US Olympic Track Team 2012: LaShawn Merritt Failure Costly for Team USA

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US Olympic Track Team 2012: LaShawn Merritt Failure Costly for Team USA
Michael Steele/Getty Images

LaShawn Merritt's London Olympics are over after he pulled up with a hamstring injury in a qualifying heat for the 400-meter dash.

No, this does not mean the "Blade Runner" now has a shot at a medal.

On top of being a major disappointment for the defending gold medalist, Merritt's injury also has a big impact on the United States' 4x400 relay team, which has won gold in seven consecutive Olympics.

Merritt was the anchor for that relay, and he saved the 2011 World Championships title with a ridiculous final leg. Merritt took the baton in third place, waited patiently, and made a pass on the outside after the final turn. He didn't even look like he was trying very hard.

Although the Americans are, as always, stacked with 400-meter runners to take his spot, having Merritt as the anchor is a considerable security blanket for the other three runners. Mentally, it could change things from "I want to be part of the eighth consecutive winning team" to "I don't want to be the team that ends the streak."

Major confidence shift.

Losing the 4x400 would not only be a huge disappointment for the Americans—it could also be a major triumph for rival Jamaica. While the rivalry has focused on the shorter distances run by the likes of Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay, ending the American streak in the longer relay would be a huge feather in their dreadlocks. Jamaica took third in Daegu, with South Africa coming in second.

Friday's 4x400 final is now a lot more interesting for the United States.

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