After taking the baton from teammate Jerome Young in the final race of the Penn Relays' "U.S.A. versus the World" competition last Saturday, U.S.A. Red Team 4x400-meter relay anchor Michael Johnson turned forward to find himself in very unfamiliar territory -- behind. Running neck-and-neck down the homestretch, Jamaican Danny McFarland had managed to barely edge ahead of Young as the two entered the exchange zone. And as the bell signaling the final lap rang almost inaudibly beneath the roar of the Carnival-record crowd of 48,922, Jamaica anchor Michael Blackwood took the handoff and bolted out to gain a surprising two-meter lead on Johnson. "Normally, when I've always run the anchor leg it's usually been pretty boring because I usually get the stick five, six, seven, 10, 15 meters ahead," Johnson said. "They made it interesting today." Would the mighty Michael Johnson, world record holder and gold medalist in the 200, 400 and 4x400, allow himself to lose his final race on American soil in his final year competing for the Red, White and Blue? If anyone knew the answer as the sprinters veered onto the backstretch with Blackwood still holding his lead, it was Johnson. "[I knew I would pass him] when he passed me," he said with a grin. "I wanted to let him go ahead and set the pace and just have some fun with it." The fun for Blackwood was over midway into the backstretch, as Johnson began to smoothly reel in the Jamaican. When the American finally took the lead just before the last turn, the historic stadium erupted in cheers. Over the final 200 meters, Johnson turned on his world-record speed, finishing with a split of 44.2 seconds in the 2:58.60 time for U.S.A. Red. The American anchor crossed the finish line more than a second ahead of Blackwood. Then, as fans chanted "U-S-A," Johnson made one last -- and much slower -- lap around the track, waving, shaking hands, and thanking his supporters for watching one of the final races in a very celebrated career. "I woke up this morning very excited to come out here and run my last race in the U.S. in front of the Penn Relays crowd," Johnson said. "It's a great crowd, very supportive, and I'm glad that this was the place that I was able to run my last race in the U.S." Some of Johnson's American trackmates were equally thankful to have witnessed the race. Women's 4x400 relay member Marion Jones, still breathless from her 49.4 second anchor split that helped the U.S.A. Blue team shatter the previous Relays record by over four seconds in a time of 3:21.34, made sure to watch Johnson's run while cooling down on the infield. "I'm going to be able to tell my grandkids one day that I had a chance to watch without a doubt the best track and field athlete in the history of the sport compete," said Jones, the winner of five medals for the U.S. at last year's Olympics. "I wouldn't have missed that for the world." Maurice Greene, 2000 Olympic gold medalist and world record holder in the 100 who anchored the U.S.A. Blue team to Relays wins in both the 4x100 (38.03 seconds) and the 4x200 (1:19.39), put the retirement of Johnson into perspective for U.S.A. Track. "We're going to miss him," he said. "He's done a lot of things for our sport, [but] now it's time for. the rest of our athletes to pick up where he's leaving off." The U.S.A. won five of the six events in the "U.S.A. versus The World" series. The lone American loss came when the Astia Walker-anchored U.S.A. Blue team fell to the Jamaican women's team in the 4x200, finishing with a time of 1:30.85 to the Jamaicans' 1:30.23. This disappointment occurred after Chryste Gaines had made an exciting, come-from-behind victory in the 4x100 for U.S.A. Blue -- edging Jamaican anchor Tayna Lawerance by just .04 seconds for a winning time of 43.12.Comments powered by Disqus
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