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    Olympics: SEC Flavor Helps Relays Impress

    By: Mark Maloney
    SEC Digital Network

    LONDON — Another night at London’s Olympic Stadium, another strong showing by the Southeastern Conference.

    Tianna Madison (Tennessee 2007) led off Team USA’s 4-by-100-meter relay, which struck Olympic gold in world-record time Friday.

    Tony McQuay (Florida 2013) ran a strong third leg, gave the Americans a lead in the men’s 4-by-400, and wound up with a silver medal.

    Jeff Demps (Florida 2012), Jutin Gatlin (Tennessee 2001) and Dee Dee Trotter (Tennessee 2005) helped their relay teams advance to Saturday’s finals.

    Suffice to say, the SEC seems ideal for grooming Olympic dreams.

    "The SEC is the toughest conference to compete in in track and field, football or whatever," McQuay said. "The SEC is the best. ... A guy like me, coming off a collegiate season, I’m at my level where I’m ready to compete more than those other guys, so I have a slight advantage over them."

    Exactly, Trotter said.

    "The SEC conference is one of the toughest and greatest conferences in the country. ... It’s always producing the top times, the top people," she said. "We always have a great showing. And I think that SEC schools are just of that caliber that they keep preparing their athletes to do things like this.

    "I was first Tennessee Lady Vol to go pro before my eligibility was up. After that it was Tianna Madison, (men’s hurdles champion) Aries Merritt. When the bar raises, they just keep it going."

    Topped Friday by the Madison-led women’s quick relay.

    Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter followed, taking a mere 40.82 seconds for one lap around the oval.

    That broke the 27-year-old world record of 41.37 set by East Germany, as well as the East Germans’ 32-year-old Olympic record of 41.60.

    "I’m not surprised at all, given how we ran in the first round," Madison said, referring to a 41.64 qualifier that was then the second-fastest in Olympic history. "I knew that the Olympic record was coming down. And I think that we knew if we had clean baton passes that we definitely would challenge the world record.

    "Smash it like we did? I had no idea, but I knew it was in us."

    Madison built the early lead, outrunning 100-meter gold-medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica.

    Felix, the 200-meter gold-medalist, felt something in the air as the team headed to the track.

    "It’s a relief, it’s a joy, it’s everything," Felix said. "We went into this race, I think it’s the most comfortable I’ve seen this team. We were laughing, we were smiling and we’ve never been like that. We just were confident. We felt good."

    After Knight safely negotiated the final turn, World Championships 100-meter gold-medalist Jeter finished with a flurry. Eyes wide, she pointed the baton at the scoreboard clock even before crossing the line.

    "We got the stick around, and we got the gold medal and the world record," Jeter said. "I knew that we were moving. I knew that we were running very well, so I was excited."

    Jamaica took silver in a national-record 41.41. Veronica Campbell-Brown (Arkansas 2004) ran third for the Jamaicans and Kerron Stewart (Auburn (2007) anchored.

    Ukraine won bronze, its first Olympic medal in the event, in a national-record 42.04.

    Trinidad and Tobago, which included Kelly-Ann Baptiste (LSU 2008) on second leg and Semoy Hackett (LSU 2012) on anchor, did not finish.

    * In the men’s 4-by-400, Team USA came in with 17 golds, including every one since the boycott year of 1980 at Moscow.

    The last time the Americans lost the relay on the track was the 1952 Helsinki Games.

    However, Team USA had to compete without 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, who was injured during his 400-meter heat, and Manteo Mitchell, who broke the fibula in his left leg during the relay semifinals.

    Bahamas took its first gold ever in the event.

    Bryshon Nellum led off for the Americans, followed by Joshua Mance, McQuay and four-time Olympian Angelo Taylor.

    "I ran great. I can’t complain. I think it was 43.4; yesterday it was 43.6-or-7," McQuay said. "I came out here and completed my mission to support my team and help us try to get the gold. It’s a team effort and I thank Angelo for giving it his all. But Bahamas, they came out here and ran a great race. At the end of the day, I can’t complain."

    McQuay took the baton in second place and overtook Michael Mathieu of the Bahamas, handing a five-meter lead to Taylor.

    "I thought we surely sealed the deal," McQuay said. "I made my move early that I wanted to down the backstretch. I took it home coming down. No matter how my body felt, in my head I was just saying ‘for USA, for USA all the way,’ and I was just digging deeper."

    Having run three rounds of 400-meter hurdles, Taylor was unable to hold off Bahamas anchor man Ramon Miller on the final straightaway.

    Bahamas finished in a national-record 2:56.72.

    Taylor held on for silver in 2:57.05, while Trinidad and Tobago edged Great Britain for bronze by 13-hundredths of a second in a national-record 2:59.40.

    "It is disappointing because we’re known for winning four-by-fours," McQuay said. "... So to come out here and actually take silver, it hurts us."

    Venezuela, which trained much of the last four years under Erin Tucker when he was an assistant at Kentucky and this year when he switched to Florida, placed seventh in 3:02.18.

    "I’m very, very happy for the national showing in the Olympics," leadoff man Arturo Ramirez said.

    "Thanks to Mr. Erin Tucker and (Venezuelan coach) Cesar Martinez for their time in Kentucky to prepare us for the Olympic Games," said Alberto Aguilar, who ran second leg.

    * Demps led off and Gatlin anchored as the men’s 4-by-100 relay advanced to Saturday’s finals in U.S.-record time: 37.38.

    "We wanted to go out there and have fun, but also to execute, and I think we did that," Demps said. "I didn’t feel any pressure. I was excited."

    Demps also played football at Florida, so the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium did not intimidate him.

    "The crowd brought back memories like I was at a football game," he said.

    "I thik if we can execute a perfect race tomorrow, then the world record is definitely in jeopardy. We have been working hard all year and we want to go out and show that."

    Darvis "Doc" Patton ran second, handing off to Trell Kimmons.

    Gatlin practically high-stepped down the stretch.

    "This is all about America against the world," Gatlin said. "If we stick together we can break records, like today. I’ve got a bronze (in the 100) but that’s bittersweet, and I’m longing for gold."

    The Americans saved 100-meter finalists Tyson Gay (Arkansas 2005) and Ryan Bailey for Saturday.

    However, Jamaica, which won its heat in 37.39, held back 100/200 gold-medalist Usain Bolt, as well as Asafa Powell.

    "They’re definitely fast and worthy opponents," Gatlin said, "but I’m the kind of guy who loves pressure."

    Canada qualified third in 38.05.

    Trinidad advanced with the fifth-best time, 38.10.

    Richard Thompson (LSU 2008), who won silvers in the relay and 100 meters four years ago, led off for Trinidad.

    He passed to four-time Olympian Marc Burns (Auburn 2004).

    "We have some tightening up to do. But we made it to the final," Burns said. "This is the first time that we went in that order. But nothing to be worried about. We’ve got to sharpen it up, tidy it up and we’ll come out ready tomorrow."

    Burns added that the SEC is the place to run when Olympics are a goal.

    "Very exceptional competition in the SEC and everyone knows that," Burns said. "... Especially at nationals, at least the majority of the finalists come from the SEC. And also the new addition, Texas A&M, so it will be a very, very tough conference. All the coaches in the SEC and everyone in the conference continue that tradition to be very successful. I just commend all the coaches and athletes."

    * Trotter anchored Team USA to the fastest 4-by-400 qualifier, 3:22.09.

    Russia was second-best at 3:23.11, followed by Great Britain in 3:25.05.

    Keshia Baker led off the for Americans, trailed by Francena McCorory, Diamond Dixon and Trotter.

    Felix and 400-meter champion Sanya Richards-Ross will sub in for the finals.

    "We want to be No. 1," Trotter said. "Not just on the podium, but (No. 1) in the world."