In the semifinals, Cheeseborough ran a swift turn and bore down on Givens. "Randy just seemed to run in place, not ahead," said Williams, who was watching in horror. "Chandra had to come up alongside, grab her hand and slap the baton in there." This brought both of them to a near standstill, and when Givens finally got going, she was in fifth place, one spot out of qualifying. She had five yards to make up on the nearest runner. She got all but three inches of that distance, but the U.S. was out of the final.
The men wanted no part of that, so they had run a safe 38.50 in their semi, not much faster than the U.S.S.R.'s 38.62. "We talked then," said King. "Carl said we all seemed like we were tight. We'd do better in the final. The thing was, we wanted the world record as much or more than just the gold. We were trying to put it out of reach so it won't get broken again."
As the sprinters got organized in their exchange zones, Lewis carefully put down the tape check mark that, when hit by the incoming Smith, would signal his start. Except he put it down in the sixth lane, when the Americans would be running in the third. Teammates in the crowd had to alert him to his error. "We had lane six in the semis," he said. "It gets hectic out there."
Another anchor man, Italy's Pietro Mennea, the 1980 Olympic 200-meter champion and world-record holder, came to the line without his shorts. Well, he had them, but in the little basket where the runners were to leave their sweats. He pulled his shirt-tail way down and stepped into the bottom half of his uniform before taking his mark.
Back at the start, King, hamstring or no, blasted out at full effort. Nearing Gault, he shouted, "Don't leave me."
"I had left him in a meet in Malmoö last week," said Gault. "After that we cut down the distance between us before I go."
Gault went. There had been some doubt about his speed after a long year of niggling injuries, but all the sprinters he chewed up down the backstretch will attest that he made the U.S.'s race. Still, the stick had to be passed.
"Calvin went out better than he had in the last two races," said Gault, "so I missed his hand the first time, but I got it the second."
Smith is perhaps the best third-leg runner in history. "He got rolling before anyone else," said Lewis. "I knew the time was going to be great."
"I just tried to give him the lead," said Smith, "even though he didn't need it."