The preliminary round of the women's 4x100 relay kicks off on Thursday, capping a bustling week for Olympic track and field. Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix head a favored American team into today's action, looking to bring home the U.S. women's first gold in the event since 1996. Should Felix and company advance, they'll race in Friday's finals.
The event's world record was clocked at 41.37 seconds back in 1985, when East Germany claimed top honors. The last gold medal was issued to Russia, who recorded a 42.31 first-place time at Beijing in 2008.
Team U.S.A. failed to qualify in '08, despite their stalwart status in the sport, because of a botched baton transfer between runners Torri Edwards and Lauryn Williams in the event's semifinal heat.
Jeter, one of the country's most prominent runners, has already earned two medals this summer, a bronze in Wednesday's 200-meter final and a silver in Sunday's 100-meter final. Still, a sense of disappointment lingers around the 32-year-old sprint specialist, as she notched first-place finishes in Round 1 of both competitions. As the current IAAF World Champion in the 100-meter event, many expected Jeter to win at least one gold medal in individual events.
Felix, meanwhile, took the gold on Wednesday and seems to be the team's ostensible anchor. Her fifth-place finish at the 100-meter final left plenty to be desired, but much will be expected of the three-time 200-meter world champion here.
With each member of the four-person team running a 100-meter portion of the track, the American advantage lies with Jeter. This is a crucial opportunity for the U.S. team, which has enjoyed a fruitful London thus far.
Of course, plenty of formidable opponents are gunning for gold as well. The Americans' foremost concern will be the Jamaicans, who have been a thorn in the team's star-spangled side for years now.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Wednesday's silver medalist), Kerron Stewart and Veronica Campbell-Brown are all suiting up for Jamaica. 2008's winners, the Russians, will be in play as well. Natalya Antyukh earned a gold at the 400-meter hurdles on Wednesday, while Yuliya Zaripova won the 3,000-meter steeplechase final on Monday.
With the U.S. trailing China by one gold medal in the total table, this race will be eyed closely. Still, if Jeter runs at her full potential, Felix improves upon her last 100-meter performance and the Americans skirt their recent baton-dropping woes, a gold here is certainly feasible.