|Ramon Miller of the Bahamas finishes in front of the U.S.'s Angelo Taylor to win 4x400 relay gold. (AP)|
Entering Friday's 4x400-meter men's relay final, the last time the U.S. failed to bring home the gold medal from a Games they attended was 1972, when they lost to Kenya*.
But a terrible rash of injuries left the Americans reeling and vulnerable, and the relay team from the Bahamas took advantage, winning the gold medal Friday in a time of 2:56.72, a solid .33 ahead of the Americans' 2:57.05.
Two-time 400-meter hurdles gold medalist Angelo Taylor ran the anchor leg for the U.S. and had a narrow lead with 200 meters remaining, but the Bahamas' Ramon Miller chased down Taylor down the stretch and surged to the victory.
Trinidad and Tobago took the bronze. South Africa, with famous "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorious running the anchor leg, finished eighth, some six seconds behind the leaders.
The U.S. entered the Games as a heavy favorite to win their 17th gold medal all-time in the event, but individual 400 meters favorite and defending gold medalist LaShawn Merritt reinjured a balky hamstring in his first 400 heat; 2004 gold medalist Jeremy Wariner tore his hamstring in practice; and Manteo Mitchell broke his leg in the first leg of Thursday's semifinal, incredibly, courageously finishing the leg to keep the Americans in the event.
That led to Taylor, a member of the victorious 2008 relay, being drafted into the relay. It also left the U.S. with a team of collegians Bryshon Nellum, Tony McQuay and Joshua Mance running the first three legs. Nellum's lead-off leg left the U.S. in third, but McQuay and Mance overtook their Bahamian counterparts to seize the lead.
The U.S. was hurt not only by the injuries but by their overall weakest crop of 400 meter runners in Team USA's Olympic history. After medaling in every Games they had ever attended and sweeping the podium in both 2008 and 2012, Merritt's injury meant no American even made the 400 final.
So their defeat doesn't come as a total shock, particularly given the 2008 silver medalist Bahamians' strength in the event. (The two teams ran the exact same time in the semifinal.) But that doesn't mean it will be any easier for U.S. track and field or Nellum, McQuay, Mance, and Taylor to take.
*The U.S. also had its 2000 gold medal stripped after relay member Antonio Pettigrew admitted to doping violations during the time period that included the Sydney Games.