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Far away now, Bolt tore across the surface of the track in his custom Pumas, which he wears for one race and one race only and then gives to charity. He is normally Jamaica's third leg, but customary anchor Asafa Powell missed the worlds with a groin injury. "I kept looking at the clock," he would say after the race. "I kept saying, I can do this, I can do this." And at the finish the clock froze on 37.04 seconds, breaking the world record of 37.10, which Jamaica (and Bolt) set at the Olympics in Beijing. It was the first world record of the meet, achieved in the final event.
Team USA's work was less spectacular than Bolt's (what isn't?) but historically significant nonetheless. U.S. athletes won 12 gold medals (two short of their alltime high, in 2005 and '07) and 25 overall (one short of the U.S. record, set in 1991 and matched in 2007). U.S. women won a record six golds. Most significantly, the medals stretched across generations.
There was the old: Dwight Phillips, 33, who won his fourth world long jump championship in his 11th year as a professional (to go with a 2004 Olympic gold medal). "I've never had a real job," said Phillips. "I feel blessed to have this career." And there was the young: Christian Taylor, 21, who on Sunday evening won the triple jump with a leap of 58'11¼" inches, third-best ever for an American, behind Kenny Harrison in 1996 and Willie Banks in 1985. The slender, 6'2", 175-pound Taylor recently turned professional after three years competing for Florida and trains with Phillips and coach Rana Reider outside Atlanta.
There was the old: Lashinda Demus, 28, the mother of four-year-old twin sons, won the 400-meter hurdles last Thursday night in an American-record time of 52.47 seconds, the third-fastest in history. There was the young: Matt Centrowitz, 21, a rising senior at Oregon, who ran a patient, professional 1,500 meters. He closed in 51.6 seconds—"Fifty-one six, that's ridiculous," Centrowitz said afterward—to win bronze in an event U.S. runners adore but have struggled to contest (other than Kenyan expatriate Bernard Lagat).
But the most intriguing U.S. subplot emerging from the worlds is the potential rivalry between California sprinters Jeter and Felix, whose collective range reaches from the 100 meters to the 400 and includes both relays. (Between them they won seven medals, which would have tied them for fifth in the country standings.) Daegu was Jeter's breakthrough meet; after taking bronze medals in the 100 at both the '07 and '09 worlds (and failing to qualify for the '08 Olympic team), Jeter, 31, won the 100 on the first weekend of the meet and then last Friday held off Felix for silver behind Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica in the 200.
Jeter has risen relatively late in her career. She was 27 in the spring of 2007, when she walked into the breakfast room of an athletes' hotel at a meet in Eugene, Ore. "She was sitting alone, so I invited her to sit with us," says Larry Wade, a former world-class hurdler who had begun working as a coach. "A month later she called and asked me to coach her." Wade helped Jeter make the '07 worlds team, and he could see that there was serious potential. "She had great top-end speed," says Wade, now the coach at Pasadena City College. "She just needed to learn to relax and use it."
In 2009 Jeter switched from Wade to John Smith, who had coached Wade, as well as numerous Olympic and world champions. (Wade said Jeter told him that the change was compelled by Nike, her shoe company sponsor.) Wade helped Jeter get her personal best from well over 11 seconds to 10.97; Smith has taken her to 10.64. Some observers of the sport are uncomfortable that Wade served a two-year suspension after testing positive for steroids in 2004, and that Smith has had several of his athletes test positive for banned substances. (There is no evidence that Smith was involved in providing drugs, and Jeter has never failed a test.)
After Jeter's impressive work in Daegu, she vowed to double in 2012. Meanwhile Felix, a three-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 200 meters, challenged herself by running both the grueling 400 and the 200 in Daegu. She came away with no individual gold medals, taking silver in the 400 (.03 behind Amantle Montsho of Botswana) and bronze in the 200 (.05 behind Jeter and .20 behind Campbell-Brown), although she won gold in both relays (with Jeter on the 4 × 100 on Sunday) to give her a career total of 10 world championship medals, second only to Merlene Ottey, who won 14 medals for Jamaica.
After the 200, Felix said with little reservation that she will run only that event in London. "I feel like this was the year to try something," she said. "Next year I'm going to be more focused on the 200. I'm not so sure about the double, because that 200 is very important to me."
But the next day her coach, Bobby Kersee (who coached his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, to three Olympic gold medals), said, "Everything in track and field takes two years. This was our first year [of training for the double]." He said that Felix lost the 400 not because she wasn't fit enough to win, but because she waited too long to kick. And she lost the 200 because they neglected raw-speed training to prepare for the 400.