Japan wins relay silver, relying on technique and teamwork
It was viewed almost as a race for Olympic silver, and Japan won.
Undaunted despite running in the lane beside Usain Bolt, Aska Cambridge anchored the Japan relay team to an Olympic silver medal behind the mighty Jamaicans in an Asian record time of 37.60 on Friday night.
Cambridge got the baton about the same time as Bolt, who pulled away to cross the finish in 37.27 to claim his ninth Olympic gold medal and complete a triple-triple — golds in the 100, 200 and relay in three straight Summer Games.
But Cambridge powered all the way down the straightaway and held off the Americans, Canadians, China and Britain to reward the technically flawless Japanese team with for a silver medal. It topped the bronze medal from the team of 2008, who were the first men from Japan to win an Olympic track medal in a sprinting event.
"It was really, really fantastic and it's just so nice to be part of it," said the 23-year-old Cambridge, who has a Japanese mother and a Jamaican father. "I may have Jamaican blood but I was brought up in Japan, and trained in Japan.
"I am called Japanese Bolt, but I need to be quicker to be called that."
None of the members of the Japanese team has a sub-10 time for the 100, but their precision in the handovers gives them an advantage of teams that have faster athletes but inferior technique.
"They've shown over the years they can be reckoned with," Bolt said, when asked if he was surprised to see Japan on the podium. "The baton change is always smooth for them."
The Americans could take heed — they were disqualified for an illegal baton exchange after finishing third, just 0.02 behind Japan. It was the ninth time at a major championship since 1995 that the U.S. men's 4x100 relay has either been disqualified or failed to get the baton around.
Canada was elevated into the bronze medal position after finishing in a national record 37.64.
Andre de Grasse, who won silver in the 200 meters and bronze in the 100, said the Canadian team has seen it before, most recently at last year's world championships.
"Last year we were fourth, and U.S. got DQ'd and we got a medal," he said. "I told them all to wait around, you don't know what can happen. It's tricky — sometimes it just doesn't take just speed."
Still, he hadn't been expecting such big things from the silver medalists.
"Japan probably surprised is a little bit," he said. "We didn't expect to see them up there. But congrats to them as well."