwards, 'and we took one today.' Adam said: 'We dug deep, but it wasn't enough. That was the second fastest time we've ever run, so we can't complain.'

Gail Devers, the 100m champion, was missing from the US women's 4 x 100 team, but nothing could stop their progress to a hat- trick of wins in the event, anchored by the controversial Gwen Torrence, the 200m champion, who set off on the final leg with a bellowed 'Come on]' from the powerful Carlette Guidry ringing in her ears. Arms windmilling, Torrence just held off the urgent efforts of the Unified Team's Irina Privalova, with Nigeria edging out France for the bronze.