Usain Bolt’s final gold medal at the Bird’s Nest came gift-wrapped.
With a red-white-and-blue bow, too.
The World’s Fastest Man made it 3 for 3 in Beijing again, leading the Jamaicans to a runaway win Saturday in the 400-meter relay that came easy thanks to an American team that still hasn’t figured out how to get the baton around the track.
Tyson Gay’s handoff to anchor Mike Rodgers came outside the passing zone, and the Americans were disqualified. It turned Bolt’s anchor leg into a pick-your-time free-run to the finish. He went hard the whole way, grimacing and dipping his head at the line, to finish Jamaica’s lap in 37.36 seconds. That was .52 off the country’s world record but more than fast enough to do the job against the team that consistently folds under the bright lights.
This marked the eighth time since 1995 the American men have either been disqualified or failed to finish at the worlds or the Olympics.
“We know the key thing is just to get the baton around,” said Bolt, who extended his record to 11 gold medals at world championships. “Because with the U.S., we know we always have the best team, and they tend to panic. Pressure gets to them sometimes.”
In the women’s race, Jamaica did it with pure speed, no gifts. Three-time 100-meter world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce blew by Jasmine Todd on the anchor leg for the gold. The American team, with Allyson Felix in the second position, got the baton around cleanly to secure the silver.
That left Ashton Eaton as the only American winner on Saturday — and what a win it was. The gold medal already secured, Eaton ran the final event of the decathlon, the 1,500 meters, in 4 minutes 17.52 seconds to finish with 9,045 points and break his old world record by six.
“It’s like, where do you find the inner strength?” Eaton said. “I don’t know. But I think the important thing is to search for it.”
Other gold medals went to Maria Kuchina of Russia in the high jump, Marina Arzamasova of Belarus in the 800, Piotr Malachowski in the discus, and Matej Toth of Slovakia in the 50-kilometer walk.
Mo Farah completed his second straight double at the world championships, adding the 5,000-meter win to his earlier 10,000 title. After getting passed by Caleb Ndiku with two laps to go, the British runner lined him up and charged past over the final 100 meters. All in all, it was a more suspenseful homestretch than the men’s relay produced.
Thanks to Justin Gatlin’s speedy second leg, the United States was ahead through about 250 meters. But as Gay approached Rodgers for the final handoff, Rodgers appeared to start too early. Gay flailed the baton as his teammate took off and reached back his left hand. The exchange wasn’t complete until after Rodgers had crossed the yellow line at the end of the passing zone.
“I don’t know if I left on time, I don’t know if I left early,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know what happened.”
Even without the DQ, which moved China up to second place and Canada into third, the U.S. was history. Rodgers finished 0.41 seconds behind Bolt.
Explanations, there were plenty.
“It has to be bad luck,” said Gay, whose doping violation caused the United States to retroactively lose the relay silver they took at the London Olympics.
Gatlin: “Mike and Tyson got lost in the excitement and the crowd and they couldn’t hear each other, and they were out of the zone.”
Maybe Jamaica’s Nickel Ashmeade was onto something.
“It’s like chicken — put in a pot, pressure too much, they can’t handle it,” Ashmeade said.
Bolt has a way of doing that to them.
Though Bolt took offense to the idea, Gatlin said his early lean in the 100 meters last week gave away the race he lost to Bolt by 0.01 seconds. Some portrayed it as a pressure-induced mistake.
That win was the fuel Bolt needed to get stronger over the rest of the meet.
Seven years after he introduced himself to the world at the Beijing Olympics with three gold medals and three world records, he leaves China as the legend — a single shining star in an otherwise troubled sport dogged by doping.
The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are less than a year away, and there, Bolt will try to make it three sprint sweeps in three Olympics. Nobody had ever swept two before he came along.
But before that, he’ll head back to the island and enjoy what he did at these world championships.
Bolt heard what the haters were saying when he came to Beijing hurting and not at his best: He was beatable. He was done.
“I came out and proved you can never count Usain Bolt out,” he said. “I’m a champion.”