The United States women’s 4×100-meter relay team crossed the finish line last in its qualifying heat at the 2016 Olympics after the baton exchange between Allyson Felix and English Gardner was impeded by a runner in an adjacent lane.
Felix was set to hand off to Gardner for the third leg of the relay when Felix appeared to make contact with Brazilian runner Kauiza Venancio in the lane to her right. Felix, slowed by the contact, grimaced, and lunged to get the baton to Gardner, but couldn’t reach Gardner’s outstretched hand. Felix threw the baton out of desperation, and it tumbled to the track.
After a moment of confusion, Felix went and picked up the baton, handed it to Gardner, and told Gardner to finish the race. She said afterward in an interview with NBC’s Lewis Johnson that she did so because she knew that, “If something is protestable, you have to finish.”
The U.S. team of Tianna Bartoletta, Felix, Gardner and Morolake Akinosun filed a protest within minutes. Felix said in the interview with NBC after the race that she did feel contact. The contact appeared to occur in the Americans’ lane.
Only eight teams can advance to the final, so track and field officials were left with a difficult decision. In a similar situation in the men’s 4×400-meter relay in 2012, officials allowed nine teams to advance to the final due to a protest. A South African runner was tripped by a Kenyan runner during a semifinal heat. The Kenyan team did not qualify for the final, so its disqualification didn’t matter. The South African team was given a ninth spot in the final.
But the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Stadium track only has eight lanes. According to Olympic historian Bill Mallon, never before had a time trial been used in a similar situation for an Olympic relay.
In the re-run, the U.S. team will have to beat 42.70 seconds, the time the eighth-place Chinese team ran in the heat.
The U.S. is the defending gold medalist in the event, having won it over Jamaica in 2012 in London. Felix was the only member of that team who is also part of the 2016 team.